Whenever I see coaches flipping the ball to hitters from the side in practice or before a game, I cringe! For those who don’t know what “side flips” (some refer to this as side toss) look like, a coach or another player gets down on one knee or sits on a ball bucket, facing the hitter from the side. The ball is then tossed in front of the hitter who watches the ball float into the hitting zone from the side and attempts to hit it forward. Unless the rules of baseball and softball change, I don’t believe the ball will ever be pitched sideways from the dugout or the on-deck circle. The Side Flip Drill should be banned because it is detrimental to the development of hitters.
No matter how perfectly the ball is tossed from the side, hitters have to change their mechanics by adjusting their bodies to hit a ball coming from that direction. The changes are subtle, but they can lead to permanent bad habits. When the ball is traveling across the hitting zone, the natural inclination is to “sweep” the ball, instead of hitting it squarely.
A bigger problem is the way this drill affects the vision of hitters. In the past few years, there has been an emphasis on improving pitch recognition through vision training. One of the keys to good pitch recognition and reaction is a still head and uninterrupted focus on the incoming pitch. Every pitch during the side flip drill requires hitters to actually move their head and refocus their eyes.
When the ball is flipped from the side, hitters begin by looking at it coming out of the hand of the person who is doing the tossing. After the ball is tossed in the air, the head and eyes are forced to follow the ball as it approaches the hitting zone. The head moves to track the flight of the flip, and the eyes are constantly refocusing, because the ball is moving vertically. I believe this causes hitters to develop “jittery eyes”. This will lead to difficulty really focusing on the ball when facing live pitching in practice or in a game.
The purpose of any hitting drill should be to improve the physical mechanics of the swing or to enhance the mental approach to every at bat. The side flip drill fails on both accounts.
Instead of the side flip drill, parents and coaches should spend more time using a hitting tee. In my opinion, the hitting tee has been the greatest invention for hitting instruction. I previously posted an article titled, “Perfect To A Tee” that reviews the benefits of using a batting tee as the primary coaching tool for hitters.
I understand coaches often use the side flip drill when a tee or a protective screen is not available. The solution is to use Wiffle balls or softies that can be tossed directly in front of hitters. This allows players to use the same hitting mechanics and eye concentration they will use in a game. It’s a simple solution to a big problem.
As baseball and softball players prepare for a new season, please join me in banning the side flip drill!