All batters (and their parents or teachers) implicitly take a risk every time they get into the batters box. Most batters can put fear out of their minds to a degree, but all (even major leaguer hitters) have a least a lingering fear of being hit by the pitched ball. Obviously, the hitter will try to avoid getting hit! Coaches most often teach the hitter, while trying to avoid the pitch, to turn their back to the pitch (as if facing the back screen behind the home plate umpire) so if struck by the ball, the hitters back is hit rather than the front of the body.
For the switch hitter it is very important that he or she develops the automatic ability to turn away properly from both sides. Practicing this with a wiffle ball is one good way of learning the safest movements possible.
With young children, an underhanded soft toss with a nerf ball is an excellent way to teach the moves you want the child to take when, later in his or her baseball life, a pitch is headed at them.
Make sure you research and develop a good technique for avoiding injury while you are hitting, or for your hitters if you are coaching. Watch major league batters on television avoid a pitched ball. The switch hitter will have the advantage of seeing the pitch from the opposite arm, but he or she needs to carefully develop proper movements from both sides of the plate until they are automatic.
Safety always first!
Dr. Harold L. Klawans M.D. wrote the book, "Why Michael Couldn't Hit" in 1996; I highly recommend the book to those who are interested in looking at the neurology involved in our quest to become the best hitters we can. From the book, "Hitting, in part depends on this type of complex multi synaptic reflex response. A ball is seen and the bat is set in motion without any conscious thought on the part of the batter. It is a complex reflex. The conscious decision is whether to suppress the reflex or not. Whether not to swing, not whether to swing."
Klawans was interested in the great basketball player Michael Jordan's failed attempt to become a baseball player. On page 5 he wrote, "Hitting is a visual-motor skill, and like all other skills it has to be learned. The brain has to learn how to recognize the spin, speed and direction of the ball as it leaves the pitcher's hand, and then to swing the bat at just the right speed and in precisely the proper location to hit the ball solidly as it crosses home plate. This is a tall order for anyone's brain. And the sad fact was that at age thirty-one, Michael Jordan's brain was just too old to acquire that skill."
So when does Dr Klawans feel is the right time in life to learn to hit? He doesn't give an exact age, but he feels that around the age where it is easier to pick up a foreign language is the age to learn to hit - before puberty is best- it is not impossible later, but harder. "Each time a young batter tries to see a pitch and hit it, certain cells are 'selected' to see that pitch and start off that process. If no pitches are seen, then absolutely no selection is made. Players talk about picking up the rotation on the ball as it leaves the pitcher's hand. It is this rotational bias that must be selected. It cannot be selected at age six by hitting off a tee, or later in life when the time for selection is over." Klawans says this on page 20 of his book.
How about Switch Hitting? Klawans points out that left and right handed hitters see the ball differently, whether a switch hitter or two different hitters. Then he adds, "Switch-hitters like Mickey Mantle are not born that way, but they usually get that way by early adolescence or so - at the latest.”
Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson is reported to be the first switch hitter in professional baseball. Ferguson's hot temper is said to be the main reason that other players did not emulate switch hitting - maybe coaches didn't want to sanction any of his behavior? But, even though switch hitting did not take off in those early days, platooning hitters or at least adjusting the batting order for different handed pitchers was recognized as an advantage way back in the late 1800s.
Legendary Duke University Head Baseball Coach and former Major Leaguer Jack Coombs wrote in his 1937 "how to" baseball book simply titled - Baseball, that "each player has his own batting style and should be encouraged to continue in it unless he has developed ... detrimental habits." I could not agree more with Coach Coombs, each hitter has a dominate arm, a dominate eye, his unique weight, height and body type, his own hitting technique and style, and a mental approach all his own. Most successful modern day hitting coaches understand that they need to "encourage" each of their hitters in his unique development. In my opinion, coaches who try to create "cookie cutter hitters" are at best guilty of ignorance and sometimes, at worst, malpractice.
