When Kylie of Orange High School, located in Hillsborough, NC, came in for an evaluation, Kylie and her parents had no idea what they were getting into. She’d played softball in Orange County for a few years and had just moved up to the Challengers team. Because of this increase in competition, she and her parents wanted to make sure she received quality instruction. Her evaluation took place on March 21, 2019. Within her first two lessons, Kylie's max exit velocity increased by 11 miles per hour and her max distance improved by an additional 40 feet.
As always, no changes are made during an evaluation. I highlighted her swing against another high school player that was about her age and size. What Kylie and her parents noticed was a clear difference in aggression. Because of this, the demo swinger’s hits were going over 15-mph faster and up to 90-feet further. Kylie and her parents decided to enroll in the program and off they went.
Kylie came back on March 27th and had her bag, bat, and gloves with her. I smiled and told her she wouldn’t need those, and got her mother a chair so she could watch. Then, we headed over to the Movement Wall, where all of our initial movement and Rebel's Rack work takes place.
After Fitting Kylie with her Rebel’s Rack, we began to learn to stride.
Kylie was unsure of exactly what we were doing. Obviously, she was confused that we were not in a cage and using a bat. Because of this, I reassured her we were ‘learning to turn’ not ‘learning to hit’. She used the ‘LINE” and started to stride heel to heel. After a while, we introduced a hesitated turn.
When Kylie started to try to turn, she was very slow when she turned. The ‘slowness’ of the turn caused her head to go forward and her turn to be incomplete. Eventually, she realized that when she went faster, she actually did the turn better! Much like trying to ride a bike slowly, the body struggles to pull the back foot forward when turning slowly. The speed of the turn is what allows the back foot to move forward while the head stays still. No speed means no chance for correct movements.
As you can see below, the turn on the left is one of Kylie's first initial rack turns. She shoots her head forward, moves very slow and drags her back foot on the ground. The turn on the right is only a few minutes later after a few verbal internal cues. She turns much more aggressively, keeps her head still and fires her back foot up and over the line.
Finally, Kylie started to trust herself and me enough to go fast in her turn. When the back foot moves forward it pulls up and off the ground. Because of this, most athletes feel like they are ‘falling’ back when they initially learn the BR turn. The only way to complete the Rebel’s Rack Progression correctly is to go fast in the turn. Once she went fast, she was surprised at how balanced she felt. Because of that feeling of speed and balance combined, she went even faster.
At the end of the lesson, Kyle got her medium Rebel’s Rack and I told her to do 1000 turns before next week. Her mother said that it would be 2 weeks before I saw her again as they were going on a cruise (tough life!). Because of this, I upped her homework to 2000 turns. Kylie asked, “what if I can’t take the Rack on the boat?”. I told her to “find a way you CAN get better instead of a reason you CAN’T”.
Kylie entered the training area with her dad while I was in a lesson. I told her to head over to the Movement Wall and start her Rack Progression. Upon finishing my lesson, I greeted her dad and headed over to talk with Kylie. Korey Reed, a BR Certified instructor from West Virginia, was shadowing me. I told Kylie to ‘show me her homework”. She did 2 turns, they were great, and we went over to the cage to hit.
I had Kylie do eight Rebel’s Rack Timing Turns and then I asked her if she was ready to turn. She said yes, so I told her to get her bat and prepare herself to turn as fast as she could. Her very first swing she hit the ball 57-mph. That’s 7-mph harder than her hardest hit at her evaluation. As you can see from the video, we changed nothing about her stance or hand position. So how did her velocity jump so much in literally one swing?
The Rebel’s Rack Progression is based on how people actually learn new tasks that are not hard-wired into healthy humans. Chunking up movements, combining them when ready, and then speeding them up. Constant reinforcement happens here, both with visual cues (given by a mirror) and verbal cues (given by a coach). Instead of the athlete guiding themselves, at the formative stages, the athlete must BE GUIDED. Remember coaches, there is a paying customer expecting that guidance, and we always respect that fact.
What are the main skills associated with softball? Hitting for average, hitting for power, speed (baserunning) fielding, and throwing are five key skills needed to excel on the field. I’d imagine every coach and player works on some if not all of those skills during every practice. If every team and player work on the same skill set in the same manner, how does anyone expect to get ahead of their competition? More importantly, if you've never learned the aforementioned skills correctly, the traditional practice structure might hurt you as a player or your team as a coach. So, is your practice missing something? We at Softball Rebellion would say the answer is yes. And if that is the case, how can you fix the problem?
Most teams choose to train more in an attempt to gain an advantage over their opponents or earn more playing time. “More” can be defined as spending more time on specific skills or completing more repetitions. Sometimes, the player or team chooses both more time and more repetitions to gain an advantage.
Although practicing more seems helpful, many players end up hurt or tired if they're not physically prepared for longer practice periods. In hitting specifically, a tired athlete's mechanics can break down, creating sub-optimal compensations to ‘survive’ the practice instead of ‘thrive’ throughout the practice.
