A Breakdown of Jason Ochart's (of Driveline) Philosophy on Baseball Swing Mechanics
My main purpose of this post is to communicate that what I'm doing is different from other swing coaches. In order to convey that, I need to put their theories as well as my own theories of the swing out there.
Now to be fair, Ochart is only in his late 20s. He's just a kid. When he was 10 years old I was already five years into making the swing my full time obsession and profession. When he was a sophomore in college, I was already making MLB MVPs. It took me twenty years of full time commitment to get to the level I'm at today. You can't expect to just major in kinesiology and come out with novel ideas about the swing.
Part of what makes me different is that I'm outside of baseball. I'm not trying to impress any coaches "above" or "below" me. My loyalty is with you, the reader, who just wants to learn about swing mechanics, and is being misled and sold online. Many of these swing coaches are nothing more than smooth talkers - salesmen with a mild interest in the swing. They're good with people, good communicators. Sometimes they'll even admit this, saying things like, "it's all about communication." Wait, what?! How is swing mechanics all about communication? You're not interested in communication, you're interested in the mechanics of the swing, and gaining an understanding that can actually substantially improve performance. With me, you get someone who'se been obsessed with human movement since he was a kid, and made it his life's mission to figure out the swing.
By explaining my views and explaining the views of my competitors, I hope to show you that I'm really nothing like them. They are making a bunch of excuses as for why they don't have any good mechanical advice, and I'm saying I have the secret to the swing and here it is.
I don't really enjoy reviewing the theories of other swing coaches. The last thing I want to do, after all these years, is study the philosophies of blue belts. But that's what I feel I have to do right now in this part of my career, where I am re-emerging with a new revolutionary understanding of the swing. I simply want to inform those interested in the swing of the various theories out there, explain them, and of course to explain my own theory of the swing. I'll let the internet to decide what works. As swing coaches, there is no reason to hide behind titles or the MLB pros that you've worked with. Let's get the theories out in the open and see what works. And by the way, if you are a swing coach, and I have misrepresented your theories, I ask you to please correct me.
The truth is, it's a pretty grim world right now for anyone looking for real answers to the baseball swing. Sure, when you type the keywords "baseball swing mechanics" into Google you get results, but nobody (but me) is giving you a real understanding of just what is going on with the swing? While these "new school" swing coaches, with all their fancy tech, may be saying something different than the old school (although much of it isn't), I urge you to ask yourself, did their words really change you as a hitter? Did you go from one level to another level, or are you still basically the same hitter you were before? Don't judge the coaches words based on who he's affiliated with, but only how much it helped YOU.
Every other online swing coach is where I was a few years into my journey - they've realized that the greatest hitters didn't actually do things like swing down, squish the bug, or throw the hands, and that's about as far as they've gotten. I knew this in 2000. But when it comes to explaining what it is that great hitters did do that separates them from the rest, this is where you'll get a long song and dance routine from these guys - an hour long video of confusing biomechanics talk, an additional 600 Twitter posts, or as Ochart does, an avoidance of the question altogether and a dance around the actual question that everyone wants to know - what in the world is going on in a great swing mechanically?
This is where I can take over and lead you through this mucky water of baseball swing mechanics. I explain clearly the systems working behind a great swing that make hitting so much easier - the moving fulcrum, forward bend, and a more connected position at contact. Then I take it even a step further - I'm the only swing coach who delivers the single feeling that separates a great hitter, and I do so with just three words: front arm dominant. My message can be summed up like this: I am urging every hitter to focus on one simple swing thought - to make his swing front arm dominant. Your practice time should be focused 100% on this pursuit until you reach a whole new level of hitting performance, then, and only then, should you venture out and fiddle with other swing thoughts.
Ochart portrays that "I'm still learning" or "I'm always open to knew ideas" kind of attitude. That way, should he later say something that contradicts his current position, he at least opted for the "I'm still learning" insurance plan. When you go to the best of the best, do you want to hear "I'm still learning"? Before you go into surgery, do you want the doctor to say, "I'm still learning"? Or do you want him to say, "Don't worry, I'm an expert who's been at this for more than 20 years. I know what I'm doing."?
First I invite you to read Ochart's post here yourself.
He starts the article off with three questions that the article will address: (all quotes from Ochart's article will be in bold)
”How do you guys teach hitting mechanics?”
“What movement patterns do you teach?"
“What is your hitting philosophy?”
But he really only ends up answering the last question. As far as mechanics, he takes no stance at all. This is typical of conventional hitting coaches - roundabout speak. In an article where he starts off promising that he will tell you his take on the swing, he actually avoids the subject entirely.
He basically says in the first few paragraphs that because there are thousands of videos now online of crappy hitting instruction, which hasn't made hitters better, his conclusion is that mechanical instruction should be avoided altogether. Isn't that throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, there is a lot of amateur swing analysis online - all of it is as far as I'm concerned - but that doesn't mean you should blame any and all mechanical work or theories of mechanics, does it?
