Baseball and Softball Gear Reviews: The Rope Bat

The great Ted Williams famously said that "the hardest thing to do in baseball is hit a round ball with a round bat squarely." Teaching someone to hit said round ball with said round bat is just as challenging as any baseball or softball coach will tell you. Regardless of which stage of development a player is at, there's a challenge to teaching a proper swing. From the earliest age through teenagers and adulthood there is perhaps nothing more difficult than getting a player to use their entire body in their swing. I played baseball from the age of five through fourteen and again in college and I've been coaching baseball and softball for several years. Now that my children are older and have been playing competitive travel ball for a few years, I see all sorts of different swings. A lot of times it's younger kids swinging with their weight way out in front of them, rolling their wrists over, or letting the weight of the bat cause the bat head to drop as it comes through the zone. With some of the bigger and stronger kids, I see many swing "all arms" without involving their hips or legs at all. Also with kids of any age, I'll see a lot of hands dropping as they "hitch" the bat down before starting their swing or throwing their hands out and "casting" which gives them no power through the zone since it gets the bat in front of their hands. In all cases, these can be very difficult problems to correct and it can take a long time to eliminate these bad habits regardless of how aware the player is. My oldest daughter (who is an excellent hitter) went through a stage of dropping her hands and it took us several weeks of hard work in the batting cages to completely eliminate it.

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Because of these common hitting issues, I spend a lot of time working with my own kids on their swings as well as with the teams I coach. I'm always on the lookout for training aids that can help. I tend to like aids that are simple in design and construction for a variety of reasons, chiefly that they tend to be easier to use (smaller learning curve) and they last longer (fewer moving parts means they won't break). A few months ago I was browsing the internet looking at different hitting videos and drills when The Rope Bat caught my eye. I did a little investigating and checked out their site to get some background on this intriguing device. The Rope Bat was invented by Gary Long and his company Better Baseball Texas as a tool to help hitters work on having a fully "connected" swing; that is, utilizing their entire body (arms, hips, legs) in concert to swing properly. What interested me about it quite a lot was that it was simple and utilized science to be effective; being a scientist myself, I liked that. The design is patented and is simple: it's a length of rope with a handle on one end and a barrel on the other. On the handle there are marks indicating where to hold the bat based on what length the player typically uses and a rubber O-ring that can be adjusted to the correct mark. The barrel on the end of the rope will always correspond to the sweet spot on a bat of the same length marked on the handle. The Rope Bat cannot be used with regular baseballs or softballs because they would damage the barrel. Instead it comes with softer "smush balls" which are recommended, although wiffle balls can also be used. We received the Rope Bat and fifteen smush balls to review from Better Baseball Texas. It also came with a handy string bag for storing and carrying the items.

The Rope Bat, Smush Balls, and Carrying Bag

The Handle of the Rope Bat: Move the O-Ring to the Correct Mark to Accommodate the Bat Size You Swing With

Also, if a tee is to be used it must be a soft-topped tee and not a hard plastic tee. I recommend the Tanner Tee not only for use with the Rope Bat, but for all other purposes.

I HIGHLY recommend the Tanner Tee shown above. I own one and use it with my kids for a variety of practice drills. It's a family owned company, they're made in the USA, and they have warranty replacements for the soft head when they get worn out. It's quite simply the best batting tee out there.

While the design and concept of the Rope Bat are elegantly simple, it's anything but easy to use properly. Because of centrifugal force, the bat needs to swung properly in order for the rope to straighten out and the barrel to carry through the hitting zone. The purpose of the rope is to keep the hands inside and ahead of the ball to promote bat lag; if it's swung in any incorrect way (i.e. if the hands drop, cast, etc) then centrifugal force won't take effect, the rope won't extend during the swing and you won't hit the ball. Because of this, the Rope Bat gives you instant feedback; if you're not doing it correctly, you'll know right away when you don't hit the ball. The best way to swing the Rope Bat is to begin with the rope on the back shoulder and the barrel resting between the shoulder blades. When you swing, you need to rotate around the spine and involve the hips and legs while keeping the hands inside. This is the method that Better Baseball Texas recommends and it worked for us.

When we first started using it, my kids found it a bit intimidating and a bit frustrating. Even though they both have good swings, they had a little bit of trouble hitting the ball squarely. Once I got their minds off of focusing so much on the unusual situation of it being a rope they were swinging, they started swinging correctly and making good contact. We watched the tutorial video on the Rope Bat website and I made sure they were swinging by involving their hips and legs, rotating around their spines, and not relying only on their arms. My kids have very nice swings in general and do a good job of using their whole body, but what I like about the Rope Bat is that it forces them to swing correctly every time. If they took a swing off or got a bit lazy, they knew it right away when they failed to hit the ball. I've added it to our training regimen in the following way: first, I have them take practice swings with the Rope Bat to get warmed up. This is followed by thirty swings with the Rope Bat off the Tanner Tee after which I'll pitch them twenty or thirty smush balls to hit. We then transition to their regular bats and balls and continue our usual workout off the tee and pitching. While using the Rope Bat was a little challenging at first, they picked it up after the first session; now after a few weeks of using it they have it down pat and have a lot of fun hitting with it. I plan on starting my youngest daughter (who has only started playing softball this past year) with the Rope Bat to correct some of the flaws in her swing.

Here is a Sequence of Photos of My Son Using the Rope Bat Correctly

Note the Hands in Front of the Ball and the Barrel of the Rope Bat Following Behind: That's Bat Lag

Again, His Hands Are in Front of the Ball and the Barrel is Following Through the Zone at Impact with the Ball

The Swing Shown in This Sequence Resulted in a Hard Line Drive Off the Back Wall of the Batting Cage

Below is another angle of the desired bat lag, this time of my daughter taken from in front of her. This swing ended up with her hitting me in the stomach with a line drive...thank goodness the smush balls are soft!
Here is my Daughter Showing Good Bat Lag: Hands in Front of the Ball with the Barrel Following Through the Hitting Zone

Since both of my kids already had mostly fundamentally sound swings, the Rope Bat has been a great tool to keep their swings "honest" and reinforce what they're already doing while refining their technique. The instant feedback they get helps keep them from slipping into bad habits and to make sure they're swinging using their entire body. For new players or for players who are suffering from serious swing issues, I would recommend the Rope Bat as a very good tool to try. Because it won't work when swung improperly, it will literally force the hitter to keep their hands up and inside the ball in order to produce the desired bat lag through the zone. This results in a fluid, proper (and more powerful) swing. We've gotten a lot of curious looks and questions when we take it to the batting cages by people who haven't seen anything like it before and are interested in what it is and what it does. I'm happy to tell them what it is and how it works and everyone has walked away genuinely interested and excited about the Rope Bat. Beyond that, the proof is in the results. My daughter and son are hitting balls harder and farther since we started using the Rope Bat because they're getting their entire body and all of their momentum working together for a fully connected swing. The Rope Bat is definitely going to stay as a part of our training routine and for anyone who is looking for a fun way to improve their player's swing and to reinforce proper swing form and technique, I highly recommend the Rope Bat as a great option.

(One final thing I like about the Rope Bat is that Better Baseball Texas is an American company based in Austin, Texas and all Rope Bats are 100% Made in the USA)

The Rope Bat is available in a variety of bundles which differ in how many Rope Bats and Smush Balls are included. You can look at the different bundles and purchase a Rope Bat at The Rope Bat website or at the Amazon link below.