1. Don't overdo it
While hard work is most definitely a requisite to achieving success in baseball, smart practice is just as important. I tell people all of the time that one of my biggest strengths as a player was my work ethic. I also tell them that at times, it became a detriment. How so? I often took too much batting practice to the point where my swing began to decline and bad habits started to creep in. This made me press more and more and many sessions ended up going downhill.
So what is the right amount of batting practice?
First, one of the most important factors is how many swings to take per round. I have found that between 8-10 swings per round usually serves as a good number. In this range, we have achieved enough swings where the swings are still mechanically sound without too much fatigue. However, if we go beyond this range, fatigue begins to set in and swing quality declines.
As far as the overall length of a batting practice session goes, it depends on a few factors. First, how efficient is the players swing? A more efficient swing is going to require less energy and therefore allow the hitter to take more swings.
Second, the age and overall fitness of the hitter. Younger, weaker and out of shape hitters will not be able to swing for as long as older, stronger and more fit players.
One way to tell is to keep track of the number of swings a player takes in a session. Do this over the course of a few sessions and see when the player begins to decline. Use this for future reference and wrap of session just before hitting that number
2. Focus on pitch selection
For most players, hitting is the best and most fun part of baseball. However, this can often lead to a lack of focus in batting practice. Hitters are often taught from a young age to "swing at good pitches" or "swing at strikes." Although good advice for very new and inexperienced players, I think that we can do better in focusing on pitch selection.
For the majority of batting practice, I want hitters to treat it as if they were in a no strike count. This means that they are focused on one location within the strike zone. This area is wherever the player feels like they can put their best swing on the ball. Most hitters can't cover all 17 inches of home plate, and with a no strike count, hitters need to be aware of getting their perfect pitch and not giving in to the pitcher.
Even though most rounds focus on this no-strike approach, there are countless situations that can be worked on. Pitch location, game situation, different counts, etc. can all be worked on at different points during batting practice.
3. Focus on only 1 mechanical fix at a time
One of the biggest adjustments that I have made as an instructor is trying to emphasize only 1 mechanical fix per round. While every hitter has more than one mechanical issue that needs work, I believe that the best way to work them out is to have a singular focus during each round of 8-12 swings. When the focus shifts to too many issues, none of them get fixed. A baseball swing is such as fast, explosive motion that focusing on 1 thing can be challenging enough.
Whenever I work with a hitter, I analyze their swing and make a list of the mechanical issues that need work. I then rank them in order of importance. Many times, the issues that are the most important can clear up the other problems lower on the list. Look at the hitter below.
What issues are there? In this launch position, his back shoulder is dropped too much and he leaves too much weight on his back leg. When he swings, he pops up too much and has trouble rotating his hips.
While there is a lot going on here, the most important issue to clear up for him was his weight shift. Getting more weight on his front side and being more balanced caused him to level out his shoulders in his launch position, which caused fewer pop ups. It also allowed his to free up his back leg to help rotate his hips.
If we had tried to tell him to rotate his hips without first clearing up the weight shift, it wouldn't have happened because in order to fully rotate the hips, there cannot be too much weight left on the back leg.
Write down all of the flaws that you find and then attack them in order of importance.
Overall, batting practice is vital to the development and success of any hitter. However, we need to make sure that we are doing it correctly. Make sure that you don't swing to a point of diminishing returns, focus on pitch selection and try and stick to one mechanical issue per round.