He says that we should instead focus on giving the hitter external cues. This by the way, is where he shifts your focus. You thought you were going to read about his take on mechanics, but now he's directing your attention away from that and instead on his coaching philosophy of how he prefers to speak to his students. He's basically saying that mechanical work doesn't work.
Coaches often do this. They damn well know that you the reader is STARVING for someone to tell them more about swing mechanics, but instead they use this hunger to keep you tethered to them, avoiding the question but never actually admitting that they have nothing to offer in this area. Instead of just outright admitting that they have nothing to offer, they hold you in suspense, acting as though you aren't ready for their knowledge, or you couldn't handle their knowledge, or it's top secret stuff that they only discuss with their pro clients. These are ways of skirting the issue, not taking a stance when it comes to swing mechanics, but also not push you away by admitting that they have nothing for you.
It seems that Ochart considers himself an evidence based coach who relies on science to develop his theories. His main approach is that players perform better if given external cues rather than internal cues. It is this study that he bases his coaching philosophy on. So, he concludes, giving mechanical advice to a player is wrong.
It is much better, he says, to find drills that automatically lead that player to find the right mechanics on his own. These drills, he says, should simulate closely what a player will experience in a game.
Here's where he gets deep into internal vs. external cueing. He says,
It seems that great coaches know how to use cues. They know what to say and when to say it.
Here comes the "it's all about communication" stuff that swing coaches often do. I urge you to see this as a red flag and not accept it as a substitute for answers about swing mechanics. He goes on to say,
Studies suggest that athletes produce more force and sequence more efficiently when they focus externally versus internally. EMG activity showed that when the athlete focused on their body movement, there was a higher output of muscles that are not supposed to be activated, thus slowing down the body (Wulf, Su). I see far too many young hitters who’ve been over-cued and coached out of natural movement patterns.
He is coming to the wrong conclusion here. Of course when performing you don't want to focus on internal cues. If you're facing a pitcher who throws in the mid nineties with a nasty slider, of course you don't want to be thinking about the mechanics of your baseball swing. But in practice we deliberately remove ourselves from the stress of competition so we can isolate and hone certain subskills that are on automatic pilot during a game. That way our natural reactions during a game improve over time, through practice. If all you're ever doing in practice is simulating a game, then you are never improving these subskills - skills like pitch recognition, hand/eye coordination, strength and speed, the mental approach, and of course, swing mechanics. All of these skills should be picked apart in practice, and incorporated into automatic responses during a game. The beauty of practice is that it gives us a chance to be internal in our thoughts. Ochart, however, sees all internal cueing as bad.
External cueing isn't just the driving force behind Ochart's philosophy. It's really the philosophy behind Driveline. All of their practice is high stress, high competition. It makes for sexy Instagram posts and draws a lot of attention to them, but it's missing the point of practice. Yes, there is a time for ramping up the pressure, the speed, and the competition in practice, so games seem a little less stressful and less fast. But this should just be a small portion of your practice time.
When developing a practice routine, try to best simulate the game environment. This seems like an obvious statement, but you’d be surprised at the absurd things people do to train hitters. I suggest the creation of drills that require bat speed, consistent contact, adjustability or whatever your goal is, and challenge your hitters.
Again, this sums up Driveline's entire approach to training baseball. This is what they feel sets them apart from everyone else. They are want to portray that they are the new, young group of trainers who are creating extremely high levels of competition and energy in their training facility. That's wonderful, but really how effective is it.
Ochart has seen so many players screwed up by mechanical advice. This is true. It's a problem. You have a lot of robots out there who have taken too many lessons. But, again, this doesn't mean that internal cueing is to blame. That's throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What should be blamed are the coaches who don't understand the swing. It's not giving mechanical advice that is the problem, it's giving the wrong mechanical advice.
He goes on,
Our approach? We attempt to develop ideal movement patterns with our hitters by putting them in a specific training environment to force adaptations. We put them in a challenging environment and use competition to raise arousal level. They receive constant objective feedback (exit velocity, launch angle) and we allow them to move freely and discover their swing.
Again, this is a copout. Hoping a player will find the right swing mechanics on his own is some sort of Alice-In-Wonderland kind of approach to the swing. No matter how many rounds of home run derby you play, you're not going to just stumble upon Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing. In fact, game-like environments are exactly the place where mechanical changes typically don't occur because your body automatically resorts to what it knows best in high stress situations. So rather than making mechanical changes in Ochart's practice, each repetition is only ingraining deeper and deeper the movement patterns you already have as an automatic response.
The rest of the article is devoted to selling you on their $599.99 weighted training bats (Ouch!). Then, in part two of the article, he goes on to further explain his approach,
We coach the intention and manipulate the training environment to force self-organization towards a positive adaptation.
He goes on,
What’s primarily important to me as the coach is that the hitter is quick to contact, adjustable, and swinging with force. The coach can create a training environment that forces these adaptations, which can be achieved in slightly different ways with each athlete’s body.
Once we have established a mechanical deficiency in a swing pattern, we use this information regarding movement design to prescribe appropriate drills to the athlete. In my experience, there is no one particular magic drill.
