Pull it, Pure it & Paint it!
by Buz Brundage
Coaches, teaching your players to understand the strike zone and to hit the ball where it's pitched is a huge advantage for your offense. Offense is of course a key component to the game, you must score to win.
We all know that It's not always easy to keep the interest of players during practice. Having a team lose focus and walk through a practice is a sure bet your team will walk through some of it's games during the season. Good teams cannot afford that. As a Coach, you have to remain creative. Sometimes that means to simply play a game during practice. Not a "real" game, but a fun game that challenges your players and crowns a King of the Diamond.
Having a Diamond King for the day (or week) is a real motivator for your team. The King of course, does nothing but direct. Therefore, being the King means the player gets to supervise during field maintenance at the end of the day or "be the Coach" or whatever the Coach decides his/her reward is.
My favorite way to crown the Diamond King (and trust me this works for all ages, including College) is to have a hitting day. Not just any hitting day. Not the Station to Station day. . . But a "game" day. One where the real important aspects of hitting are defined, practiced and ingrained in a fun and competitive atmosphere. Teaching your players to use the whole field by hitting the ball where it's pitched is the purpose of this "game" day drill.
This "game" day will also create a tremendous unity in your team because they will be competing against each other. A major factor in team unity is derived from respect. If players respect each other's ability and competitive desire they end up having a little closer relationship as individuals and as teammates. So, what's cool about this is you not only gain that "something extra" from the "game" day... but your players will completely understand the value of the strike zone and how to use the whole field by hitting the ball "where it's pitched".
Here's how it works: You will need to separate the field into "thirds" by placing a cone (or other marker) on the grass behind shortstop and another behind where you position your second baseman. If you can enlist your local Police Department to donate some "Do Not Cross" yellow crime scene tape that would be ideal. You can roll that tape out from the plate to each marker and effectively divide the field into thirds. Plus, you can reuse the heck out of that stuff. Roll it up... Roll it out. At any rate, your field should look something like this:
I suggest you populate the field with players in their normal position as they will get plenty of fielding practice. Although, I have seen coaches simply place players in the outfield to shag. You will need an "L" Screen positioned short enough to allow complete control of the pitch location. The pitcher's job is to locate the pitch in one of the "thirds" of the plate; inner third, middle third or outer third. It's really helpful if you have one of these zone plates laid over home plate
When the pitcher throws the ball to the inner third, the player must PULL the ball to the 'Pull third' of the field. If the pitch is in the middle third, the player must PURE the ball to the big part of the field - the middle third. If the pitch is on the outer third of the plate, the player has to PAINT the ball to the opposite field third. I personally prefer to have the players go to the plate and receive two pitches, both in the same "third". On the first pitch I do not want the player to swing. Instead, I want him to identify the third and call out PULL, PURE or PAINT in relation to it's location. I also want him to do everything but swing. In other words, I want a good load... a good step and a good hip launch with the hands waiting to release. In addition, I want the player to call out PULL, PURE or PAINT at the precise time he would strike the ball in relation to it's location AND to visualize that ball being smoked to the target portion of the field. Visualizing is a HUGE part of this drill. You CAN ALWAYS SUCCEED IN YOUR MIND'S EYE! The more success you ingrain in your hitter's the better they will perform when they have to.
For example, the pitcher throws a pitch on the inner third. The hitter identifys it.. times it by getting the front foot down in time.. attacks it with hip launch... calls out PULL and visualizes that ball on a line drive to the PULL side of the diamond. Next pitch... same location.. he executes. Coaches, you will be amazed at the skill this ingrains in your hitters. At higher levels of skill, you may need to dismiss the second pitch and allow only one pitch and one swing per player.
Adopt a point system of your own choosing. Players can be rotated as a group or they can simply grab a glove if they do not execute as required and rotate through the field. It is important to "Crown" the winner for a couple of reasons; Motivation and Identification. Motivation for the players to want to have the extra "perk" you have defined as the reward. Identification because in a real game under pressure the players will have positive energy and excitement that they can "do the job" ... whatever the "job" is at the plate in that situation. They will also have extreme confidence in those teammates they have "identified" as being one of the elite hitters on the team ... don't under estimate this... it's huge!
This is also one of my favorite Soft Toss drills on an individual basis and helps the player identify and execute the proper swing for the proper pitch location.
I hope this helps you to BeABetterHitter!