So why do so many modern hitting instructors treat their switch hitters as "twin mirror image hitters?" It is true, lefty or righty, the switch hitter is the same weight and height, but almost all the other hitting building blocks of a switch hitter are different and unique when he moves from one side of the plate to the other. The dominate eye moves from one side to the other and appropriately then places the hitter's head in a different (not mirror) position, unless a mentor forces it there. The dominate arm will swing the bat differently from the other side of the plate. The hip action will vary just as a boxer's hips rotate differently (with more or less power) when the fighter switches stances and throws hooks. The techniques and styles from both sides may be close, but I submit that they don't have to be and often should not be! And as for mental approaches, I am sure that almost all coaches would agree that a left handed batter and a right handed batter often approach at bats in the same situation - differently, sometimes very differently.
Switch hitters learn their trade in countless ways; I was taught at age 3 by my Dad, and never considered not being a switch hitter. Others have successfully picked it up much later.
Learning the trade for the most part is done on your own with a tee, but nothing can replace those precious game situations at bats. One big danger, in the early years for a switch hitter, is not getting enough live game right handed at bats. When I was young, I often batted right handed against a right handed pitcher, with no one on base, simply because I had not had an opportunity to bat right handed - in a game - for many days. I remember one of my coaches sarcastically telling me, "to be a switch hitter you must strictly hit the opposite way to the pitcher’s arm." As I reflect, this coach was clearly not motivated by trying to help me develop, he really had not given my journey any thought at all. I guess that sums up my message and mission; the switch hitting journey is not well understood and can be quite lonely, but the rewards are worth it. Sadly, many modern coaches are not much better equipped to work with the switch hitter than the guys who ignored old Bob "Death to Flying Things" Ferguson in the 1800s!
To help the coach and the switch hitter, the first step is to collect data from hundreds of switch hitters at all levels of baseball, including those who gave it up. I have my opinions on how to coach a switch hitter at different levels, but what I want is to first gather hundreds of case studies and then do a statistical analysis to help test different theories. I am contacting coaches from around the country to encourage their switch hitters to go to almorrisbaseball.com and take my questionnaire. Help move forward the art of switch hitting!
My web page is for switch hitters at all levels of baseball. I encourage players and former players to go to the questionnaire tab accessible from the top right hand corner of my homepage of this website. Players who gave up switch hitting are also strongly encouraged to take my survey. I can see a day when 50% of all hitters are switch hitters and the sooner we do the scholarship necessary to analyze switch hitting the sooner we will get there.
Can a switch hitter have two different techniques - one for each side? Should some (many) (all) switch hitters use different techniques from each side?
These may be the fundamental questions for the switch hitters of the future!
Most batting instructors, and rightfully so, spend a great deal of time with their batter's "technique" or mental approach. This site is interested in all aspects of hitting, but it is not dedicated to any of the techniques being taught now, or in the past.
My own thinking is that hitting techniques go from a continuum from Ted William's; and Mike Epstein's "rotation" all the way to Charley Lau's "weight shift." I would put Mike Schmidt's "third force" somewhere between. I encourage you to study all three and come to your own conclusions, but for our purposes this continuum (picture a straight line) can be helpful in thinking about whether a particular switch hitter should mirror his/her swing from both sides.
I am hopeful that over the next several months my questionnaire will give us some answers to this question. As we collect hundreds of answers and cross tabs, I suspect that dominate eyes and arms have a lot more to do with how the switch hitter should approach each side than the vast majority of instructors presently teach.
It will be very interesting to learn if the Ted William's "happy zone" might move around based on many interconnected facts not presently given much attention.
A batters size and speed will always play a larger role in what technique the hitter develops, but in a continuum a switch hitter doesn't need to radically go from hitting left handed "rotation" technique to right handed "weight shift." The batter might work to be a pure rotation lefty and a slightly less pure as right handed hitter. I am hypothesizing that this might be exactly what a great many switch hitters should do. But, we need to do the research.