Preparation and poise. Approach and response. Know what you want to do; know how to do it; know how to react to whatever results. Hitters heed: how you go about your business and how you react to what happens to you both are, theoretically within the boundaries of your control. What happens to you (results), are not.
Learn the difference – and learn how to manage what you are allowed to manage. The famous poem by Rudyard Kipling says in part, “If you can keep your head, when all about you are losing theirs…” The poem ends saying, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son!”
The test of hitters efficacy will be the manner in which they deal with perceived needs, frustration, and failure to get the results they desire (statistics, the prime example). But for the sake of order, let’s deal with first things first.
A hitter’s mental approach, believe it or not, incorporates his outlook on life and herself. The healthier a hitter’s perspective is, the more secure she feels in his ability to deal with adversity – on and off the field. She’ll be more confident in herself – as a person and as an athlete.
Let’s identify what has shown itself to be an effective approach for a hitter.
The approach is entirely within the hitter’s control. This you should (must) understand. The implication is clear: you are capable of doing what it takes.
Results (“stats”) cannot be controlled. You might have a day where you hit shots at defensive players all day (5 at-bats or more) with no hits to show for it. The approach (control behavior) is impeccable, but the results (stats – outcome/results) were not. Intellectually – she knew she had no control over where her well-hit line drives were going.
Frustration, due to undesired results may cause hitters to start swinging at everything, not seeing anything. This behavior is typical of hitters who want something to happen but who forget how to make it happen. It takes a great amount of mental discipline. It takes trust in one’s talent. But the stats will never come to a hitter who is focusing on stats/numbers.
What we’re left with after an event or circumstance is our response to it. Will it be emotional and out of control? Will it be intelligent and purposeful? Will it help? Will it provide a solution? Or, will it exacerbate the problem?
What is appropriate? If understanding and action are required, we would want to be thoughtful and effective. If we’re called upon to act in behalf of others and/or ourselves, we are responsible to know how to act – and we should be able to perform that action effectively. The ability to respond appropriately is hinged on perspective and self-control.
As it relates to you, the hitter responses should focus on the three questions cited earlier in the book. After a bad at-bat (approach), ask yourself, “What was I trying to do?” What went wrong?” What do I want to do next time?’
If a hitter wants to vent her frustration – purge her emotions – that’s fine. I tell them to do it in a private, not public, place. Then sit down and shut up and ask yourself the three questions. If you have a good approach, get a bad result, and have a bad response – what happens to your next approach? Most likely answer: bad. So your goal should be to keep her approach and response good – and trust that your talent will provide a good result.
“When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.” - La Rochefoucauld, Maxims
Tiger Woods had the ability to make golf shots that seemed to be impossible, much to the amazement of his opponents, because of his mind-set and calmness. Boldness. Brilliance – leads to tranquility within. “It’s a thrill to see what you have inside … Sure, I get nervous, but I know how to handle it. Focus everything on what you’re doing.
Another top swimmer, Ian Thorpe, says about pressure: “ It doesn’t weigh me down, it pushes me forward.” He is motivated, not burdened; challenged, not threatened. Threats, pressure, and “I have-to” all inhibit a relaxed state for a hitter – or anyone else.
Some players think that relaxing means forfeiting aggressiveness. My response to them: “I’m talking about relaxing the muscles, not the focus. I can care and still be relaxed. I can be intense without being tense.”
First consideration. Awareness. Recognize the state of arousal. I liken a player with a high state of excitement to an inner flame that is out of control. “You’ll burn your house down.” On the other hand, a player whose arousal is too low (complacent, disinterested) I tell, “you’re flickering; the flame is going out.”
Most hitters are all-too-aware of their tensions, but they aren’t as aware of techniques for addressing them. That’s step two: the hitter should find out what works best for her.
Breathe or die.
That’s one of the things I say to players who I see holding their breath during times of tension. An essential technique for addressing tension of the moment is to breathe deeply.
Hitters must learn to release tension by internal means. They should become conscious of the importance of breathing deeply – before the moment of impact (the next pitch).
Before a hitter steps into the batter’s box, she should:
Inhale… Long and slowly.
Hold onto the breath for a short duration (three seconds?).
Release the air slowly and naturally without “pushing” it out.
