SKLZ Still Focused On Meaningful, Fun Baseball Training
The first-ever SKLZ product from 2002, the baseball Hit-A-Way training system, is still one of the company’s most popular items. While SKLZ has grown in the last 18 years to encompass a variety of sports and training equipment, it still finds a home in baseball.
“Athletes can’t train in their normal environments, but players are trying to find a way to train,” says Justin Hoffman, SKLZ director of new product development. “People need to train at home, and we have seen increases in at-home training and people looking for ways to stay in shape and stay ready.”
Hoffman, who notes their “diamond” division is built with both baseball and softball in mind, says that the top-level players have gravitated toward high-quality tees and hitting nets, while the younger kids are looking most often for the Hurricane 360 and Hit-A-Way systems. One of the most unique items growing more popular these days is what SKLZ calls the Lightning Bolt, a pitching machine that shoots out foam balls the size of a ping pong ball. Players are using them for either hitting or reaction training, trying to catch the balls with a hand or glove.
“We target the majority of our product for at-home training,” Hoffman says. “We want to make it easy. Not everybody wants to train, but everybody wants to get better. We always strive to make it fun.”
The SKLZ catalog expands well beyond baseball into additional sports and fitness aids. Hoffman says they’ve seen a lot of folks interested in both baseball and training gear at the same time, both to stay in shape and to incorporate the two together. For example, resistance bands are popular for players to put on their legs during hitting drills.
Still, though, everything centers on hitting. “Fielding and training are extremely important, and we try to create products that will address the five-tool player, but really what we are seeing are a lot of kids who are looking at new ways to improve hitting and launch angle,” Hoffman says. “That is really what it is.”
As SKLZ looks to the future, they will continue to focus on all aspects of the game, but put a focus on hitting, including working on new tees to address launch angle so players can see more of the ball when hitting off a tee. “We are trying to make products that kids want to use, but also make them better players,” he says.
As part of the effort to get more products into homes—Hoffman believes in the importance of at-home training, no matter if sports return to how they were or not—SKLZ puts an added focus on creating digital content that explains how to use products and gives examples of the drills equipment can help with. “You can get overwhelmed by aids and people don’t want to waste their money if they don’t know how to use it,” he says. “You have to have the right products to help them learn, but it also has to be fun. Realistically, one of the main areas that makes SKLZ different is digital training content. It is free. How am I going to use this batting tee or rebounder to make me better? What are the drills I can use?”
As players across the United States wait for team practices to restart, Hoffman hopes his message continues to permeate. “If you put in the work, it is going to be obvious when players go back,” he says. “The ones who have been practicing are going to shine.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.