skip navigation

Mental Hitting - Part three: Setting Your Goals vs. Living Others’ Expectations

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.

REMEMBER

Set behavior goals that you can control, rather than result goals that you cannot control.

Monitor your thoughts regularly, recognizing when your feelings are getting in the way of your thinking – and interfering with your appropriate hitting approach.

Be certain to establish functional goals, so as not to be made dysfunctional by results or other people’s expectations.

Establish individual goals that can be worked on daily as a hitter.  They may include practice and game goals, such as: 1) disciplined batting practice, 2) seeing the ball well in BP, 3) Having a purpose in every BP round, 3) remind yourself of mechanical cues in the on-deck circle, stepping out of the box and self coach during an at-bat, 4) being mentally ready on every pitch, 5) Establishing your strike zone through discipline, 6) being an aggressive hitter under control, 7) add others…

MENTAL HITTING - PART TWO: AGGRESSIVENESS UNDER CONTROL

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.

REMEMBER

  • A balanced mental approach means being aggressive while being under control.
  • Aggressiveness is swinging;  control is seeing the ball well, which allows you to swing at appropriate pitches.
  • Attacking the ball without fear of striking out is essential to aggressive, effective hitting.
  • Knowing the strike zone is essential to being a controlled hitter.
  • When you sense you’re losing control, hit the ball to the opposite field.  You’ll track the ball longer and deeper into the hitting zone.
  • Understand that a walk has value.
  • Remember that the best hitters hit their best pitch, not the pitcher’s best pitch.
  • Two-strike hitting should not be defensive hitting.  It is just less selective hitting.  Widen your strike zone and when you see what you want, let it fly.
  • With two strikes, good hitters don’t guess the breaking ball is coming.  Guessing is an indication of self-doubt – and its dangerous.  It’s Russian roulette with a bat.  If anything, look for the fastball and adjust to the breaking ball.  But look, rather than guess.

MENTAL HITTING - PART ONE: FIRST AND FOREMOST, SEE THE BALL!

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:

  • Whether struggling or doing well, give yourself regular “reality checks” related to how well you’re seeing the ball.  Rate yourself after each at bat on how well you saw the ball – tracked the ball, one being best, ten being worst.
  • When you are not having good looks, use your next at-bat to establish your concentration on the ball.  Take the first pitch and track it all the way to the catcher’s mitt.
  • When struggling, the deeper you can get into the count, the better.  You’ll see more pitches and help yourself as a result.
  • Remind yourself by repeating the mantra, “See the ball; be easy.”  It’s simple to say, harder to do.  It requires discipline and trust (to be discussed in later chapters), the traits of great hitters.

MENTAL HITTING - THE INTRODUCTION

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.