The Lending Coach

Coaching and teaching - many through the mortgage process and others on the field

Category: Baseball (page 1 of 4)

Off-Season Workouts – What Young Players Can Learn

Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber had a down year in 2017 – he even spent some time in the minors after having struggled during the summer.

After the season, Schwarber decided that he would do whatever he could during the off-season to prepare for the 2018 season – and it began by getting his body in the best shape possible.

His mornings begin in the gym and end with him swinging a bat. In between, his diet has morphed into the most healthy of his career.

I’d highly recommend you check out each video on the ESPN site here…..

The video/article gives perfect examples of specific drills that Schwarber does to get himself ready for the 2018 season.

Of course, Kyle is a professional athlete and has the time and resources to make this happen (and I completely understand that most youth and high-school players do not) – but don’t miss the point here.

Schwarber has a detailed plan and sticks to it months prior to the season.  He’s set goals for himself and will not be denied.

It’s this mindset and willingness to plan ahead that will put him in the best position to succeed next season.

Do you have a plan to get ready for 2018?  Strengthening, conditioning, flexibility, as well as skill related work?

There are plenty of options online to help you get started – you can click here for my Lending Coach site under the “Baseball” category to find more training related articles and blog posts.

 

Mental Toughness For Pitchers

“The pitcher with a winning mental approach will appear to rise to the occasion in big games, when in reality he is the one who successfully keeps his head while others around him are distracted by the moment.”

“Mental toughness allows the pitcher to remain focused on these things regardless of all the chaos going on around him.”

“The mentally tough pitcher can focus on the things he can control and not let the things out of his control distract him.”

So says legendary college baseball coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland. McFarland coached 38 years at the college level – 18 at James Madison University. Equally impressive, he coached 55 players on their way to the big leagues (including Kevin Brown of the Los Angeles Dodgers).

His book, Coaching Pitchers, is a great read – and I’d encourage you to purchase it here.

The following is an excerpt from that book…

Many say that mental toughness is an ability that is born into a pitcher, but with some work and effort all pitchers can create a winning mental approach. In this chapter we will look at identifying problems and then offer advice, drills, and practice ideas to help pitchers create a winning mental approach.

Factors the Pitcher Can’t Control

The first step to becoming mentally tough is to figure out the factors you can control as a pitcher and those things that are out of your control. The list of things out of your control is much longer than the list of things within your control. First you determine those factors out of your control and then you learn to deal with them.

  • Weather conditions – these include wind, rain, sun, cold, and heat. You can dress appropriately, but you cannot do anything to control the weather.
  • Field conditions – these include wet field, dry field, poor field, dimensions of the field, poor lighting, and the height and condition of the mound.
  • Teammates – a pitcher cannot control his teammates and their play. They may score 0 runs when you pitch; they may score 10 runs. This is true of errors too. Your team may field great when you pitch or they may make several errors. You can’t do anything about errors or run support.
  • Umpires – as umpires determine their own strike zone,  the pitcher will need to adjust to that zone for the day. A pitcher can’t control whether or not the umpire makes all the correct calls during a ball game.
  • Unruly fans and bench talk – fans or opponents will try to disrupt a pitcher by verbally abusing him. You can’t control fans; when you acknowledge their remarks, it gets even worse. Sometimes opposing teams will try to get a pitcher out of his game by bench talk.
  • The batter – once the baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand, the batter has the control. The batter decides to swing or take. The batter will determine whether to hit the ball hard by his swing.

The pitcher may affect some of the factors with his performance, but he cannot control them. So he should not worry about them. A pitcher cannot focus on or spend time and energy on things out of his control.

Factors the Pitcher Can Control

A pitcher with a winning mental approach knows that there is only one thing a pitcher has complete control over, and that is himself. Mental toughness starts with the realization of this concept.

Be concerned with those things and only those things that a pitcher can control: himself and his actions. A pitcher must first learn to be responsible for himself and his actions.