Extend the duration of the “exhale” a bit, because it is the exhale that gets rid of the carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide acts like a brake; oxygen, an accelerator.
Send appropriate messages to muscles.
Chapter 6 dealt with self-talk. Its relevance to relaxation – or tension – should be clear, but begs inclusion here. The language and tone you use when speaking to yourself will help determine the state your muscles will be in:
Examples: ”What’s wrong with you?” (Frustration); “ You stink!” (Self-degradation), “Get it right!” (Anger without direction); “This girl is unhittable.” (Defeatism), etc.
Stretch the muscles.
Tension is released by stretching the muscles. Moving (shrugging/rolling) the shoulders before getting into the batter’s box helps. In between pitches, if tension is still there, step out and do it again, along with effective self-talk. Out of the box, the hitter can tense his muscles then, let go – release – so he can feel the difference, the freeing up.
Practice away from the field.
Learning how to induce a relaxed state can be worked on away from the field of battle. Visualizing past successes in big situations helps a hitter remind his muscles of their capability. Some big league players don’t understand what visualization is.
It always gets back to perspective. I feel nothing can intimidate you without your consent. See things for what they are – possibility – rather than what you hope they won’t be – frustration and failure. A healthy perspective is the best assurance of a relaxed state of mind – and muscle
In the previous chapter, the value of routine was established in general terms. Routine – set behavior – plan. Habitual acts. Call it what you will, effective preparation is grounded in such behavior.
Diet, sleeping habits and workout schedules are part of a hitter’s preparation. The self-discipline required to prepare yourself off the field can be as formidable as what it takes on the field.
Self-proclaimed “gamers” rationalize that they’re ready when they “get between the lines.” It’s the excuse of those who cannot hold up under what they consider to be too much painful discipline: the discipline of conscientious preparation. Off the field preparation is as important as on the field preparation.
Baseball/softball has been called the game of adjustments. The vehicle for this adjustment is your brain. The emotional system won’t allow you to learn from your mistakes. The ability to make an adjustment implies the ability to learn from mistakes. She’s prepared for the next pitch, or the next at-bat, or the next game.
Hitting in “the cycle”
The cycle of preparation is as follows:
Players tend to excuse their occasional counter-productive preparation (laziness, lack of effort, lack of concentration, etc.) as “normal.” I tell them “normal” is the excuse of the normal – meaning the mediocre. The players who succeed are those who behave with exceptional mental discipline – winners!
Use batting practice or it will use you. You’ve heard the time-worn homily, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” A careless batting practice will produce a hitter who suddenly cares – during the game – and has not readied herself from competition. BP has used her – always poorly in such cases.
Learn to hit – and keep learning. Have a purpose for everything you do in batting practice. Do what’s necessary in order to improve and be ready to compete.
Take bad pitches! (Swinging at every pitch is another way of being used by BP. You wouldn’t swing at every pitch during a game.) Have intense focus always! Take every pitch seriously. You will in the game, so you must in practice – if excellence is your goal.
There are seven “situational stations” for a hitter’s preparation during a game: The dugout, the on-deck circle, the walk to the box, the batter’s box, the area just outside the box, inside the batter’s box, and the dugout again.
The best way to start this chapter is by defining the terms in its title. Routine is a good word for a hitter. A routine is a set, customary course of behavior. It’s an important part of preparation (a subject that will be addressed in the next chapter).
Ritual can also be a good word, implying a detailed method of procedure that is regularly followed. Faithfully followed. There’s where the word can lead a hitter astray. She must have faith in herself first and in her choice of behaving consistently. Behavior she established because it works – in a practical way. If a ritual is followed in a compulsive way – a way which a hitter can’t resist or adjust, that ritual is no longer a “good” one.
Superstition is a belief that some action not logically related to an event (an at-bat, for example) will influence its outcome. Worse yet, the superstition is often based on a fearful, compulsive dependence upon that belief.
Control is the final important word in the title. Let me quote a famous serenity Prayer here: “God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” To know the difference between what each of us can control and what we cannot.
To attribute the outcome of at-bats to compulsive or superstitious acts is to avoid taking responsibility. Yet, responsibility is one of the greatest tools in the world for shaping and developing people and giving substance to their behavior.