Traditional training, consisting of hitting off of tees, front toss or cage work, and on-field batting practice isn't enough to separate your team from the rest. These typical practice activities don't give you a leg up on the competition. So, coaches now create different practice variations to maximize training effects. For example, a coach may emphasize barrel awareness by tossing smaller balls. Other coaches use short and long bats to force hitters to barrel up the ball. The issue here is simple: the players are STILL JUST HITTING! Trying to improve hitting flaws by hitting more makes little to no sense when compared to teaching tactics utilized in school systems.
My son, Bryant, is 6 years old. Each night, he reads a book to either his mother or myself and sometimes, even to his little brother, Tyson. Typically, his books rely on similar letter combinations to help ingrain certain word patterns and sounds. A common sentence would be: “A dog and a frog are on a log.” Clearly, the book is trying to get Bryant to practice reading, understanding, and making the 'og' sound. As time goes on, the books get harder and pair different sounds together. “Ben has a hen and a dog and a frog”. In that sentence, the ‘en’ sounds were paired with ‘og’ sounds to help Bryant see and hear the difference. This is simple deliberate practice of an elementary skill set over and over.
Math is taught in a similar way. Currently, Bryant is working on adding and subtracting numbers. The class goes over how adding and subtracting works with M&M’s because the students understand physical differences as opposed to abstract numerical differences faster. Seeing 5 M&M’s become 3 M&M’s because you ate 2 is a simple way to work on subtraction. Understanding the number 5 minus 3 equals 2 on a paper is hard for some children at this age.
The students also work on counting by 1’s, 2’s and 3’s. The students count to 9 by threes (3,6,9). They also count backward by 2’s from 10 to 0 (10,8,6,4,2,0). The teachers use these strategies to teach abstract math as opposed to physical math. Both are practiced deliberately, and both are repeated over and over again. He hasn’t been required to use a short pencil, then a long pencil, and then pencils with different lead hardness for writing proprioception. I think that’s in week 2!
In softball coaching, many times coaches assume a hitter can hit already. Meaning they have a basic mechanical understanding of how to actually hit a ball correctly with some power. What does this assumption of competence lead to? Assumptions lead to mass repetition based practices. Most people believe that “More time or more reps will make a player better." While this can work for some players, normally it creates a bigger gap between the good players and bad ones.
Hitting is rotating the body, speeding up the bat around the body, and directing the bat into a ball. By assessing players' untrained ability to rotate, and then teaching better mechanical patterns for rotation, you ensure each hitting drill is maximally effective. Teaching the proper mechanics of rotation would take minutes of practice time but allow for hyper-effective and efficient hitting practice afterward. Instead of countless constraints, or drills from twitter, take the time to teach proper rotational technique. It’ll change your career or the career of those you teach in a massive way.
"The Softball Swing is completely different than a Baseball Swing." This is a statement that I had heard before but it had never been directed specifically towards me. Truthfully, I brought this discussion upon myself because I asked a Softball player (we'll call her Sarah for confidentiality) if she wanted any help with her swing, unsolicited. I normally refrain from doing this since players, understandably, dislike criticism they are not looking for. The reason I did ask was that Sarah's brother had been attending lessons for months and had seen dramatic improvement from being engaged in the Baseball Rebellion program. While I was teaching a lesson to Sarah's brother, she was hitting in the adjacent cage. The differences in the swings from the two cages could not have been more noticeable. To Sarah's credit, she was following her instructor's teaching perfectly, swinging as directly to the ball as possible (creating a downward swing path.) Sarah was also following traditional teaching with other parts of her swing by squishing the bug with her back foot and finishing forward with her head over her front foot. The results of Sarah's swings were either weak grounders or pop-ups with a ton of backspin. In contrast, Sarah's brother was in the next cage swinging violently and using his entire body to maximize his force behind the ball.
This was the first time I had encountered siblings whose hitting focus and goals were so different. In an attempt to build a case for the baseball and softball swing being extremely similar (if not identical), I decided to look at the evidence.
By far the most common argument used to advocate for softball players swinging down is the rise ball. While it is true that Softball players do pitch underhand from flat ground, very few strikes actually rise. Gravity is a powerful force. I recently asked a D1 collegiate softball pitching coach about the rise ball. She replied saying:
"Even our fastest pitchers use the rise ball as a show pitch"
What she meant by this is that the rise ball does rise but crosses the plate out of the strike zone. The pitcher simply hopes that the pitch entices the hitter to swing and miss underneath it. When instructing hitters on hitting a true rise ball, we usually instruct them to take it since it is highly unlikely that it will be a strike. Many pitchers claim a rise ball but they are really throwing a pitch that flattens out towards the middle to the top of the strike zone. These pitches result in a high percentage of home runs since they are easy to lift and softball fields are only about 200 feet. Below are two examples of collegiate players hitting "rise balls" that were left lower than intended and therefore flattened out. Both of these hitters are clearly swinging up which allowed them to demolish the ball for a home run!
As a pitcher's velocity approaches 70 MPH (extremely fast), it is possible to throw rise balls for strikes that actually do rise. I studied Kelly Barnhill from Florida. She is an elite level pitcher. Let's take a look at a couple of her rise balls below.