  • A pitcher cannot control the weather, but he can pitch accordingly and give himself a better opportunity to be successful.
  • A pitcher cannot control the condition of the field, but he can pitch accordingly and give himself a better opportunity to be successful.
  • A pitcher cannot control the play of his teammates, but he can help himself by playing good defense and being positive in the dugout; he can pitch accordingly to ensure his own success.
  • A pitcher cannot control umpire decisions; but he can make adjustments to different strike zones, affect umpiring decisions by his actions, and pitch accordingly to ensure his own success.
  • A pitcher cannot control what is being said about him or to him from opposing teams or fans, but he can choose whether to let them affect his game.
  • A pitcher cannot dictate what the batter will do with a certain pitch; but by studying hitters and learning weaknesses, he can pitch accordingly and ensure his own success.

Instead of focusing on things out of his control, a pitcher must take each set of circumstances and pitch or act accordingly to make himself succeed.

Each pitch and each situation involve a new set of circumstances. How he reacts to each new set of circumstances or situations is within his control, and this is where he can start to make a difference.

Assess the situation, make the appropriate decisions, make the appropriate pitch or play accordingly, and then accept responsibility for the result. Understand that the pitcher starts and affects the action of the game with each pitch more than any other single event in the game; this is crucial for a winning mental approach.

The pitcher is the only player on the field who has the power to act. All other players on both teams only have the power to react. Use this power and act accordingly to each new set of circumstances and each new situation to help ensure your own success.

The key to a winning mental approach is not to focus on the things a pitcher cannot control but to be consumed by the things a pitcher can control.

Telling a pitcher not to worry about the fan in the fourth row who is riding him hard or not to worry about the umpire whose strike zone appears to be on wheels and is moving around is as effective as telling someone not to think about an elephant that’s standing in the room.

Instead, create a pitcher who is consumed with the next pitch and is focused on what he can do in the next set of circumstances, no matter the current situation.

Some Sage Hitting Advice – The Best Laid Plans

Coach Paul Petricca is the former hitting coach for the Wheaton College softball team is a true student of hitting – both baseball and softball.

His website is one of my favorites and I highly recommend that you check it out.

As a matter of fact, he’s just written a book on the subject – and I’d encourage you to purchase it here !

One of Paul’s latest posts is called “The Best Laid Plans” – and you can find it here – The Best Laid Plans

Some key takeaways….

Flawed Mechanics

“Poor hitting performance is usually an indication of weak hitting mechanics. At least that’s a good place to start. Mechanical issues can range from a weak set-up position, hands that are too forward, an ineffective load (leg lift and initial weight transfer), poor extension at the point of impact with the ball, and an abbreviated or awkward finish.”

Too Many Voices and Too Much Noise

“Hitters with cluttered minds in the batter’s box focus on the last few failed at-bats, a recent error in the field, history with the opposing pitcher, expectations of friends or family members in the stands, or any other negative thoughts. A mind that is filled with loads of non-hitting information can negatively affect the physical swing by causing hitters to be tentative, tense, and guess too much before the pitch is thrown.”

“Another common reason for poor hitting performance is confusing hitting advice from multiple sources. In the post “One Voice”  http://wp.me/p3zdlH-S5, I emphasized the importance of finding the right hitting instructor and remaining loyal to his or her voice. Loyalty means having faith in the primary hitting mechanics and overall philosophy of the instructor [or coach].”

In Closing

“I like to tell my hitters when they are struggling that baseball and softball are games of second chances. A hitter can strike out the first three times in a game and then hit the game-winning home run. Hitters also have the opportunity to follow-up a challenging season with a great one by working hard on the right mechanics with the right hitting coach with a positive attitude.”

Great advice from a great coach!

Six Killer Mistakes That Hitters Make

One of my favorite mental coaches is Dr. Patrick Cohn of Peak Sports Performance. Dr. Cohn is a sports psychologist out of Orlando Florida. He’s always preaching mental toughness – and the techniques athletes can use to grasp it.

An at-bat routine helps you plan, prepare, and program your body to see the pitch well and react to the right pitch.

He’s put together a free online e-book that can be found here: http://www.peaksports.com/baseball-softball-confidence-report/

If you are a player, or parent of a player, I’d recommend that you download it and get to know the contents!

Dr. Cohn states that great hitters use an at-bat routine to help them focus and prepare mentally.

“From our experience,” he states, “many hitters do not have an effective at-bat routine because they have way too many doubts, negative thoughts, or distractions in the batters box.”