No magic drill? He hasn't read Swing Cheat Code. He's just another coach avoiding the topic of swing mechanics. It's nothing new. I've seen this kind of talk from so-called experts my whole life. When I was a player just looking for some help, I ran into it. And then, as a swing coach, my peers would do it. It seemed to me as though they were tired of not understanding the swing, and instead of admitting as much and getting to work, they opted to downgrade the importance of swing mechanics instead.
He goes on to talk more about the importance of coaching the intention rather than giving internal cued mechanical advice. This is obviously the method which he feels defines him. Instead of getting directly to a mechanical problem, like Buddha, he points the way with drills that will make you discover the change on your own.
Then Ochart comes as close as he will get to sharing his secret to the swing with us,
Shifting a hitter’s intention to simply hitting the ball hard with a good trajectory can drastically and rapidly cause positive movement adaptations...
"Hit the ball hard with a good trajectory." You guys deserve better than this!
He goes on to explain more about the importance of keeping your students focus on the external and away from the internal. He talks about the two different kinds of feedback you can give as a coach - "knowledge of performance" and "knowledge of result". Knowledge of result is the one you want to focus on because it leads to an external focus of the athlete.
He goes on
We provide this feedback in the form of batted-ball exit velocity, distance traveled, launch angle, and bat speed.
Again, you aren't going to just start achieving Ruth's swing mechanics just because a coach is reading off your "exit velo" after every hit. This is the "new school" swing coaches just being proud of their gadgets and thinking that they alone will fix your swing mechanics.
His main message is that the player will, provided the environment is created just right by the coach, stumble upon the most powerful and consistent swing he's capable of.
(Again he tries to sell you on their $599.99 training bats)
He then goes on to show you examples of drills he might do and the external cues he will give. This is when you get a glimpse into the extent of his mechanical instruction to players.
In the first drill, the player, in order to avoid hitting an object, is simply forced to swing up more. I've said it time and time again, the only real mechanical insight these "new school" swing coaches have when it comes down to it is "swing up more." In this drill, Ochart says his external cues are, "Drive the baseball with a good launch angle." Launch angle, launch angle, launch angle. These new school swing coaches probably mumble "launch angle" in their sleep at night.
In the next drill, his cue is "hit it hard."
In the next two drills he has a guy hitting an inside pitch off of a tee and an outside pitch off of a tee, with a bat laid down by his feet to keep his stride in line. These are not innovative drills, folks.
Next drill is one where the soft tosser varies the speeds of the toss and makes the hitter adjust. Again, this is a drill as old as baseball itself.
He goes on to talk about overload/underload training. Again, old concepts, but more importantly, this kind of training has nothing to do with swing mechanics. Your swing isn't going to magically get better because you do overload/underload training.
He goes on to show you examples of players who's swing flaws were "corrected" without any mechanical cueing but by simply putting their Axe training bats in their hands. Positionally, there is no difference in the swings. The only real difference is that the player is swinging harder and with more of an uppercut. Again, that's all these new school coaches have - "swing harder and swing up."
The numbers he presents in this example are also misrepresented. Remember, the devil is in the details. He shows a progression of three clips of the same player. In the first one, he says the player's swing was not "on plane with the ball" and the player is hitting off a tee at a ball that is positioned very low. Then in the next clip he shows how the player's swing was changed to be more "on plane" with the pitch just by putting an (very expensive) end loaded bat in his hands, but notice how much higher the pitch location was than the location of the ball on the tee. Of course his swing was more "on plane." This is intentionally misleading you.
To summarize, Ochart doesn't address mechanics directly. He will lead you through drills and basically hope that your mechanics change. The extent of his philosophy on swing mechanics is typical of the "new school" - swing up more and swing harder. And then he also advocates the old school things like make sure you stride straight. It seems he also is keen on selling you their training bats for using overload/underload training.
A quick word about overload/underload training and Driveline's approach in general. Be very careful when it comes to training the swing. Driveline is run by guys who didn't play a lot of high level baseball and also guys who are pretty young. They don't understand the toll that the swing can have on the body over time. They seem reckless in their approach, having guys just swing as hard as possible, in high competition settings, and with extra heavy and light bats. This is a recipe for injury. You don't want to be 40 years old and getting a hip replacement. Have a long career. Instead of overload/underload swings, a bulk of your physical training should be yoga or other healing movement exercises.
The hitting program is designed considering the latest in sports science and motor learning, and my loyalty is to the research and data. With that being said, it is constantly being refined as we continue to research, collect more data, and expand our understanding.
As the late Charles Poliquin pointed out, real innovators within a field don't wait for the science. If you wait for science to confirm your findings, you'll be waiting for decades and you'll miss the boat. Real innovators also don't hide behind the technology, they use technology but only to develop new theories. They don't hold it up as their crowning achievement. All I can summarize about Ochart is that he's a novice who's been, for whatever reason, placed into the role of thought leader and even the Phillies minor league hitting coordinator. I ask you, "how much have his insights really helped YOU?"