Oates Specialties has carried various products to help provide pitchers with a focal point during practice. These products include the Pitching Pad, the Target Pad, and the Advanced Command Trainer, which have all proven to be extraordinary in helping pitchers achieve significant gains in the command of their pitches. The reason for this stems from a concept called deliberate practice, which I have written about in the past. Here is a link to my blog post on this topic for those of you unfamiliar or interested in reading it again.

As a quick refresher, deliberate practice is the concept whereby during every drill or exercise an athlete has a specific goal in mind that he or she is trying to accomplish. For example, when a pitcher warms up with a partner, that pitcher shouldn’t simply throw the ball to his partner while he day-dreams. Instead, the pitcher should have a specific intent with every warm up throw. Perhaps it is to see if he can hit his partner’s glove without it moving, or maybe he wants to see if he can deliver the ball to his partner’s belt buckle each time.

Of course, with each activity there should be a different goal. In fact, with the same activity during different rounds there might be a different specific goal. In a batting practice, one round the goal might be to see if the hitter can drive the ball to the opposite field with every swing. And then during the next round the goal might be to see how far the hitter can hit the ball, essentially a power round. Every time an athlete practices he should have a specific intent that is the focus of that activity.

When it comes to command for pitchers, the Pitching Pad, the Target Pad, and the Command Trainer have been tremendous in assisting pitchers with deliberate practice on command of their pitches. These products provide ways for the pitcher to visually focus on a target before every throw and then provide the athlete with immediate feedback on whether he was successful in accomplishing that goal. The Command Trainer is even more unique in that it provides auditory feedback as well. Because the Command Trainer is only the size of the strike zone, if he misses the zone then he gets nothing but silence. But if the athlete throws his pitch in the zone he will hear the loud pop of the ball striking the Command Trainer. This immediate feedback is incredibly beneficial as the athlete can make in-practice adjustments in order to successfully accomplish his goals.

While the above equipment is helpful for pitchers, Oates Specialties also carries a product for hitters and catchers that can assist with their deliberate practice. The piece of equipment is called the Batting Target. The Batting Target is a 38 inch diameter bulls-eye target made from a durable polypropylene material that has metal grommets that can be attached to safety screens, batting cages, or fences with the included bungee cords and snaps. Below is a picture of the Batting Target:

The Batting Target can be used by hitters to help deliberately practice where they are hitting the ball. This can be done by setting up the Batting Target approximately 20-30 feet away from the hitter thereby becoming the focal point for the hitter prior to hitting the ball. The goal is for the hitter to hit a solid line drive into the middle of the bulls-eye target. A hitter can move the target around the field in order to work on hitting to all directions. The most common hitting drills to use in conjunction with the Batting Target is off a tee or during soft toss, although live batting practice is certainly an option as well. Hitters will be amazed just how difficult it is to successfully hit the target, even from a tee, as it requires the timing, contact point, and mechanics of the swing to all be synchronized perfectly.

This drill can be performed on a field or even in a batting cage. The benefit of using the Target in a cage is that it gives a dimension to the cage so that a hitter can more easily concentrate on where the balls would be traveling if on an actual field. Whether used on a field or in a cage, the Batting Target gives hitters a specific goal so that with every swing the athlete has an objective to accomplish. Like the pitching targets I mentioned above, the Batting Target gives the hitter instant feedback as to whether he accomplished that goal or not, which allows for mid-practice adjustments to be made.

An advanced element of this drill involves the use of a radar gun to record the baseballs exit speed off of the bat. Ideally, the hitter will be able to hit the target with an exit speed as high as possible. This forces the hitter to continue to push the envelope, by providing objective feedback to the hitter as to whether his intensity is as high as it should be. The ultimate goal, therefore, is for the hitter to set his own record for exit speed while also hitting the target. If this can be done while the Batting Target is moved around the field, the hitter is well on his way to becoming an excellent offense player.

But hitting with the Batting Target is not its only use. Fielders and catchers can set up the target at any base to help improve their accuracy during throws. For example, a catcher can set up the target at 2nd base, approximately where a middle-infielders glove will be to lay down a tag on the base-runner, and the catcher can use this focal point to work on the accuracy of his throw-downs. Likewise, a shortstop or third baseman can set up the Batting Target at first base and work on the accuracy of his throws. One of the great things about this training tool, other than helping with an athletes’ deliberate practice, is that it allows an athlete to train all aspects of his defensive game when there might not be enough people to otherwise train. Perhaps a shortstop wants to work on his defense, but only has someone to hit him ground balls. With the Batting Target he can work on both his fielding and his throws. A warm-body to play first base is no longer needed. The same goes for a catcher who might only have somebody to throw him the ball (or is alone). Now his throw-downs can be practiced at game intensity.

Deliberate practice is a must for anybody who is serious about getting better and improving their game. The Batting Target can help provide both a specific goal during practice while also giving objective and immediate feedback to the athlete. I highly recommend adding this incredible tool to your training regimen—the results are very likely to surprise you.

Until next time,

Brian Oates