Similarly to Steve Springer’s “Quality At-Bat” teaching, Cohn goes into detail about when your at bat actually starts:

“Your at-bat routine does not start when you step foot in the batter’s box, as you might think…..the routine actually begins when you analyze the pitcher, predict what pitches you might expect….well before you step into the box.”

His “Top 6 Mistakes”

In his e-book, Dr. Cohn examines in detail, the top mistakes hitters make…

  • Failing to Have a Specific Plan
  • Lack of Full Commitment to the Plan
  • Worrying About not Getting a Hit
  • Lack of a Positive Image or Thought
  • Over Analysis or ‘Trying too Hard’
  • Lack of Trust in Your Skills

Again, here’s the link to find out more: http://www.peaksports.com/baseball-softball-confidence-report/

Go download it and take it all in – you will become a better player if you do!

The Fundamentals of the Mental Game

I’ve mentioned Dr. Tom Hanson and Dr. Ken Ravizza before – as they have written one of the best books ever on the baseball mental game – Heads-Up Baseball.  If you are a player or coach and haven’t read this yet, I highly recommend that you do!

The mental game comes down to the ability to compete with 100% of what you have to win the next pitch – either as a hitter, pitcher, or fielder.

The two of them have teamed up again, this time in a video series about the fundamentals of the mental game. 

They talk about the need to focus on what you can control – not the uncontrollables – like the weather, mound, umpiring, coaches pitch calling, etc.

Players should really focus on what they can work with – their effort, body language, hustle, and attitude.

I’d invite you to check out the video here….

There’s an easy to see PDF that accompanies the video – and I recommend that, too.

It is this sort of mental preparation – when done in practice, too – that can really help players get comfortable and fearless when competing.

 

The Great Hitting Debate – Ground Balls or Fly Balls

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite reads is Justin Dedman’s “Hitting Mental” blog – he has great content for players looking to better themselves at the plate.

He’s recently written about the current ground ball versus fly ball debate – and has shed a little clarity on it. I highly recommend you view his entire post here….

Dedman states, “there are so many mis-teaches in hitting, and coaching players to hit predominantly ground balls is one of them.”

“Nor should we ONLY practice hitting fly balls….and it isn’t OK to strike out a billion times. Let’s get this straight.”

He calls this micro-management at its worst. Teaching players to simply make sure they put the ball in play exhibits a lack of trust in their ability, or in our ability to understand hitting and teach it the proper way.

The Data

Justin shows that most college baseball statistical programs log all extra base hits as line drives. In programs like Statcrew and Dakstats, fly balls are outs.

For example, all hits are categorized in college as only line drives or ground balls. Justin states that “this is absolutely asinine. This epitomizes much of the statistical confusion at lower levels.”

He goes on to say that MLB gets it right. Their stat programs note that HRs can be both fly balls and line drives. MLB’s excellence in statistical analysis, data and measurement are second to none.

With that said, Major League Baseball does have the  financial capacity to create highly sensitive visual analysis by computers as well as real, live human beings track every pitch and evaluate each contact.

Dedman’s scorecard

We all know that every ball hit comes off of the bat at a different angle. Dedman continues “At Lee University, we call these angles ‘ball flights’, and we grade and value each ball flight separately, giving our hitters great perspective on what they hit, and what we want them to hit.”

Here’s his breakdown:

We encourage our hitters to hit 5’s, 6’s, and 7’s. When you hit a barrel in practice, we track it as a 567. To hit a ball at these ball flights requires certain approaches, timing and contact points to be made.

A “1” flight is a ball hit sharply into the ground, first bouncing near home plate. A “9” is the equal, but opposite angle, hit straight up into the air.

A “4” flight is a hard contact that bounces in the back infield dirt. A “5” is perfectly squared up and cuts straight through the air. A “6” has backspin and “extra-base energy” (lots of doubles and triples here). Most HR’s are “7” flight, though our strongest players can crush an “8” flight and have it sail out of the yard.

567’s win. They require aggressiveness in approach and swing.

Our weaker hitters, who have exit velocities typically between 80 and 90, have ball flight identities of 456. They can crush a “7” and not have the same success. Sitting there hitting “7” flights all day is a bad idea when you don’t possess the bat speed or strength to create distance on the baseball.