The big picture - Perspective means point of view. The way a player/athlete sees her world off the field – will greatly influence the way she sees it on the field. And how she sees it will influence how she responds to it and addresses it. Optimistically or pessimistically, accenting the positive or the negative.
Control your mind to control your muscles. – The idea is that the athlete’s perspective will dictate the body’s behavior. Every time you’re unhappy with any aspect of your performance, first and foremost examine your perspective. Your brain should be in control, telling you what to do (positive functional commands), rather than allowing your emotions to distract you by imposing how you feel onto your behavior.
The athlete sees priorities that result in greater understanding, more relaxed muscles and more effective performance. The complexities of life allow us to better see the simplicity of the task we face. And it helps eliminate many of the “I gotta’s” from our vocabulary.
To get it right, see it right. – Hold thoughts that are “big” -- about yourself, your life, or your sport – at a distance from you. A large object held too close to your face blocks out the world beyond it. A large thought must be seen from a distance. That’s why it’s so easy to help a friend solve a problem, even though the very same issue can confound you personally. “Step out of the frame, and it’s easier to see the picture.” Seeing the big picture does not mean giving in to the little picture. Playing with unacceptably low level of effort is giving in and using the big picture as an excuse.
The small picture – During performance, a player’s perspective must be narrowed so that, in the context of his specific activity, he must have a limited, small focus. This perspective is entirely different from the perspective of his life issues. Attention to the task at hand is all that should matter. When competing, a hitter must certainly limit her sight – her perspective, seeing only the ball. “Think small; think ball.”
When all is going well in your personal and professional world, the muscles are allowed freedom of function. They celebrate your healthy perspective after each performance. But getting the mind right when things are not going ideally is the key to athletic excellence. Good perspective in the face of adversity qualifies as “mental toughness.”
Develop your perspective carefully. – Poor perspective is often the result of thinking you can’t cope with situations you’re facing or will be facing. Trust your ability to cope with whatever reality you meet, and you’ll create a healthy perspective. That, in turn, will encourage self-confidence.
You’ve heard how much coaches, scouts, an managers value “a good attitude.” Where does an attitude – good or bad – come from? The source is whatever perspective the player has developed. Change a bad perspective and you change a bad attitude. Hold a good perspective and you hold a healthy and valued attitude. How you interpret the world and what happens to you will dictate how you function. How you approach tasks, challenges and risks, successes and failures.
Work, rather than worry, when results are not going well for you. Focus on your approach, rather than catastrophic declarations or imaginings. Remember that every day brings new challenges, and the “healthiest” hitters believe, “I may have failed today, but I’m going to be OK tomorrow.”
The stronger and more sustained a hitter’s ability to concentrate, the better she’ll consistently see the ball well, which is her first objective. In the mental “book” of hitting, knowing what to focus on is the start, but knowing how to keep that focus is the finish.
The field of consciousness is tiny. It accepts only one problem at a time. Get into a first fight, put your mind on the strategy of the fight, and you’ll not feel the other person’s punches.
Concentration is pre-potent. It is first and most powerful as a performer’s skill. That means any other circumstance, problem, or possible distraction becomes irrelevant to a hitter during her at-bat. Her concentration leaves no room in her mind for any intrusive thought. So the development of concentration skills should be at the top of the list of goals for every hitter. And it requires regular attention. The most skillful hitter can still improve.
A struggling hitter will think of all matters except the ball while she’s batting. That’s a loss of focus, due to a weakened mental discipline. There are different levels of “intensity of focus.” Consider the intensity of heat from a magnifying glass focused on a newspaper. If it is held knee high above the paper the circle represents broad, poorly defined, casual or careless focus. As you move the magnifying glass closer, the circle becomes smaller and more defined, like a narrower and sharper focus. Moving it even closer and the beam becomes quite small and distinct – extremely narrow focus. The heat from the sun on the small area sets the paper on fire. That’s intensity.
The working definition of concentration, as it applies to a hitter, is the ability to have an intense focus on the ball, to the exclusion of all else. Hitters should be aware of their thinking patterns and be disciplined enough to change broad, irrelevant thoughts to narrow, relevant cues (see the ball).
It’s not unusual for a player to have several thoughts before and during their preparation for an at-bat. When they get in the box, they must limit their thoughts and change their focus to a narrow, external one – the ball. This is a habit to cultivate. It should be an important behavioral goal.
