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Swing Level….or NOT!

posted Mar 15, 2013, 10:05 AM by Kerry Maher

Swing Level….or NOT!

By: Cindy Bristow

I’ll bet you’ve heard you should “swing level”. Well, is this hitting fact or hitting fiction? It’s important you know the truth when it comes to hitting and outscoring your opponents. Myths are everywhere in softball so make sure you know the truth about whether you should have a level swing.

Making sure you Swing Level is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to hitting and yet one of the most often repeated pieces of hitting advice. As a player it’s vital that you learn what really happens during the swing – and whether it really is level.
I know it’s scary to challenge such a long-held notion as the level swing, but I also believe it’s important to teach what really happens in softball and not repeat things just because “everybody says”.
Just like “don’t drop your back shoulder” I’ve forever heard how hitter’s must swing level. So as a young coach I said and taught that same thing. I didn’t give it any thought. In fact, I felt if I was taught these things they must be right, so I taught them myself – for years.
That is, until I started studying hitting intensely and tearing the swing apart through the use of video analysis. Video analysis allowed me to set aside my prior knowledge (or at least I thought it was “knowledge”) and see for myself what really happens during the swing (or during any softball skill for that matter). So, how do we tackle the concept of swinging level? Let’s take a look at 3 Olympic softball players – Jessica Mendoza (USA), Stacey Nuveman (USA) and Tanya Harding (AUS) – and see if their swings are level.
Fastpitch Softball htting Picture 1 Swing Level instruction from Cindy Bristow of Softball Excellence
We’ll start with Tanya Harding, a 4-time Olympian from Australia and former MVP of the Women’s College World Series. This first series is a 3 picture sequence of Tanya hitting a ball off a batting T, about thigh-high, and each picture is a different point in her swing: Her Stance, Contact and her Finish. Notice the yellow line in each picture. This line follows the barrel of her bat throughout her entire swing.
Fastpitch Softball htting Picture 2 Swing Level instruction from Cindy Bristow of Softball Excellence
Before we evaluate the swing path let’s look at 2 other Olympians and see what their bat paths, or swings, look like just in case Tanya is doing something weird.
Fastpitch Softball htting Picture 3 Swing Level instruction from Cindy Bristow of Softball Excellence
The middle 3 pictures are of Stacey Nuveman, a 3-time Olympian and also a former UCLA star. Stacey is a right-handed hitter like Tanya but is Stacey is a big power hitter. After Stacey we have 2-time Olympian Jessica Mendoza. Jess is a former Stanford and USA Softball star and a left-handed hitter. Jess is regarded as one of the best all-around hitters in the world.
In our last issue of the SE Insider we talked about the #1 hitting misconception which is the notion of Why Hitters Must Not Drop Their Back Shoulder. Through the use of pictures I explained how this is not what happens to a hitters back shoulder at contact and how hitters do in fact drop their back shoulder when hitting the ball, especially when hitting a low pitch.
When you look at the yellow bat path on all 3 hitters what do you notice? Remember that the yellow line is the path of the bat barrel and the red X is the point of contact.
Bat Path Observations:
  1. None of the hitters have a straight bat path (or a level swing).
  2. Tanya and Stacey have more oval shaped bat paths
  3. Jess & Stacey have active hands at the beginning of their swing (squiggly yellow line at the start of swing)
  4. Jess approaches contact with the most level approach.
  5. Jess takes a much longer stride than the other 2 hitters thus lowering her body more on her swing.
  6. All 3 hitters must start their swing by going down since the bat starts high and the pitch they hit is much lower than their hands - thus ruling out the possibility of a level swing.
  7. They all contact the ball (red X) slightly in front of their stride leg or body (not necessarily their stride foot)
2 Most Important Observations:
Fastpitch Softball htting Picture 4 Swing Level instruction from Cindy Bristow of Softball Excellence
  1. Look at the picture of all 3 hitters in the Stance - and notice that their swings are much longer in front of them than they are behind them! This is THEBIGGEST mistake that younger hitters make. They spend too much time with the bat behind them either dropping their hands too soon, or simply dragging the bat behind them through the swing. All 3 of these world-class players quickly get the bat in front of their body heading toward the contact point. This allows them to wait longer on pitches, thus having more time to gather information on the pitch, and then to quickly deliver their hands and the bat to and through the ball.
  2. And then they CONTINUE that bat path forward after contact as long as they can, instead of simply twisting or wrapping the bat around their chests. This provides power for each of these hitters.
While it’s easy to see that none of these hitters have a level swing, they each get the bat head (barrel) lined up with the ball prior to contact. Jess does it much longer on this particular swing than either Tanya or Stacey but that’s mainly because the pitch that she’s swinging at is a little higher than the one either Stacey or Tanya are swinging at.
All 3 hitters are trying to hit the back of the ball for line drives, the slight bottom if they’re trying to lift the ball for homerun power, and the slight top if they are trying to hit the ball on the ground. But all 3 are also definitely putting more force into their follow throughs in order to hit the ball with as much power as they possibly can.