Although this Newsletter may refer to baseball and the male gender,
it is equally applicable to fastpitch softball.
Waiting for Superman
The italicized indented excerpts are reprinted from The New York Times:
One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me 'Superman' did not exist," the educational reformer Geoffrey Canada recalls in the opening moments of Waiting for Superman, a powerful and alarming documentary about America's failing public school system. "She thought I was crying because it's like Santa Claus is not real. I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.
Waiting for Superman is filled with disturbing statistics. In Illinois, where one in 57 doctors loses his medical license and one in 97 lawyers loses his law license, only one in 2,500 teachers loses his credentials, because of union rules. The film briefly visits a "rubber room" in New York City where idle teachers accused of misconduct wait months and sometimes years for hearings while drawing full salaries at an annual cost of $65 million. Mr. Canada and Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington, D.C., public school system since 2007 (she is the seventh superintendent in 10 years), are the principal heroes of the film. Ms. Rhee, who has stridently challenged Washington's educational status quo, has closed ineffective schools and has stood up to the unions that have made it nearly impossible to fire a teacher, no matter how incompetent, once tenure has been granted. But the Washington Teachers' Union refused to vote on a measure under which teachers would give up tenure in exchange for higher salaries based on merit. Meritocracy is our way out of this mess if we really care about the future of our kids---and our country.
Consider the following statistics cited in the film: the annual cost of prison for an inmate is more than double what is spent on an individual public school student. Eight years after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind act, with the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, most states hovered between 20 and 30 percent proficiency, and 70 percent of eighth graders could not read at grade level. By 2020, only an estimated 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill 123 million highly skilled, highly paid jobs. Among 30 developed countries, the United States ranks 25th in math and 21st in science."
Now, I fully understand that there are many excellent teachers in all walks of life that take pride in their professions and do masterful work. And, I also realize that equating our nation's school systems to hitting a baseball or softball may elicit some raised eyebrows among the readership. But, when one considers the goal of attending college and its manifest advantage of securing a brighter economic future, we then see the importance that good education and teaching both play here. Good instruction elevates one's ability to achieve success. Getting a good hitting education can likewise lead to a college scholarship needed by so many today. Education doesn't come without the costs and sacrifices made by most families.
But, unlike those who must undergo advanced educational training to become certified school teachers, a basic problem with hitting instruction is that anyone can call themselves a "teacher," worthy of helping your youngster get to the next level (read: a paid-for college education.) Athletic scholarships, like academic scholarships, are highly prized for their value to help students realize a dream not available to everyone.
Waiting for Superman symbolizes the toleration of teaching mediocrity in present-day America. A computer proverb quickly comes to mind: Garbage in → garbage out. Mediocre instruction yields mediocrity. With so much at stake for youngsters, why do we persist tolerating mediocrity when it comes to teaching our kids how to properly hit?
Go to any batting cage, buy some tokens, and watch your son hit. Within minutes, someone in its employ will come up to you and tell you your son (or daughter) is doing "this" or "that" incorrectly. Not knowing much about hitting, you ask if it is a serious problem and, of course, can you fix it? Of course he can! So, you sign up for a series of lessons worth $300-$500.00---or more.
How does one find information on this person? Is he a former pitcher now teaching hitting? Where can you find out how long he has been instructing? Where did he play? In high school? College? A year or two of professional baseball? Did he even play at all? If he did play, what was he taught? What was the prevailing hitting philosophy at that time? In most cases, it was linear hitting which went out of style in the mid-1990s (when artificial turf stopped being used). You may know nothing about him yet you are willing to part with your hard-earned money with the hope that he will get your son to hit his potential. And without even using video! Wasteful thinking? Possibly.
Our first inclination may be to tackle the problem ourselves, also known as spending quality time with our youngster. But, logical thinking usually prevails, and we seek those with more experience. For example, when we have money to invest we look for a professional money manager. We ask friends and business associates for information and recommendations. Legal problem? You inquire which attorney has the best track record specializing in the field that you have your grievance. What is their college education? Degrees earned? When we lack knowledge in a particular field or task common sense dictates seeking the best help.
Why not with a hitting instructor? We'll spend more time on the internet reading reviews on a $30.00 jacket we are contemplating purchasing than we do looking for someone to help our youngster successfully compete against others doing the most difficult thing to do successfully in all sports!
Over the years, Epstein Hitting has made numerous changes, innovations, and tweaks to our teaching methods---but very few to the technique itself. We may learn more about the technique through science and technology as we go along, but since it is biomechanically-correct, and its inherent physics has been time-tested for such a long period of time, we find that there isn't much we can to do to improve it. Very few, if any, stones remain unturned.
On the other hand, there have been numerous changes made to the way we have taught the technique. It kind of reminds me of the difference between a hitter's "style" and his "technique." In other words, I believe how one teaches is like a hitter's style; it is a product of trial-and-error. Contrast this to the player's technique which, once mastered, doesn't change. Provided he was taught the proper technique.
When I first began teaching, it took me literally months to get a player to execute it correctly. As recently as six years ago it was weeks. As a result of the steady tweaking of our teaching system, we now are able to get players to emulate the core movements of the major league swing in days! Who is the beneficiary of this improvement? The player and his quest to play as long as he can---and your wallet.
What we teach today, I personally used, experienced, and saw first-hand. I didn't learn physics first and apply it to hitting later. I saw what worked and why it worked at baseball's highest level. What we try to bring to the table is this firing-line experience; not theory. Too many try to teach theory when we should be asking what really works. What am I really seeing on this split-screen video? Good information means absolutely nothing if we can't see it and communicate it: verbally, through the written word, demonstrably, or graphically. And then have the experience to be able to fix the problem.
I have indeed been fortunate to have experienced this rare opportunity to study hitters at the major league level. After a while, it became clear why so many hit this way and why it has worked for more players over a longer time period than any other technique. 95% of baseball's Hall of Fame hitters and today's best hitters use(d) the very same technique we teach. I feel privileged so many have shared their good information with me over the years.
Nothing in life is constant---except change. We don't know everything there is to know about hitting and continually ask questions with the hope that we may learn an even better way of teaching and be smart enough to pass it on for everyone to improve.
A number of years ago, the Collegiate Baseball News asked me to write a series of articles unraveling the mysteries of the major league swing, simplifying it for anyone to understand. My approach was not to tell players or coaches that this is the only way to hit. Rather, it was by getting people to ask questions: Is this logical? Does it make sense? If I could get them to do this, I felt I had succeeded. Which technique you ultimately decide to use is your decision. We should have a choice; unfortunately, when it comes to hitting, and often schooling, we usually don't. Why can't our educational system ask these same simple questions---and act logically on their conclusions?
We're fortunate that we don't have to wade through bureaucracy to change how we teach; we don't have to wait for "Superman" at Epstein Hitting. We're trying our hardest to be "Superman" right now, helping the youngsters we come in contact with to get to college. When they get there they have choices, something they wouldn't have without good teaching.
As Gerry Spence, the noted trial lawyer, once said, "I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief." In other words, inviting mediocrity acknowledges mediocrity. When potential is the goal, quality teachers and good information is a must. We should never have to accept anything less.
Why wait for Superman?
Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your hitting education.
Our best wishes to you and your family for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.