When hitters begin to get poor results, they tend to change their approach. Their head fills with distracting thoughts. Resist that temptation and keep the mental focus keeping it simple – see the ball, be easy.
Again, whatever possible cause for distraction may exist, a developed ability to concentrate on executing task will be stronger. The more disciplined a hitter is, meaning the more able she is to focus on task exclusively, the more successful she’ll be over time. Great hitters bring to every at-bat, intense concentration, not tense muscles.
As a hitter, you must understand a few basic things if you’re going to improve your concentration skills. First understand what is possible to control and what is not. It’s possible to control your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. You can’t control external events, other people’s thoughts and deeds, and consequences beyond your behavior.
You can control: 1) Using positive terms, 2) focusing on the immediate, rather than past or future; 3) focusing on your approach, instead of results – past or future; 4) focusing on the ball. Practice effectively to perform effectively – physically and mentally.
In order to change bad habits you must be able to identify them. Three typical intrusions are: 1) the need for INSTANT GRATIFICATION, (be patient and make the necessary adjustments); 2) URGENCY, the hitter gives to much importance to situational success; 3) SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, don’t go out of your way to satisfy others.
It is as important to practice on your mental skills, as it is to practice your physical skills. It’s often easier to practice the mental skills. You can work on some concentration skills away from the field, sometimes just by sitting in a chair at home. Mental toughness, a term often used as the ultimate compliment of an athlete is related to the degree to which you are able to fully and intensely concentrate on your task.
REMEMBER AND USE
Invent your own exercises.
Language is the tool we use to do most of our thinking. The better the tool, the more effective we can be in doing the job. Thinking is talking to ourselves. The better our brain operates, using effective language, the better our muscles will respond.
It is said, “The body is a fool, it will do whatever it’s told.” If the muscles learn the right habits, they’ll keep repeating the behavior over and over again. The problem is they are often taught the wrong lessons – not because of the teacher’s intention, but because of the teacher’s language.
In the previous chapter on self-coaching, a reference was made to the hitter’s need to tell herself what she wants to do, rather than what she doesn’t want to do. This of course, is the stating of functional, task-oriented talk expressed in positive language. It is essential to good coaching and teaching it becomes essential to learning the proper mental approach to hitting.
Negative lessons are frequently used by parents from their child’s birth until she is six or seven years old; “no you mustn’t …”, don’t go near the …” Often this approach lasts well beyond seven years. By the teen years, youngsters have heard “no” or “don’t” 40,000 times. That’s powerful teaching and the brain has learned the message well; too well in the case of hitters. The self-talk hitters use – silently or out loud – is often a result of this training. Hitters must learn positive language, and must learn to have a positive personal outlook. Sometimes the right message is delivered the wrong way, or with poor language.
Some hitters tell themselves what to do in positive terms, but unfortunately they seek results they can’t control, rather than behavior they can. Focus on the result and you’ll lose focus on the ball – and swing indiscriminately. With runners on base or in scoring position, the self-talk shouldn’t be “I want a hit”(results), but rather, “see the ball, be easy” (behavior). “Just see the ball and drive it,” like any other at bat.
Every player makes mistakes or goes through rough periods. The more a hitter focuses on what is wrong about her, what is wrong about her swing and what is likely to go wrong in her at-bats – the more likely it will go wrong. That’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anticipate behaving in a certain way and you tend to behave right into the anticipation. Anticipate positive behavior!
What some players say to themselves, is so negative and rude that they would never tolerate a coach speaking to them in the same manner. As bad as it might feel at the moment, someone else’s negative talk to you, about you and about what you have or haven’t done, is easier to dismiss than your own negative talk to and about yourself. Learning positive self-talk is a process. Time and persistence are required. We don’t unlearn bad habits overnight.
The process of learning positive self-talk doesn’t come easy. Sometimes you don’t believe what you say, but you realize it is the right thing to say. As time goes by, and with persistent effort it becomes easier.
Positive self-talk requires more than just positive language. Also important are, timing and tonality.
Many people who desire to think positively have the false notion they can “block out” what they do not wish to think about by employing a negative command. When you say don’t swing at a high pitch…your thoughts are on the high pitch. If you are told “Don’t think about a white horse,” you automatically think about a white horse. Change the thought, “Think of a brown cow”, new thought new image. “See the ball.” This is the most functional and appropriate replacement thought for a hitter.
