5 proven baseball and softball hitting aids

If you want to help a young athlete improve their swing in baseball or softball, there are many gadgets and devices available that promise results. To cut through the clutter, here are five common training devices that have stood the test of time when it comes to helping ball players improve bat speed and hitting accuracy.

1. Batting tees

Batting tees allow players of all ages to practice without a pitcher. The most common tee allows you to simply rest a ball on it and swing at it. If you buy this type of tee, look for one that lets you adjust the height so your child can practice hitting balls at different levels. Make sure your child stands closer to and farther away from the tee than is most comfortable so he can practice hitting balls that are a bit outside or close to his body. Some tee systems or those that have attachments allow players to practice their motion in a specific way to develop the correct swing pattern.

2. Soft toss machines

Another helpful device for practicing batting is a ball-tossing machine (they are often called soft toss machines). You can buy less-expensive machines that toss slow balls from a short distance, or more expensive ones that blast fast balls from a distance. While consistency in ball placement is helpful for practicing a new skill, players don’t see the same pitch every time. This is why it’s important that each batting practice includes receiving balls to different areas of the plate. The SKLZ catapult soft toss machine featured in the video below retails for $64.99 on Amazon.

3. Light/heavy bats

You’ve probably seen baseball and softball players put a bat weight, known as a doughnut, on their bats while they are on deck during a game. This requires them to use more muscle fibers to swing the bat. When they take the doughnut off the bat, their brain will continue to recruit enough muscles to swing a heavier bat for several swings, temporarily increasing bat speed during a plate appearance. In addition to doughnuts, you can purchase training bats with more weight, a longer length or other modification to help with swing training.

What happens if you have a lighter bat? Your brain recruits the muscles in a way to swing the lighter bat quickly, moving the arms quicker, rather than more powerfully. If you practice with a light bat, then you go back to a heavier bat, your brain still thinks you have the lighter bat (for several swings) and sends the message to your muscles to swing fast, as if you were holding a lighter bat. This training method can also help increase bat speed without requiring a technique change.

4. Hitting nets

Hitting a few balls and then having to go shag them can get boring fast. Hitting balls into a net eliminates the need to chase balls and allows your child to practice in a smaller area. If you place targets on the net or other rebound surface, your child gets instant feedback regarding where his ball went. This helps him practice hitting to different areas of the field.

5. Swing speed radar device

Your child or teammates might resist making a technique change if it’s uncomfortable, especially if they can’t see results right away. Using a swing speed radar device lets parents and kids see before-and-after bat swing-speed changes after a technique change. You have a choice of traditional, hand-held radar guns, devices you can place on the ground near a batter, or gadgets that look like cell phones you can hold in your hand while recording bat swing speeds.

Have your child practice her regular swing and record the speeds. Have him try your new technique change and once he’s used to it, record his swing speeds. Having him open his hips, for example should increase swing speed. Once he sees that your suggested change increases his speed, he will be more likely to embrace it.

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Steve Milano

Steve Milano has been writing and lecturing on youth sports for more than 25 years. He ... View Full Bio

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