Lower Your Strikeouts By Doing This Drill.
I pride myself on being a contact hitter. Put the ball in play, make some crazy stuff happen. Speed kills. My swing has never been the prettiest and it never will be, but guess what? It works. Frequently, I get complimented on my hand-eye coordination. I am very good a swinging at pitches that aren't strikes (don't ask why I swing at them, because I really don't know half the time) and putting the ball in play. It comes from my roots as a slapper turned gap to gap hitter. When people ask what I did to get that hand-eye coordination, they usually laugh at my answer.
It's ping pong. Yes, you read that right. Table tennis.
We had a table growing up, and even if my brothers wouldn't play with me, I would turn the opposite side of the table on its side to create a wall so I could play by myself. I wasn't trying to get better at softball, but it truly made me a better hitter. I held the paddles in my right hand, and did back hands (I am left handed) for hours upon hours. I honestly just thought it was fun, and it sure beat playing video games or scrolling on social media. And, let's be honest, sometimes hitting off a tee or front toss just gets boring.
I knew that this was something I wanted to write about and recommend, but when I started researching on table tennis, I was a bit surprised to find out that this theory is actually backed by science. In a study published as recently as 2018, athletes that played table tennis had much higher reaction times in comparison to those that did not (1). To state how important this is, a 63mph pitch gives you approximately 0.4 seconds to respond. A 70mph pitch gives you about 0.36 seconds. We have such a limited about of time to read and respond to a stimulus and any millisecond we gain is an advantage to us as hitters. To dig a little bit deeper, the size of a ping pong ball is about 40mm in diameter, and a softball is more than twice that, at about 96mm. With our eyes tracking a smaller point, we are teaching the neurons in our brain to fire both faster and more accurately, which could translate to on the field performance. In addition, table tennis improves mental alertness and concentration. When you play with a partner you are actively using your prefrontal cortex to anticipate your opponent's shot, as well as activating your hippocampus (due to the aerobic nature of the game), which can improve memory. This is why table tennis is recommended as a hobby and form of physical activity for Alzheimer's patients (2).
So, if you find yourself striking out a lot, ping pong is one of the first things I recommend to parents who want their kids to get better at consistently making contact and improving hand eye coordination. I'm dead serious. Place the paddle in the bottom hand of your swing (for lefties, the right hand; and for righties, the left hand) and work on tracking the ball and making consistent contact at a relatively high speed. See how many hits you can get in a row before you screw up, then start over.
Every day I think I see a new hitting drill on social media. There's nothing wrong with that, but I do believe that sometimes kids need to switch up their training stimulus and get a mental break from softball. Ping pong is the perfect combination of a neural, reactionary stimulus with an escape from the normal training regimen. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!
1. CAN, S., KİLİT, B., ARSLAN, E., & SUVEREN, S. (2014). THE COMPARISON OF REACTION TIME OF MALE TENNIS PLAYERS, TABLE TENNIS PLAYERS AND THE ONES WHO DON'T EXERCISE AT ALL İN 10 TO 12 AGE GROUPS. / 10-12 YAŞ GRUBUNDAKİ ERKEK TENİSÇİLER,MASA TENİSÇİLER VE AYNI YAŞ GRUBUNDAKİSEDANTERLERİN REAKSİYON ZAMANLARININ KARŞILAŞTIRILMASI. Journal Of Physical Education & Sports Science / Beden Egitimi Ve Spor Bilimleri Dergisi, 8(2), 195-201.
2. Cedervall, Y., Torres, S., & Åberg, A. C. (2015). Maintaining well-being and selfhood through physical activity: experiences of people with mild Alzheimer's disease. Aging & Mental Health, 19(8), 679-688. doi:10.1080/13607863.2014.962004