Infantrymen in the midst of battle can’t ask their drill sergeant what he thinks is best to do. Sailors on the firing line cannot refer to their Blue Jackets Manual. Whatever is required at that moment, in that circumstance, is their exclusive responsibility.
Self-coaching is simply the technique of reminding yourself how to respond to the circumstance – to the moment – during the heat of battle. Each player is the most important coach she’ll ever have. This does not imply that a player won’t gain abundant and valuable insight from others. But only the player herself can integrate this information into behavior. Or not be able to apply what she’s learned.
This is the responsibility of a hitter as self-coach: to help herself understand, use, and appropriately adjust what she learns – from others or from game experience. She must know what works for her and what does not work. She may hear recommendations from others, but she must learn – in a long run – to trust herself.
Conventional wisdom tells us that softball is a game of adjustments. The player ultimately makes adjustments. Some are necessary; some are not necessary; and some do more harm than good. It all starts with self-study – know thyself. Smart pitchers take advantage of hitters who can’t or won’t make adjustments.
It is unacceptable for a hitter to struggle for two weeks without considering that his mental approach may be the cause of his struggles. It’s certainly better for her to make a necessary adjustment after a bad game. Better still, after a bad at-bat. After a pitch is the ideal!
Here are a few “essentials” to remember:
1) A HITTER MUST EXAMINE QUICKLY WHAT’S HAPPENING DURING HER AT-BATS. Thinking takes place out of the batter’s box, not in it. (See the ball; be easy is the focus in the box). The problem may be psychological, philosophical or mechanical. No one knows what you’re thinking but you. No one can coach you in the middle of an at-bat but you.
2) A HITTER MUST HAVE THE PRESENCE OF MIND TO STEP OUT OF THE BOX AND TAKE CONTROL OF HER THOUGHTS.
3) A HITTER MUST COACH HERSELF IN POSITIVE TERMS, TELLING HERSELF WHAT SHE WANTS TO DO, RATHER THAN WHAT NOT TO DO.
We can’t solve problems unless we’re aware of them. A hitter’s awareness is crucial. She must learn what she is thinking and what she is physically (mechanically) feeling before she can formulate a strategy for making an adjustment. That’s self-coaching. Another thought and self-coaching mantra is “Do what you know, do what you know.”
Successful people are almost always goal setters. Setting goals gives an individual a sense of purpose and direction at the same time. A relentless will, keeps her focused on that purpose. Her purpose.
A softball player must know how to distinguish between appropriate goals and inappropriate goals. Furthermore, she should know that what others expect of her has no place on her list of goals.
Results goals are not within the hitter’s control, therefore they are inappropriate. It’s all well and good to have the desire to hit .320, to knock in an impressive number of runs and so on. But a hitter can’t dictate what happens to the ball after she hits it. She is able to control her thoughts and actions before and during her swing. That’s where her concern and focus should be.
Being well prepared and well conditioned, being relaxed, seeing the ball well, staying within herself, knowing how to make adjustments, being able to focus on the immediate task at hand – these are simply stated but formidable goals. They are all behavior goals and those are the ones a hitter can work on daily. She cannot work on her batting average, which is an end. Her behaviors are the means to that end, but even impeccable behavior doesn’t guarantee the result of getting hits.
Often a hitter may be hitting the ball well but nothing to show for it in terms of numbers. Deep fly ball outs, line drives at the defensive player, great defensive plays may not result in hits. Consider reinforcing the approach – being on every ball with her eyes, her aggressive and controlled stroke, and in a relaxed state. Don’t let frustration change the positive behavior.
Don’t let frustration take you out of your focus causing your mental and mechanical elements to break down. Frustration causes players to lose their courage of their conviction. They lose their trust. They forget their behavior goals as they desperately grasp for results. Players should not accept that attitude if one of the long term goals is to be a consistent and effective hitter. Good behavior doesn’t always bring statistical results. Nor does bad behavior guarantee failure.
The reason we can control a goal of behavior should be clear enough. We choose to behave one way or another. We choose to think one way or another. Choice is freedom, and though a hitter can’t steer a ball through the infield or into the gap, or over the fence, she certainly is free to steer her thoughts and thereby control her behavior. The key word here is thoughts. Don’t give into frustration, disappointment and self-doubt – those emotions get in the way of our thinking process. We’ll then act out what we’re feeling, rather than what we should be thinking.
