At some point, they reach a point where their inability to hit the ball the opposite way puts a ceiling on their playing career. In this post, I will be discussing the thought process behind hitting the ball to the opposite field, a few common mistakes coaches make, some good cues to give your players, and a progression of drills to help them translate what you do in practice to the game (which is the ultimate goal).
Thought process and cues
One of the largest hurdles young players have in hitting the ball to the opposite field is mental. At the early youth level, the best pitchers do two things well, they throw strikes (probably not yet locating) and they throw hard. Hitters quickly learn that in order to hit the best pitchers in their league, they have to get the bat to the ball fast.
Many times they end up cheating by lunging forward, trying to start earlier, and greatly shortening their swing. As they get older, the best pitchers not only throw hard, but can locate pitches on both sides of the plate, and change speeds effectively.
At this point, those “cheats” that may have been successful in the past, now make you susceptible to pitches on the outer third and off speed pitches. Good hitters are the ones who are quick enough to catch up to fastballs, but have the ability to wait on fastballs away and off speed pitches.
The phrase I like to use to introduce the theory of opposite field hitting is “let it get deep.” This means that hitters need to let the ball travel deeper to into the hitting zone instead of out in front of the plate where they used to hitting it. This is a difficult adjustment for many young hitters because they are afraid of being late.
To help them get over this fear, have them watch a major league game and see how many foul balls go the to the opposite field, and how many foul balls go to a hitters “pull” side. Major leaguers are often late, by design.
Getting your players to wait to let the ball get deep is the single most important concept to master when a players is trying to hit to the opposite field. This will allow them to not feel as though they have to “guide” the ball to the opposite field. You will know a player is trying guide the ball when they drag the barrel under their hands and have a very tentative swing.
It will appear as though they are “aiming” the ball that way. The phrase we use to avoid this is “let it get back, and attack.” This reminds them that they can take their normal aggressive swing as long as they let the ball get deep in the zone.
Attempting to guide the ball with the hands will result in weak contact, and many pop-ups to the opposite field. Hitters still need to generate power from the ground up, and generate an aggressive powerful swing when hitting the ball to the opposite field.