His conclusions

Justin continues, “our final misstep in the coaching puzzle is the type of linear hand path/lacking separation/pushing the barrel forward to ensure we make contact swing that coaches dis-empower their hitters with.”

“Hit the ball on the ground is a misnomer. I don’t care if you run a 6.5 60. Hitting 456s or 567’s will result in having an ability to drive in runners from first, create a higher slugging percentage, higher OPS, more runs created, and make a greater impact on the game.”

“We chart hitters on-field batting practices to ensure they have accountability and visual reference for what types of balls they are hitting on a consistent basis. We have a goal for each hitter to hit 40% of their batted balls within their identity (either 456 or 567).”

More

He also talks about hitters making in-game adjustments depending on outside factors. Windy day? Let’s focus on 456’s. He states, “hitting is all about adjustment making, as is coaching.”

I agree with Justin in teaching our hitters that hitting the right type of balls in the air. It’s clearly advantageous and is an adjustment that many programs can make.

Sports Injuries and the Mental Side of the Comeback

One of my favorite reads is Dr. Patrick Cohn, he’s a sports psychologist out of Orlando Florida. He’s always preaching mental toughness – and the techniques athletes can use to grasp it.

His recent article on the psychology of a sports injury really caught my attention – and I’d highly recommend that you check it out.

Many, if not all, athletes have been forced down the injury road, and it’s in these trials that they can gain great strength.

Injury is a challenge that most athletes will face at some time during their career. They can range from mild to serious ones requiring surgery – and they are not easy for anyone. For some athletes, the emotional impact of an injury can be devastating.

With injury, athletes have a fear of the unknown, “Will I return one hundred percent?” “Will I lose my starting role?” “What if I get cut from the team?”

How you respond to injury shapes your rehab, return to competition, and post-injury performance.

If you respond with frustration, fear and worry, you will delay recovery and potentially suffer re-injury.

It is normal to experience some negative emotions… the very thing that you love doing has been taken away for a period of time.  The key is to not wallow in those negative emotions and move forward…

What are the anxieties and fears when you are injured?

  • A loss of identity: Since you probably have competed in your sport from an early age, you probably identify with your sport (“I am a baseball player,” “I am a gymnast,” “I am a soccer player,” etc).
  • Losing that connection with your team: Your team is most likely part of your social circle also. You may feel your injury is driving a wedge between you and your friends/teammates.
  • Doubts about your future: You may wonder if you will be able to compete at the same level as before the injury or, even worse, will the injury prevent you from ever playing again. You may fear losing a scholarship or not getting accepted into the college of your choice.
  • Losing your role on the team: You may fear being replaced on the team or having your playing time drastically reduced.
  • The pain of rehab: Rehab can be physically uncomfortable, take a huge chunk of time out of your day and may be a financial strain on your family.
  • Fear of re-injury: When you return to your sport, your head may be filled with images of getting hurt again and may be an even greater source of anxiety.
  • Loss of confidence: Injury can lead some athletes to doubt their ability to return to a prior level of performance before injury.

As Dr. Cohn states, “the mental impact of injury must be handled with care if you are to have a successful return to your sport.”

Again, I invite you to follow the link to learn more – and pass this on to any athlete you know that’s on the comeback trail!!

Pre-pitch hitting position that maximizes bat speed

Coach Paul Petricca is the hitting coach for the Wheaton College softball team is a true student of hitting – both baseball and softball. His website is a treasure trove of information and I highly recommend that you check it out.

One of his keys is the position of the hands and bat at the start of the swing.

For his complete analysis, go here…

Most hitting coaches tell a player to hold the bat in a comfortable position, noting that all players are different.

Petricca disagrees:

I’m all for comfort, but most hitters find the most comfortable position is high and close to their face. This bat position may be comfortable, but it will not result in optimum bat speed.

During his hitting lessons, he uses a device that measures bat speed – and disputes the “comfort” theory.

He moves the hitter’s hands back toward the catcher, which results in almost total extension on the front arm, approximately 6 inches behind the head. It usually only takes one swing to make his point, because this swing typically registers over 10 mph faster than the swing with the hands near the body and head.

