Kids often don’t like it, but hitting off a tee is useful for developing hitters. It’s also quite useful for accomplished hitters. Most major league players practice with a tee every day.
This article discusses the benefits of hitting off a tee and recommends specific tee and net models suitable for the back yard or team practice.
Why Hit Off a Tee?
Hitting live, full-speed pitching is great for learning timing and decision-making, but terrible for learning mechanics. Do you have issues with dropping the bat head? Casting (reaching for an outside pitch by extending the arms)? Inside pitches? High pitches? It’s inefficient to work through such issues with live pitching, where pitch type, speed, and location varies and you’re working on hand/eye coordination more than anything else. It’s also hard to concentrate on hitting the ball when you’re thinking about mechanics.
With a tee, you can work on specific mechanical issues without worrying about everything else that makes hitting difficult. If it takes a bit of convincing to get your son or daughter to use a tee in the back yard, here’s a list of reasons you can give:
- Most major league players use a tee every day. Are you better than they are?
- You can take more swings per minute.
- You will get stronger from taking many swings per day. Then you’ll hit the ball harder.
- You can practice hitting in the back yard.
- You can focus in on whatever issue you most need to focus on.
- You can learn the different contact points of ball location without trying to hit a moving ball, so that when it is live, it comes naturally. For example, you can position yourself and the tee to hit inside pitches pitches over and over.
A helpful way to view the role of a tee is to think of it as part of a progression:
- Tee: hitting mechanics, ball position
- Soft toss: mechanics, but adjusting bat to ball location (note: Soft toss is pitching at an angle with batter standing in front of a net. Many people prefer short toss, where the pitcher stands behind a portable fence with a space for the arm, pitching straight to the batter, but this only works well in a batting cage or a very large field)
- Batting cage (machine pitch): consistently apply mechanics to varying ball location, at typical speeds for your level. No worries about pitch recognition, pitching trickiness, or unusual deliveries.
- Coach pitch (slow speed): pitch recognition, timing
- Live, full-speed kid pitch: put it all together, with no thought about mechanics
You don’t want players to be thinking about mechanics while hitting pitches thrown by other players or the coach. More often than not, it just makes them hit worse. If there are clearly mechanical issues with coach pitch or live pitching, it’s usually a good idea to work it out using a tee or with soft toss, not in the middle of live pitching.
When doing tee work, make sure that kids don’t position themselves or the tee to accommodate their issues. For example, bat casters will be inclined to stand far away to be able to cast the bat. Working with a tee will only help if the batter is forced to practice in a proper way.
Another helpful tip for getting the most out of tee work: Start off with a couple of ultra-slow motion swings. Think about correct mechanics, especially anything you’ve been working on lately with the help of a coach or hitting instructor. I found with my own son that when he did two or three swings like this, his mechanics during the session with the tee looked much better than when he skipped over the slow motion swings.
Some kids (such as my son!) find tee work boring. One way I’ve found to make it more fun for my son is when I watch, and tell him what kind of hit it was . . . “That would have been a weak popup caught by 2nd baseman” or “That was a line drive over the shortstop’s head for a single,” etc. I’ve done that for years. He is now able to accurately gauge for himself where the hit would have gone.
No one type of batting practice is “better” than another. Each type of practice has its place.
What Model of Hitting Tee is Best?
It is not necessary to buy a top of the line glove or expensive bat for a 9-year old, as I discuss in my glove and bat posts. However, my experience with hitting tees is that getting a cheap model is a bad idea, primarily because they quickly fall apart. We experienced this with one model and I’ve seen a bunch of other inferior hitting tees come and go from baseball fields. Also, many cheap tees put the stem right over the center of home plate. That is not where kids should be trying to hit a pitched baseball and therefore should not be used as a representation of home plate.
Three models really stand out as built to last and very good to use. I have seen the first two used a lot around my league, and a coach I know owns the third. These models don’t break. You may prefer one over another depending on your usage pattern so here’s a brief description of the three models.
This is the model we own. The JUGS model weighs in at a hefty 20 pounds. In return for the extra weight, you get extreme durability, a built-in home plate, and 5 different locations to insert one or both of the included poles. The different locations are obviously helpful for practicing inside and outside hitting. There are also many possible drills that can be done with two poles, as described in the included drill book. A downside of being built so thick and heavy is having to lug this along with all your other equipment. There can also be noticeable resistance when not hitting the ball square on, though if you hit the ball perfectly there isn’t much resistance.
The Tanner Tee is small and light, weighing only 6 pounds. This makes it easy to transport and to move around when experimenting with pitch locations relative to a plate. Perhaps most importantly, the tee offers very little resistance when a ball is hit. I think it is for this last reason that this model is very often used by high school, college, and professional baseball teams. It may seem expensive given how small and light it is, but for many baseball players, it’s worth it.
Though we don’t own the Tanner Tee, my son has used this at many hitting practices and pre-game warmups. He prefers it over our Jugs because of the resistance issue (EDIT: 3 months later, after many requests by my son, we now own it).
Muhl Tech’s Tee is a model that helps with the specific issues of casting, dropping the bat head and learning to have the best possible swing path at the point of contact (see image). Kids who struggle to hit off this tee will also have difficulty hitting line drives. Another nice feature is that positioning this over the middle of a plate will have the ball positioned at the front of home plate where it’s best to hit a ball coming straight down the middle.
What model of net for baseball is best?
The most important thing to focus on is durable netting, which most inexpensive models won’t have. You also don’t want a model that easily gets damaged when putting it together and taking it apart.
In my league, the model which is proving to be most durable is the Bownet:
It’s heavier than most other models. It’s not the fastest net to put together but after you get used to it you can do it in about two minutes. The one thing that does wear out with the Bownet is the carrying bag. But the net itself is rock solid.
The model I have is the 7 x 7 Quickster. It is lighter and has a setup similar to tent poles, with elastic cord running through poles. This makes for very fast setup and takedown. It has stakes but I find I only need them on windy days or for very hard hitters. The bag is very small and skinny so it’s difficult to cram everything in, so I typically carry the stakes outside the bag.
I quite like the 7×7 version of the Quickster except that the elastic cord broke on one of the poles after using it fewer than 10 times. I called the company and they sent me a replacement pole for free, but the pole was from a slightly different model so the only way to keep the net hooked to it was to tape in on, which I did (permanently). The company claims that the problem I had with the elastic cord is very rare, and nobody on Amazon had the same problem, so perhaps my unfortunate experience is not a reason to avoid this model. This model sets up quickly and takes down very quickly. If you want very fast setup and takedown—this is the model for you.
If you decide to try to get something less expensive than these two models, be sure to get a 7 x 7 model, especially if you plan to use it in your back yard. Mishit balls sometimes go past the 7 x 7 net, but they are almost always very weak popups that cause no harm. Using a smaller net will greatly increase the chance of a hard hit ball getting by the net, and possibly breaking a window or some other delicate structure around your house. So be sure the net size is at least 7 x 7 feet.
While I have never seen or used a Powernet in action, it seems to be nearly identical to Bownet and gets nice reviews on Amazon:
However, a friend of mine who owns one said the bag got shredded very quickly and he believes that the overall quality is lower than Bownet.
Most serious baseball players hit off a tee regularly. If you want your player to be able to practice in a small back yard, the most common method is to hit off a tee into a net. The least expensive models of tee and net will fall apart, so be sure to buy quality models that will last, such as the models profiled above.