As I mention in the video above, Barnhill's rise ball does travel upward at about a 3-degree incline and crosses at the top of the strike zone. Due to the height and trajectory of the pitch, hitters can easily lift this pitch. The goal of a pitcher like Barnhill is to get the hitter to swing and miss underneath the ball or pop it up. It is rare for ground balls to be hit on a true rise ball. So what do we tell our hitters to do on the rare occasion that they face an elite pitcher with a true rise ball like Kelly Barnhill? We stress the importance of pitch selection because most of their misses will come from swings out of the zone. We also teach our hitters to flatten out their swing when swinging at a rise ball in the zone. This way, our hitters minimize their chances of missing under the pitch while maximizing their chances to drive the ball for an extra-base hit. This concept is something that we only have to address with our players who truly play at an elite level since the chances of most hitters facing a true rise thrown as a strike is extremely low.
There is no argument that slower fastballs and offspeed pitches travel down as they approach the batter due to gravity. So even if you are stuck on the idea of hitting the rise ball, hitters have to account for these other types of pitches. The best and most logical strategy on all downward traveling pitches is to swing upward to match the plane of the pitch and produce force that is likely to lead to the softball being lifted over the infield and potentially over the outfield fence. Below is an example of a softball pitch traveling down and being crushed by an upward swing.
In our softball hitting evaluations, I often see hitters who have clearly been taught to keep their feet still/get their foot down very early. The primary rationale for this teaching in the softball community is that the softball pitching rubber (43 feet) is closer than the baseball mound (60 feet). While this is true, due to the softball pitch speed being slower than the baseball pitch speed, the reaction time for baseball and softball hitters are very similar. Just like in baseball, softball hitters find great success when they start early (before the pitch is released) and time the pitch with their turn rather than their front foot.
As you can see, Alex Hugo begins her leg kick well before the pitcher releases the ball. This allows her time to get her body and energy moving without feeling rushed. While no softball or baseball hitter has to use a leg kick, it is certainly a viable option.
All the logic and theory in the world can sound great but it will be useless without practical application with real-world examples. We have had the privilege of working with hundreds of Softball players who have fully bought into using the Softball Rebellion methodology in their swings. This has resulted in millions of dollars in scholarships for our hitters due to their great on-field results. Below are just a few videos of our softball players utilizing what some may call a "baseball" style swing in games. We just call it swinging efficiently. The results are clear. If you are a softball player looking to take your swing to the next level, check out our in-person or online hitting lessons page here.
To all of our softball hitters (and parents) out there, don't be afraid to learn the high-level swings you see on TV! You are more than capable of swinging at a high-level and CRUSHING THE BALL!
The softball community at all levels has been very welcoming and open to the movement ideas here at Softball Rebellion. Because of this, many schools are adopting the Rebel’s Rack movement progression. This movement work allows coaches and instructors to unlock the hidden potential inside of their athletes while adding the ability to hit for power. On March 22nd, 2016 Tomika and Takia Nichols walked into Softball Rebellion. Here is Takia’s unedited evaluation video. Softball Rebellion HQ had zero Hittrax at this point, so we used a Stalker Sport 2 radar gun to collect her exit velocity data.
For this article, Tomika, Takia's mother, was gracious enough to answer some questions about her and her daughter's experience here at Softball Rebellion HQ. Our questions and her answers are as below.
“One of the parents from Takia’s travel ball team and I were talking. I was telling him how we had tried several different hitting instructors. At the time, I was driving from Hillsborough to Raleigh and she was not showing any improvement. He told me about a place in Hillsborough, Softball Rebellion, that provided hitting training. It was close to home, so I thought I would give it a try. I scheduled her first evaluation and the suggestions that were given seemed to click. So, we scheduled our first lesson and the rest is history.”
“The biggest difference is now she is hitting for power. If it’s not over the fence it’s hard line drives. The speed of the ball coming off her bat, for the most part, is unstoppable.”
“The biggest misconception from my point of view is the methodology. In the beginning, she was asked why does she swing like that. People have seen her videos in the cage and ask and can she hit like that in a game. And the answer is, yes. For me the numbers on the Hittrax are fine but what keeps me coming back is her performance on the field. When I saw my daughter who was then 12-13 years old hit the ball to the parking lot, I was amazed. Then I watched girls move out of the way of a ball that is moving so fast they don’t even attempt to catch it, I was sold. She is still working hard to improve but when she is focused she can be unstoppable.”
“The environment at Softball Rebellion is honestly like no other facility that we have been to. It’s a very friendly environment. We are actually treated like family. She has trained with everyone there and each trainer genuinely cares about the individual. This personal interest extends past the cage and on the field to school and life in general. I recommend Baseball Rebellion and Softball Rebellion to everyone! You cannot go wrong if you are willing to put in the work and trust the process.”
Clearly, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Takia and her mother. The sacrifice both have put into getting Takia here consistently has been tremendous. Takia's work ethic is exemplary. Her focus and drive to be great are also as high as we have here at SRHQ. Because of this, she has turned herself into a sure-fire Power 5 recruit. That being said, I wouldn't call her drive 'different' here. Many players exhibit the same drive, work ethic and similar gains to what Takia has earned. In the coming months, I will highlight more and more players as they do more and more incredible things.