From Coach Petricca:

“I then immediately proceed to walk off 50 feet from home plate to reinforce the message that for every additional 5mph of bat speed, the ball will travel 25 additional feet (as described in the Sport Science video on bat speed in the video section of this site).

By merely moving my hands back toward the catcher, I realized 50 additional feet of distance. After this illustration, hitters are usually anxious to move their hands back toward the catcher and away from their bodies.

This dramatic increase in bat speed from merely adjusting the position of the hands disproves the myth that hands close to the body make a hitter quicker….it actually restricts their bat speed.

I continue to be focused on increasing bat speed, because it allows hitters to read a pitch for a split second longer, which is a huge benefit to the average hitter, in addition to greater power.”

He concludes:

“The higher the bat speed, the longer hitters can wait to see the ball before swinging.  This is the real meaning of being “quick to the ball”.  Try it!”

Baseball Parenting the Wrong Way

What’s wrong with the picture above?  Looks like a fun 9 or 10 year-old baseball game here in Phoenix, right?

Check out the dad behind the screen.  Do I see that correctly?  Is he really holding a radar gun?

I’m absolutely sickened by this image.

There are just so many things wrong here.  Please pass this post on to everyone you know in the baseball community.  I’ll attempt to break down just a few of the disasters here – and try not to rant too long.

The Radar Gun

First of all, with all of the things we now know about young pitchers and arm injuries, the last thing any young pitcher needs to be concerned with is radar gun velocity.

Dr. James Andrews is arguably the world’s most famous and best orthopedic surgeon, and he has saved the pitching arms of some of the greatest professional baseball players on the planet.  To the right is an image of what actually takes place when doctors have to rebuild the joint and the ligament.

So when he has a request for the game he loves the most, we should be wise and listen to his request — especially at the youth and high school level.

“I think they should outlaw the radar gun,” he said. “Young pitchers, coaches, scouts and parents put so much emphasis now on throwing hard that these kids are hurting their elbows and their shoulders because they’re trying to throw 90 mph.”

The radar gun, Andrews says, is one of many injury risks at the youth and high school level in an age of baseball that is seeing more and more teenage athletes on the operating table instead of the pitching mound.

You should read more from Dr. Andrews here…

You should read more from Major League Baseball and PitchSmart here….

The Complete Lack of Perspective on Youth Baseball

What in the world is this dad thinking?  How does measuring the velocity of a 9-year old pitcher have anything to do with what is important in a 9-year old baseball game?

Baseball is one of the most difficult games ever invented – it’s a self-esteem destroyer on it’s own.  We need to be encouraging our kids at the youth level, not measuring the exit velocity of the fastball, for crying out loud.

The goal at the end of every 9 year-old baseball game is that the kid wants to come back and do it again.

I’ve got to turn it over to Steve Springer here so you can see his video on what’s important….a must watch for all baseball parents.  Like Spring says, take the kid out for ice cream after the ballgame.  Tell him how much you love him and how much fun you had watching him.

Also, see Brian Regan’s comedic take on youth baseball that will give you some insight on how many kids view the game.

The Singular Lack of Perspective on Pitching

Youth pitching is completely about having fun and learning to handle yourself on the mound.  And that, by the way, isn’t easy.  It’s also about learning proper pitching mechanics and throwing strikes. Period.

There is absolutely no way that any kid’s baseball future can be determined by how hard he throws or how effective he is when he’s 9.

With that said, there’s absolutely no way you can determine a kid’s baseball future in any way when he is 9 years of age.

The Absolute Unawareness of His Position in the Stands

Dude.  Assuming that your son is the pitcher, he really needs to be concentrating on the catcher’s glove.

Not you right behind home plate holding that radar gun. I bet you give him the thumbs up when he throws a good pitch, too.

You know and I know (and I’m sure his coaches do, too) that he’s looking at you half of the time – and that’s not at all how it should be. 

Secondly, you are more than likely blocking the view of other parents, grandparents, other family members, and friends at that ball game.  You are taking up prime viewing real estate to get the 51 MPH reading, man.  I’m also sure they are really impressed that he’s breaking 50 MPH from 46 feet.

