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The Next Generation of Blast Baseball 360

At Blast, we know the daily drive to improve starts with the right tools. We recently launched the next generation Blast Baseball 360 app (available in the App Store and Google Play), giving players and coaches a new toolkit to train smarter and get better.

The update brings a very different look and feel to the app. Our own Armando Santana, Director of Product Management, and Julia Putzeys, Product Manager, provide an in-depth look at the new features and functionalities, along with the inspiration behind the update.

Experience the Difference

After extensive research, feedback, and testing to see what players and coaches wanted out of Baseball 360, our team found several ways to improve the overall experience.

“We have an amazing technology in our sensor, and it’s something that’s super valuable to the people who are using it to train and be better in their sport,”said Putzeys. “But really, that’s not helpful to them unless they have an app that goes with it that is just as great. It needs to be easy to use and perfectly showcase all the functionality the sensor has, and we think that’s what we’re bringing to our customers with the new generation of our app.”

From a fresh new user interface to enhanced ease-of-use to smarter, faster technology, the update was designed with coaches and hitters in mind, for a quicker path to improvement.

“With our new Baseball 360 app, you’re going to see some general improvements of the interface,” explained Santana. “You’re going to be able to find things easier. You’re going to be able to see where your swings are, where your videos are, where your metrics are, and how you’re progressing. The overall flow fits with the way you’re going to be able to digest this information and train faster.”

From research and development to planning and implementation, many people and perspectives were involved in the new Blast Baseball 360 app.

“Early on, we spent a lot of time talking to our users and our ambassadors,” said Santana. “We have designers on staff who really take that feedback in, and we have these collaborative design sessions. We whiteboard ideas. We work together, then we work with engineering, who is coming up with solutions to those problems that our customers are sharing. They’re figuring out ways we can make this app faster, sync with the cloud, and provide video capabilities that are differentiating features in our Baseball 360 app.”

Users Played a Big Role

In addition to our in-house team, our loyal user base, along with our valued Blast Coaches played an important role in the introduction of this next phase of Baseball 360 technology.

“Our users give us feedback on a daily-basis about how they’re experiencing the product, what they like about it, and also what they don’t like about it,” explained Putzeys. “So we really take that to heart and work with our users. We get feedback from all different kinds of channels – through our customer support team and on the app stores. We also bring a lot of users and ambassadors into our lab and we work with them on the product, and we come up with ideas from there and ways that it can improve based on how they use it.”

“We started with the customer first, and we realized that we needed to build something that worked the way they work,” added Santana. “So we spent a lot of time talking to our ambassadors and pro users, and really understanding how they’re using Blast Baseball today.”

Two Audiences, One Solution

When designing and implementing this update, it was important to keep two distinct audiences in mind:

Baseball and softball hitters of all levels. And their coaches and coaching academies. In the end, we came up with one solution to meet the needs of both groups.

“We’re targeting two different people,” explained Putzeys. “The first is a player that just wants to get better. So we want to provide them with all the tools they need to train on their own, including drills, ideas, and content from our ambassadors to help them get better, then teach them how to use the Blast sensor and our application to train on their own.

“But we’re also targeting coaches who have a team of players that may be using a sensor that they share among them – or each player on the team might have a sensor and the coach is running a practice while using our solution with all of their team members. It’s a very different use case, but I think a lot of times they’re looking for the same results. So, we focused on those main users and optimize a solution that would work for both of them.”

“We wanted to build this app for anybody who wants to improve their swing,” added Santana, who is also an active coach himself. “So the Baseball 360 app needs to be really easy to use, whether it’s the youth coach who is just learning about Blast Baseball and really want to improve a youth player, all the way up to the pro player who’s really trying to take their game to the next level. And it needs to satisfy everybody in between.”

A Bold New UI

A big part of meeting those needs lay in developing an intuitive new user interface – or UI, for short. This revamped UI needed to be not only easier to use, but more enjoyable to interact with.

“We have this amazing solution and we want to have an app that really helps our users use our sensor,” said Putzeys. “We want our app to be fun to use and easy to use, where it makes someone want to pick it up every day and train with it. We want to provide new content for our users and we want to provide an ultimate training experience.”

Training Center + Blast Connect

One of the major improvements is the development of the Training Center, an online and in-app repository for videos and other content that focuses on training and interactive drills. Some of those drills are even offered by luminaries like Blast Baseball Athlete, and Houstons Astros shortstop, Carlos Correa.

The Training Center resides in the main bottom navigation of the new Blast Baseball 360 app – making it easily accessible from anywhere in the app.

“We’ve gotten some feedback on our new training center, which provides something that users have really been asking for,” explained Putzeys. “It’s a place to learn how to get better, and also learn how to use our sensor and integrate it into their training and really get the most out of it. This way, they can make sure they’re using the sensor the way it should be used, and improving on all the metrics we measure. It outlines each metric, along with ways to improve on each.”

This new focus on content-rich training is also fully integrated into Blast Connect, to create the total improvement solution.

“If you’re using the full solution, you get all your workouts and practices from your coach, you can access them on your mobile phone, and you can complete the workouts and practices while you’re on the go” said Putzeys.

“With the new Blast Baseball 360 app, coaches and academies can expect some improvements on how we have integrated with Blast Connect,” said Santana. “Coaches can capture swings and videos and sync that to the cloud, then they can go to Blast Connect and really analyze that information. One of our goals with this new app is to empower athletes to improve and just work smarter. And as they work smarter, they are going to master the game and ultimately enjoy the game more.”