There is a distinction between goals and expectations; goals are what you want for yourself and expectations are what other people want from you. These other people may be well-intentioned people or loving relatives/friends. Their needs should be irrelevant to the player and they must be told. Honesty and directness are essential. Tact is advised.
Don’t be an apologist for your performance. People will ask, “what happened?” or “How come you’re not hitting?” or other questions about “what’s wrong” when you’re struggling. Every time you apologize, you diminish yourself, make yourself more vulnerable, and weaken you mental make-up. Just respond, “I’m working on it”.
Trust in your talent, and rely on your behavior goals to get you out of whatever struggles you encounter. Remember, if you’re hitting the ball hard consistently, you’re not struggling! You’ve got the eyes; the ball doesn’t.
When hitting, you’ve got to have the mentality that you are going to make somebody pay when you’re at bat.
The Greeks had something to offer hitters. “Nothing in excess,” they said. And I pass that philosophy on to hitters. Mental balance, it’s called. The idea is applied to a hitting philosophy as “aggressiveness under control.” One without the other leads to undesirable consequences. Finding the right balance for each individual is the ideal.
Every car has a accelerator and a brake. The accelerator represents aggressiveness, helping you to get where you’re going. The brake represents control – assuring that when you get there, you’re in one piece. Gas pedal and brake are necessary to appropriate operation of the vehicle, as both aggressiveness and control are essential to successful hitting. The phrase “aggressiveness under control” is more appropriate than “controlled aggressiveness as a credo for hitters.
A hitter’s first thought before going to the plate should be about making good, solid contact. She anticipates a pitch she can hit, and is ready for it when she sees it. She does not anticipate taking a pitch, because then, seeing a pitch in the hitting zone, she’ll be surprised by it. Aggressiveness is her operative approach.
That’s how she steers the bat to the ball. She hits the brakes only when she sees a pitch she does not want to swing at. Her eyes are essential for that discipline. That’s control.
As a hitter, one shouldn’t be a “hoper”. A “hoper” is a batter who hopes she hits the ball. Hoping does not show aggressiveness. As a “hoper” one thinks too much in the batter’s box, and sees too little. It’s very difficult to be aggressive when you don’t recognize the object of your aggression. It’s hard to be ready to swing when you’re a “hoper,” It’s harder to pull the trigger.
In contrast, many hitters say, “I’m goin’ up there hackin’.” They’re the hitters who invariably will be out of control. Undisciplined. Swinging without seeing. Their foot is on the accelerator – and they don’t see the wall they’re about to crash into. Thoughtless hacking is not good hitting. Disciplined hitters look for hittable pitches in the strike zone.
Good hitters get their fair share of walks to the benefit of the team. They are not anxious hitters, but patient hitters. Every hitter must learn to strike the proper balance -- between aggressiveness and control.
An excited, impatient hitter is out of control. Russian roulette may be exciting, but it can kill. An excited hitter is dangerous to herself. If you first pitch swing repeatedly with ineffective results or weak contact, you might want to see more pitches. If you program your mind to swing, you’re not programing it to first see.
The aggressive mentality brings a hitter to the plate expecting to swing at a pitch in the hitting zone. But the eyes must control that mentality, when the pitch is not in that zone – If the ball is in the zone – muscles do your stuff.
An excited or anxious hitter usually jumps at the ball – lead step is too long and too early. Going the other way allows her to stay back longer. It also allows her to track the ball longer; the ball getting deeper before she commits to the pitch.
A ball thrown by a pitcher to a batter certainly is “visible.” But seeing it well and reacting to it effectively having a clear mind, so as to keep it from being “invisible” – is certainly one of the most formidable tasks in sport. That is the hitter’s objective and doing it well is artful enough for her.
Consider this: a softball bat at its widest is slightly more that three inches in diameter. A ball comes toward the hitter at the speed of 60-70 plus miles an hour; it reaches the plate in less than a half second. The hitter has just about a tenth of a second to pick up the ball.
In dealing with the mental approach to hitting a player must establish his priority – his core understanding of what’s at the top of the list of requirements for being a skilled hitter. Regardless to how good your mechanics may be, you won’t succeed if I blindfold you. First things first: See the ball! “Track it and whack it.”
