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Hitting Development: Blocked & Random Practice

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Hitters that hit during BP but don't hit during games - what's the problem? In my opinion, it largely relates to practice design and training environments.


Contrary to other sports, baseball and softball hitting practice rarely simulates what happens in an actual game. In a game we have a pitcher throwing different pitches in different counts while trying to get us out. In the game hitters are faced with solving the problem of being on time and hitting the ball hard while not knowing what pitch is coming or where it is going to be thrown. In practice, this is rarely the case. So what can we do as hitting coaches to better prepare our players to perform when it matters most?


Obviously, the best scenario is to make the training environment just like the game. This is often hard to do because pitchers on our own team do not have the ability to throw every day in games and in practices to our hitters. Hitting coaches aren't able to throw live every day for hours at a time. The best solution is to use a combination of blocked and random practice with varying degrees of difficulty.


Blocked practice is when a skill is practiced consecutively within the same environment and structure. Example: hitting front toss pitches down the middle for 3 sets of 10.


Random practice is when a skill is practiced with some type of mixture within the environment such as varying difficulty and rarely repeating the same task consecutively. Example: hitting front toss pitches that are mixed fastball and/or change up randomly for 10 swings.


In order to prepare hitters to hit when it matters I think we simply need to answer these questions when developing a practice plan or training session:


What's the level of difficulty of this drill and does it match what the hitter needs?


How does this drill help the hitter hit in the game?


Should this drill be blocked, randomized, or a combination of both?


Balancing the training environment is vital! We don't want to throw hitters into a 100% chaotic environment when they are working on a swing change or a new movement and we don't want to spend 100% of our time in an environment that doesn't help them hit in a game.


Here are some example training environments:


Body Movement

Relatively low difficulty depending on the players current ability and what they are working on.


Typically a blocked training session to repeat body movements and improve swing movements related to rotation and/or posture.


Tee

Low difficulty - stationary ball - no timing required.


Typically a blocked training session consisting of repeatedly hitting a ball in the same location.


Front Toss

low to medium difficulty - timing involved, varied locations and angles.


Can be blocked: Front toss fastballs 3 sets of 10


Can be randomized: Front toss mix: fastballs and off-speed


Machine

Medium to higher difficulty - timing, velocity, breaking balls


Can be blocked: fastball velocity - middle outside Can be randomized: Two machines mixed BP, mixed locations, etc.


Standard BP

Medium to high difficulty


Can be blocked: All fastballs, All Curveballs


Can be randomized: mixed bp


Short Box & Live ABs

Highest difficulty


Can be blocked: all fastballs or all curveballs


Usually randomized: pitcher is trying to get the hitter out with anything.


Short Box: coach throwing live from short distance - trying to get the hitter out.


Finding the Sweet Spot


The sweet spot in the training environment is ideal - not too easy and not too hard. Hitters should not hit 8/10 balls hard in every training environment. Hitters also shouldn't miss 8/10 balls in every training environment.


Working on swing changes and body movements/feels from mirror work, tee, front toss, overhand BP, machine, and Live work is a transition that does not have a direct path. We may have to move forwards or backwards as necessary depending on the level of skill acquisition the hitter has accomplished.


In summary, balance the training environment and find ways to challenge hitters in the environment they will be expected to perform in.

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