To Tee, or Not to Tee?

“But Coach, I can hit a pitched ball!”

DSC_0544This is the clarion call of the t-ball player, desperate to shed that kid stuff and start playing some real baseball.  And, of course, when Mom or Dad go out in the back yard and see that little Suzie can crank one onto the roof of their house (use whiffle balls around the house folks, as let me tell you from personal experience—and expense— even tennis balls can do some damage), they are ready to kick the tee to the curb and get their little slugger into coach pitch ASAP.

And that may well be the worst decision you can make for your young one’s development as a hitter.

What I say to both my kids and parents alike is, “You know who hits off a tee more than he does off live pitching? [INSERT FAVORITE MLB PLAYER HERE] does.”  And while that might be an exaggeration in some cases, it isn’t by much.  Tee work is a cornerstone of pretty much every major league hitter out there.  Why?  Because it allows a hitter to place the ball in exactly whatever part of the hitting zone he or she wants, and focus on the approach rather than trying to make contact.

Don’t believe me?  Perhaps Dustin Pedroia might be able to convince you:

But as important as the tee is to MLB hitters, it’s even more important to the kids just starting out.  This is because a baseball swing is a very complicated piece of physical mechanics.  Every part of the body has a very specific and important role.  Teaching proper head, hands, and feet positions is very difficult in itself.  I’ll describe some of my methods on how to break a swing down piece-by-piece to make it fun for the beginner in future posts, but safe to say that a child will have a LOT of moving parts to deal with just dealing with their own body.

Now, if you try to add a moving ball to the equation, most of the time proper swing mechanics just go out the window.  Indeed, often a young player will have more initial success hitting a ball with poor swing mechanics than with good ones.  Whether it is swinging off the front foot, spinning around in a circle, or chopping at the ball like it’s a piece of wood, what comes most naturally to a child is their body mechanical wheelhouse.

lizard brainThat’s their body’s default position, so when the Lizard Brain instinct takes over in a young player as they want to do anything possible not to fail, you’ve got a recipe for more short-term success and long-term issues.  That’s because you and your kids’ coaches will be spending more time down the line helping them to unlearn the poor approach that worked well enough at the beginning.

So both in terms of practice and league placement, don’t be in too much of a rush to ditch the tee.  The tee can allow coaches to do several different hitting drills at once, and because there will be less time spent on swinging-and-missing, kids will get more strikes at the ball and less time waiting their turn.  All while the coach can focus on good form from the very beginning.

Now if I’ve convinced you on the value of a tee, let me just give you fair warning before you go rushing out to the sporting goods store.  I have spent more time than I’d care to admit gazing upon scattered shards of plastic littering the ground: a brand new tee pulverized beyond recognition after a single practice.  In my next post, I hope to help you benefit from my dubious history to find a tee that works right for your players and your wallet.

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