Differentiating Intent Cues

By Kyle Harris

Full disclosure, these morning musings were inspired by Patrick Jones (follow him @pjonesbaseball, find his podcast Patrick Jones Baseball and listen because his content is top notch). He posted a Tweet about differentiating intent to hitter needs. His exact quote was “Can’t preach Daddy Hacks to everyone. All hitters are different, which makes it fun and challenging to coach. Some hitters need to feel like they’re not swinging as hard as they can.  Some do. Gotta figure out what’s best for you.”

Couple that with a response Patrick posted to me last week with the phrase, “Feel versus Real,” and it motivated me to finish a blog idea I had months ago on using tools, technology, and data to find the best method of cueing intent for each hitter.

The initial inspiration of this blog was born from personal frustration and the unsolicited cueing of a father during a one-on-one lesson. It led to me experimenting with data/metrics using the Pocket Radar Ball Coach, Blast Motion Sensor, & video. What I found was that my “feel” was not really my “real." My initial goal was to make my swing “bigger” by using a giant leg kick, gaining tons of ground with my lower body, and creating larger tilt with my torso. When doing this, I felt as if I was leg kicking a la Josh Donaldson or Justin Turner (whom we refer to as Yukon Cornelius in our house), gaining tons of space with my back foot, and leaning back way back behind my axis of rotation. When I looked at the video, none of this was true. This made sense because in my playing days I had a very small step, modest weight shift, and stayed pretty centered. This got me to thinking about “feel” vs. “real” and how to better implement tools, tech, video, and cueing with my athletes.

Soon after, I started another experiment with exit velocity and asked our employees to do the same. After my 70-year-old father topped out at 68 MPH, I had to outdo him. My goal was to reach 90, yet I was topping out at low 80s using wood. Three of our employees were either playing college baseball or just completed playing college baseball at the time and they peaked at 88, 96, and 96. I found out my ego was just big enough that this bothered me and I began relentless attempts at getting to 90. The harder I tried, the more I failed. I found when I swung with full intent to hit the ball as hard as I could I was not getting my best scores.  At the suggestion of one of the previously mentioned employees/athletes (who played HS ball for me), I began swinging free and easy and my peak numbers jumped to the upper 80’s with the same wood bat. More importantly, the range between my low and high decreased and my average increased dramatically.

With this newfound epiphany, I remembered an athlete of mine that was always being cued by his father to swing as hard as he could. The very next week I decided to use the same experiment with him. Lo and behold his EV jumped 3-5 MPH on average when his intent was “free and easy." I began using this same experiment with all of the athletes that trained with me and found that each one was slightly different. Some had to be cued to swing with maximum intent. Others had to be cued to cut their swing down. I also did this with bat grip, which was prompted from a tweet by Jason Ochart of Driveline Baseball (2 more social media accounts you must follow; @JasonOchard, @drivelinebases) on bat grip and bat speed/exit velocity performance.  I found that different athletes had different results depending on their grip. Some increased EV with tighter grips, others increased EV with looser grips.

These rudimentary experiments further engrained what I know is true, that every hitter must be treated uniquely. Differentiation is key not only in movement, but also in thought process and intent. The use of cues, tools, drills, data, technology, etc… must be taken into account for each hitter. It’s important to test, collect, and retest for all of our athletes. A simple way to start is by using different intent based cues and collecting exit velocity, bat speed, and attack angle data. 

These are simple things to test for and track. We cannot simply rely on externally cueing a player to “grip and rip” or “swing hard”. I know that the “eye test” is not the most reliable, but you can easily see this in professional athletes alike. Some visually swing as hard as they can, others look smooth and fluid. A quick YouTube search of Matt Stairs and Rafael Palmeiro is a great visual of this. Furthermore, we can learn this from listening to professionals, as some will say they swing as hard as they can, while others speak more on staying relaxed. 

As coaches/instructors, it is our responsibility to learn what cues work best for our athletes. Differentiating intent cues is a simple thing to test using the Pocket Radar and the Blast Motion or Diamond Kinetics sensor. I encourage you to use these tools to educate yourself and your players on what thought process works best for them.

Kyle Harris - BS-HPE, MS-AES, MS-Admin/Leadership, NASM-PES

Owner F.I.T. Performance Trainer
Hitting/Pitching Specialist - Bob Harris Baseball School

battersbox@yahoo.com