Growing up, I never had a really good baseball coach, but there was one thing that one of my Little League coaches said to me that really stuck.
When I was 11 years old, Coach Dan told us that when he was a kid in the 1950s, he played on the very same baseball fields that we were playing on. He said, “Back then, we were hitting home runs left and right. Way more than you guys! Even 10-year-olds. And we didn’t have these aluminum bats. We had regular old wood bats and we were still hitting home runs outta here.”
That season, no one on our team hit a home run. No one even got close. In fact, I can only remember one guy in the whole league, Corey Jones, who hit a few home runs that season, and he was by far the biggest, scariest, most-athletic kid in the league.
So why was it that Coach Dan and his buddies were able to hit home runs with crappy wood bats and dead baseballs back in the 50s, and there we were with new baseballs, brand-new aluminum bats, and we couldn’t do it? Not even in BP?
Back when Coach Dan played baseball as a kid, all those guys had to swing big, heavy wooden bats. Let’s contrast Coach Dan’s days with the youth baseball players of today:
Did the heavier bat do the work for them? In other words, was there simply more inertia behind the heavier wood bat? At first glance, one might think so, but when you look at the pop that today’s aluminum and composite bats have – especially before the USA Bat regulations came out – that theory goes out the window. Plus, the kid has to have the strength to swing that heavy bat fast enough for that added inertia to make that much difference.
In Coach Dan’s day, each kid had to use his entire body to swing those heavy, solid-wood bats. That was the key. In order to do that, kids either had to develop the proper strength and swing mechanics early on to be able to swing those heavy, wood bats or else they just weren’t cut out to play baseball. That was the difference: developing the strength and swing mechanics early on with heavy bats in order to generate life-long skills that would provide optimal contact and power.
Now that I’ve been coaching youth baseball for about a decade, I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve seen who are content to swing the bat using primarily their hands and arms because 1) it’s easier to do, and 2) they still get positive results from it because the bats have so much pop. As my players can all attest to, I’ve tirelessly stressed the importance of using their feet, legs, hips and torso to swing the bat, no matter how light the bat may be.
Now that some of those kids have aged out of youth baseball, many of them who didn’t develop the proper swing mechanics couldn’t make the cut at the high school baseball level. Maybe they were good fielders, maybe they could steal bases, but they couldn’t transition from a drop -10 bat quickly enough to the high school BBCOR standards of a drop -3 weighted bat (7 ounces heavier than what they’ve been swinging their entire lives).
Swinging a heavier bat as early as a player can is the best way to get him to be able to play and excel at the high school level. While it’s tempting to use those light bats with all that pop for immediate gratification, in the long run, it makes it harder for those players to advance. While we may not always recommend a kid uses a wood bat in games (although there’s nothing wrong with it), we do recommend using a wood bat in batting practice and even in the on-deck circle before an at bat.
Lastly… thanks to Coach Dan, wherever you may be. You probably didn’t think that would be what stuck with your youth players back then, but it stuck with me and it has made a big difference.
High School and College players: check out our weighted training bats.
Youth Baseball players: check out our Solid Maple Skinny-Barrel contact training bats.
Also check out our solid maple game bats
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Big Lumber Baseball Blog
If you're gonna swing a wood bat, you should also read our Baseball Blog, focused mainly on hitting and helping baseball coaches.