Well, that’s what I’ve got for now – I can’t take this much longer.  Please, please parents, encourage your youngsters.  They need someone there for them after they fail – and they will in this game.  Again, I ask that you share this post with anyone you know in the baseball community – let’s make sure we are encouraging and protecting our young players and pitchers.

 

Hitting Strategy – You Must Have A Plan

“Standing in the batters box 60 feet 6 inches away from the pitcher whom throws a white 3 inch baseball across a 17 inch plate at speeds up to 90+ mph with only a 33 inch bat possessing a sweet spot of 3. 7 inches can cause anxiety for many players.”

“When you factor in the potential for pitches of different speeds, locations, and movements, as well as the 8 other position players behind the pitcher who’s primary job is to defend against those hitters skilled enough to put a ball in play, it is a wonder that hitters are ever successful.”

Source: Michael Monsour’s For The Love of The Game Blog

It is widely acknowledged that hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult tasks in all of sports.

What I see all the time at the high school level, is that hitters don’t have a consistent hitting game plan.  The majority of high school hitters  end up getting themselves out. Regardless of the pitchers ability, many hitters are unsuccessful offensively by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone, failing to recognize hitters counts versus pitchers counts, and giving up on parts of the plate.  These failures prevent the team from scoring runs and directly impacts wins and losses.

Coach Monsour does a fantastic job here of highlighting some of the key strategies for hitters that will help ready them when it’s time to compete.  Click on his link above for more – but here are they key take-aways:

Aggressive swing thought

Successful hitting requires aggressiveness. The player does not have time evaluate the pitch and then make two decisions (swing or not to swing). Instead, he must commit each at bat to swing unless his assessment of the pitch tells him to not swing. So when you enter the batters box, commit to swinging at the pitch and stop yourself if you decide the pitch is no good.  This requires only one decision instead of two!

Attack fastballs in the Strike Zone on hitters counts

A hitter may face up to 12 counts at any given at-bat (see below). Some of the counts favor the hitter, some will favor the pitcher, while others are neutral. The hitters goal is to operate within the hitters counts by: only swinging at strikes and only swinging at hitters pitches in a hitters count.

 

Hitter’s Count: 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2 (Expect Fastball)
Pitcher’s Counts: 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 2-2 (Expect Pitcher’s pitch)
Even Counts: 0-0, 1-1

 

By their own admission, hitters hit the fastball better than they hit the curve ball. Data shows that pitchers have a tendency to throw fastballs when the count is in the hitters favor (hence the name hitters count). So when you find yourself in a hitters count, expect a fastball.

However, one method to get hitters to get themselves out is for a pitcher to throw a curve ball in a hitters count fooling the hitter. As a hitter, if you have a hitters count (let’s say 2-0) and the pitcher throws a curve (or other off speed pitch) do not offer at it. At worst the count is 2-1 and remains a hitters count. The following pitch will likely be a fastball for two reasons: pitchers tend to throw fastballs in hitter counts and pitchers rarely throw the same off speed pitch in sequence i.e. curve ball, curve ball.

Narrow your plate coverage to play the percentages

Few hitters can control both sides of the plate consistently – thus hitters must make a choice of which to give up. Over 70% of pitches in the strike zone are from just inside the midway point of the plate to the outside corner. Many more outs are made on the outside part of the plate. In fact, with runners in scoring position, pitchers will work the ball away (outside part of the plate) to avoid giving up a double in the gap or HR. I instruct my players to expect the ball “middle-away” and react to it “inside”.

Predict pitch type and location based on data and tendencies

Baseball players hit fast balls better than they hit curve balls. Pitchers throw fastballs in hitters counts – and, pitchers also like to throw a majority of their pitches on the outer half of the plate. If we use these facts in conjunction with the known tendencies of the players/coaches, we should be able to predict the pitch and location based on the count on the batter and runners on base.

For example, a batter has a 1-0 count. He should expect to swing at the next pitch which he predicts will be a fastball away. If he receives an off speed pitch or a pitch outside the strike zone, he does not swing. If he receives the pitch he expects in the location he expects it, he is very likely to hit it hard possibly resulting in a hit.

In summary, this is no easy task, but with the right approach, a hitter can dramatically improve his probability of hitting the ball hard somewhere.  With that said  – have a plan and put this information to work for you!

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