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Building Efficient Swings with Time to Contact

Time to contact
When coaching and developing young baseball players, metrics like time to contact can play a prominent role in improving a player’s swing efficiency.

To discuss the ins and outs of an efficient baseball swing, we sat down with veteran coach and hitting instructor Rick Strickland. In addition to overseeing Sandlot Elite Baseball in St. Louis, Missouri, Strickland also serves as a pro scout and Blast Baseball Ambassador.

As the director of the most tech-prominent and progressive baseball academy in the Midwest, Rick has accumulated a wealth of knowledge, insight and experience – while helping pro players and young hitters refine and enhance their approach and execution at the plate.

We already know the value of swing speed when it comes to hitting for power and average – as well as building overall confidence as a hitter. But what about the aspect of timing and efficiency?

We’re talking about time to contact. With Rick Strickland.

Part of the Puzzle

Just what is time to contact? We asked Strickland this question, and his answer was equally informative and interesting.

“Everybody’s looking at swing speed and efficiency,” Strickland told us. “One of the big things that we see is that most kids are in a race to see how quickly they can get to the ball – but one of the things we saw right off the bat is that they weren’t very efficient with their swing. They were getting to the ball quickly, but they weren’t in the zone long enough with their swing. They basically went with the bat down directly at the ball. Yes, we want to be quick to the ball, but we want to be quick in a fashion where the bat’s traveling through the zone the longest.”

Strickland says that at Sandlot Elite Baseball, this balance of speed and efficiency is vital to developing smart, successful hitters.

“We want to make sure the time to contact is paired to what your efficiency index is,” explained Strickland. “And all those things tie together. If time to contact is too slow or too fast, we start to look at the video and see if there are some things on the video that tell us what could be affecting that number. That’s how we look at time to contact. It’s a part of that big giant puzzle. It’s a metric that, once we figure out what that range of that player is, we’re always trying to move that needle forward and make them better and improve that number.”

Every Moment Matters

So just why is time to contact so important for hitters?

“It’s a measurement of how fast they can move some mass,” said Strickland. “You’ve got a situation where you want the ability to wait and process information as long as you can, but to also have the ability to take the bat and be able to move it in a correct path through the strike zone – as fast as you possibly can.”

According to Strickland, time to contact can be a misleading metric at times. Because it’s not just about how fast you get there – but the route you take to get there.

“It’s a race, of course, to see how fast you can move the bat through (the strike zone), with the longest possible distance you can move it through. But sometimes, you may see a good hitter who has a little bit slower time to contact – because of how long the bat stays in the strike zone. You may see a slower time to contact, but that means that bat’s traveling through the zone longer.”

Drill, Drill, Drill…

When it comes to looking closer at a hitter’s swing path – and identifying an ideal swing path – Strickland uses an analogy related to another physical activity.

“When your path with the barrel of your bat is not very efficient, it’s almost like instead of walking around the sidewalk, you’re cutting across the grass to get there. What we try to do is we try to get them to stay on the sidewalk as fast as they possibly can to get to the other side.”

When it comes to improving time to contact – and taking the right route to the other side – Strickland says that certain drills can add great value and accelerate development.

“You’ve got to focus on the bat path. The bat path is critical,” says Strickland. “If you put these guys in a contest to be quick to the ball, they’re going to competitively try to win that race every single time – but they’re probably not going to do it very efficiently. So you’ve got to attack it both ways. You’ve got to attack it by path, and you’ve got to attack it by quickness.”

In addition, Strickland believes good old-fashioned strength training must also always remain a top priority.

“The other thing is kids have to have strength,” said Strickland. “We do a lot of overload, underload type of activities with the swing, so we can build some strength, and the ability to move that bat as quick as they can.”

Ongoing Evolution

Developing a deeper understanding and “awareness” of metrics like time to contact is doing more than helping hitters raise their games – it’s also forcing the game of baseball to evolve and grow in new directions.

Strickland sees this as a positive development for hitters, coaches and instructors, because the more you know, the less you have to guess.

“We all played somewhere where people thought that you should hold your hands in this position or that position,” said Strickland. “All of that, the ‘guessing’, put us further away from what the truth was about the swing.”

Just the Facts
To really understand the swing, a developing hitter can use a variety of tips, tactics, training and tools. Few training tools available on the market today are as versatile and valuable as Blast’s Baseball 360.

By automatically clipping video in slow-motion, and overlaying the applicable metrics, the sensor and app help hitters analyze and improve upon key hitting metrics like time to contact.

“It takes the guessing out of it,” said Strickland. “Being able to know your time to contact, bat path, efficiency index – all the things that Blast puts into the sensor are extremely important. It really takes the guesswork out of it, and it becomes more fact-based teaching.”

To Strickland, you can’t beat objective metrics, evaluation and insight. Once you absorb the information, you can fine-tune the mechanics, efficiency and timing of your mechanics and swing. When all these pieces begin to fall into place, you start building a better hitter.

“The sensors actually tell us exactly what your body’s supposed to be doing. And when you know what the body’s capable of doing and what it should be doing, it’s easy to teach a kid or a player to swing the bat the way that he needs to swing it to be successful.”