Vision itself may be a physiological issue, but what we look at and how we look at it is affected by our mental state. Players are adversely affected in the batter’s box by different things (distractions). However, the universal need of every hitter is to see the ball well. Before looking for answers to hitting problems elsewhere, players should first ask, “am I seeing the ball well?” If the answer is that she is not, then she must ask, “why not?”
Muscle memory allows a player to have a consistent mechanical approach unless the player inhibits her muscles by thinking too much. This is known as a self-conscious hitter, thinking about all manner of things that distract her while in the box. She’s got everything on her mind. Everything except the ball!
The ability to simplify is the ability to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may express itself. Focusing on the ball is simply necessary. Hitters take for granted that they see the ball, but they don’t make the distinction between a casual, fuzzy focus and one that is intense and sharp. Just as we can hear without concentrated listening, we can see without having a concentrated clarity. Rocket scientist would probably not make good hitters. Thoughts about rocketry and hitting don’t get along well in the batter’s box. It divides the hitter’s attention and decreases the size of the ball proportionate to the attention given to anything but the ball. Hitters who are thinking about their mechanics, or anything else, during their at-bats are no better off than the hypothetical rocket scientist. The poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson knew and he wasn’t even a hitter, “the eye obeys exactly the action of the mind.
Want to see the ball better? THINK BALL!
KEYS TO REMEMBER:
Families spend hundreds of dollars a year on hitting lessons in order to help their athlete realize her potential at the plate. Hitting coaches are a dime a dozen, and often do little more for their athlete than set a ball on a tee or front toss to them usually repeating the same 10 hitting cliches we all hear every other day: “turn your hips, eyes on the ball, finish your swing, “don’t drop your hands”, etc. or so it seems. With all that confusing mechanical jargon, it’s no wonder why it becomes a never ending cycle of seeing a new hitting coach every three months, rising and falling in the batting order, frustration with the athlete, blame, frustration with the parent… What gives?
If I were to tell you that we’re all crazy would that make sense to you? Well, in fact, us coaches, most of us are crazy for sure. Trying to break down the laws of kinisieology and physics to wide-eyed teenagers hoping to get robotic results as if we were qualified by our day jobs? Really? Our athletes? They’re crazy for doing this 24/7 without a break for months on end surrendering the life of slumber parties and mall hopping for never-ending days and weeks playing a sport. And you the parents (I too am in this group), are crazy because in your hopes to help your daughter realize her dreams AND your dreams, you pay for all of this!
Now saying all that, coaches ARE important. Because believe it or not, in a lot of respects, we’re all saying about the same thing, just in our own different and unique ways. Athletes are drawn to coaches that speak their language. And a lot of us do this because we have a genuine passion for helping kids. So yes, it is important to keep your eyes on the ball and not to drop your hands, but more importantly, implementing this good advice over and over again is what will become natural after hearing these things 1000s of times. I mean, right? LOL
While you think about that, we have comprised a series for our Ohana about the mental side of hitting. Because this is the side that us coaches don’t talk about so much and it too we feel is very important. Not to burst your bubble, but her mental approach is just as important as the actual swing itself. Which means that maybe, in terms of your own athlete when things aren’t looking so good, the swing is fine but the mind isn’t? We’ll leave that up to you to decide after you go on this little “hitting” journey with us.
This series which will update each week for the next several weeks, was compiled by Dr. Joseph Quarles or “Papa” to the Ohana families who have been around long enough to know him (even athletes who have already gone through this lesson). With decades in coaching and experience playing professional baseball, combined with his career as a professional educator, he has put together some learning materials we think you will enjoy that will also benefit your athlete. “Papa” takes cues from one of his favorite books on the subject of hitting, The Mental Keys to Hitting by H.A. Dorfman and delivers a unique summary of the book along with some of his own thoughts and “Papa-isms” regarding mental preparation as a hitter, and what your athlete should be focused on in the on deck circle and when she’s at the plate just before she shows the world her million dollar swing, literally.
Warning: While the concepts and terms used in this series should be comprehendible to HS age athletes, our younger athletes may find some material hard to follow without parental explanation in regards to some topics.
A printable copy of this hitting program will be offered in the weeks to come.