The Lending Coach

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Category: Coaching (page 1 of 3)

A Great Hitting Lesson – An Analysis

Two of my favorite and “go-to” mental guys in the baseball world are Dr. Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson. I’ve mentioned them before – and I’d highly recommend that you read their book, Heads-Up Baseball 2.0.

http://cfch.net/cfch-open-house/ I’ve worked with Ken for 30 years…he’s made me a better teacher of the mental game and helped me help players become better at being what I call ‘present moment guys’ – Joe Maddon

You can also go here to learn more about them and their other content.

Their latest article has to do with a great hitting lesson that they were a part of – and here’s the link to the complete post. I’d invite you to check it out in full.

follow The Anatomy of a Great Hitting Lesson

Here are a few key highlights:

Yesterday I, witnessed what I considered to be an outstanding hitting lesson.  I’ll take a few moments now to explain what made it so powerful.  The bottom line:  The player came in feeling frustrated, a bit lost, and out of sync with himself.  He left feeling excited, renewed, re-connected with what makes him good, and highly confident.

Before the first swing was taken, the coach took the time to connect and listen to the player. “What’s been going on?”  “How have you been feeling?” “WHAT have you been feeling?”  Questions like that… and then he took the time to hear the player’s responses, and ask follow up questions.

http://exploremovement.com/about/ This put the player at ease, made him feel respected, and gave the coach essential information. The dialogue made it less likely that the coach would pile additional thoughts on top of what the player was already thinking.

Here’s the secret sauce to the whole thing: The player likes, respects, and trusts the coach. Contributors to this are all of the elements listed above that address how the coach relates to the player, plus the coach is a “learner” who is open-minded and always looking to get better (as opposed to a “knower” who has all the answers.

“It’s the relationship, stupid” is a worthy mantra for coaching.  Not a buddy, like “lets catch a movie after the lesson,” but a respectful, adult-to-adult relationship.  As Joe Maddon said: “With a great relationships, anything is possible.  With poor relationships, almost nothing is.”

A Baseball Must for Pitchers: Command and Establish The Fastball

When a pitcher has control that means he pitches in the strike zone.

But when a pitcher has command, that means he can hit spots within that strike zone.  And it’s the fastball that he must command, first and foremost.

Following his third spring training start, David Price said,

“It’s part of the process, continuing to go out there, command my fastball the way that I did today. If I can do that, it just opens up everything that I want to do with all my secondary stuff.”

“That’s always a big emphasis on me, just making sure I’m hitting spots with that fastball—two-seam, four-seam, both sides of the plate, moving it in, up, down.”

As a pitcher that throws a lot of fastballs, Price understands how difficult it is to hit.  He understands that fastballs in different locations thrown with a two-seam and four-seam variations can make life difficult for hitters.

The key is location.

For a great read on fastball command, read Doug Bernier’s article here….

Why The Fastball?

All great pitchers usually have something in common: a good fastball. Having command of your fastball should be the main focus of every pitcher at every level of the game, yet that’s too often not the case.  Too many pitchers (of all ages) tend to spend far too much time on learning how to throw secondary pitches, such as breaking balls.

The fastball is the singularly most important pitch.  If a pitcher has plus command of it, they can cause all sorts of havoc with a hitters mind with the location of that pitch.

Everything works well if you can establish the fastball and put it where you want it.

Having a great fastball means you can get out of most situations, (sometimes) even with a lack of feel for the pitch.  Those who understand this fact know what it’s like when you can’t get a good feel for your breaking ball on a particular day.  The curve ball is a “feel” pitch and can be difficult to throw for a strike at times, especially for younger players.

Having a great fastball also means you can then develop and utilize a secondary pitch with much more effectiveness – like a changeup to simply throw the hitter’s timing off.  This can be killer combination, as many times the hitter can’t recognize the difference out of the pitcher’s hand.

Deception & Perception

If you ever take the time to watch batting practice, you will see how many times hitters don’t square up the baseball.  The hitters know every pitch that is coming and the coach is trying to throw it where they can hit it hard, but still many hitters don’t hit the ball on the barrel of the bat.

Imagine how much harder it gets when they DON’T know what pitch is coming.

  • Inside/outside – After two inside fastballs, a 4-seamer on the outside corner tends to look further outside than normal… even though it is a strike.
  • Speed – The speed differs by 2-3 mph but that is just enough for my contact to be off the barrel if I am timed up for the two-seamer velocity.
  • Up / Down – Moving the ball up and down changes the eye level of the hitter and can produce swing and misses especially with two strikes.

A well located fastball is the most difficult pitch to hit consistently.  The hitter has less time to react, and the further the ball is away from the middle of the plate the more difficult it is for the hitter.

Learning from David Price

Pitchers and coaches might want to take a page out of David Price’s book and throw more fastballs.

As a pitcher, you know the hitter is thinking “once I have to compete against fastballs located for strikes on both sides of the plate and changing eye levels, the secondary stuff becomes much, much nastier to hit.”

As a hitter, when a pitcher establishes the location of his fastball and is not afraid to come after them, it makes hitting that much more difficult.

Adding Another Pitch to the Mix?

For those looking to “add another pitch”, you might want to reconsider, until you’re comfortable with fastball location.

Instead, evaluate what you’re currently throwing, and ask yourself these questions: “do I truly command these pitches?  Can I spot a fastball where I want, anytime I want, with movement?  Can I throw a four-seamer for a strike with my eyes closed?”

Only after you’ve honestly answered “yes” to all three, then consider adding another pitch to your repertoire.

Pitching to Contact

Many pitchers are afraid of “getting hit”, or they try to make the perfect pitch every time.  As a result, they end up throwing balls out of the strike zone,  walking hitters, or pitching from behind in counts.

Unless they throw 100+ miles per hour, they really, they’re trying to control the inevitable – that the batter is going to make contact. Interestingly, pitchers with great command like Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine want them to hit the baseball.  And they don’t worry if a hitter ends up reaching base.  Their attitude is, “That’s fine. I’ll get the next guy.”

In Conclusion

Let’s be clear, if you don’t have good command of your fastball, you are not a good pitcher.  That’s the reality. If you want to improve your game, improve your velocity or command, not add a new pitch to your arsenal.

Work on it.

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.

The Missing Ingredient In Many Athletes Today

When you think of the most successful players on the field or court, do you think of the “natural” athlete?  The biggest, strongest, fastest?

When you really analyze it, are they always the best players the team?

Funny thing, if you’ve been around sports long enough, you have probably heard this about a player – “he’s got a lot of talent, but he is just missing something.”

What is that “something”?

According to John O’Sullivan at Changing the Game Project, in all likelihood, that missing ingredient is the inner drive and will to succeed, a burning desire to push on despite obstacles, failure, and challenges.

In a word, grit.

From O’Sullivan’s blog…. “in 2005, Dr Angela Duckworth, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, began studying self-discipline. She measured 164 middle school students through both IQ and self discipline assessments, and then tracked their progress over a year of school.”

“She found that the students’ self-discipline scores were better predictors of GPA than IQ scores. This self-discipline, combined with a passionate commitment to a task and a burning desire to see it through, she termed GRIT.”

The Grit Scale

Dr. Duckworth developed a 12-question test, “The Grit Scale” (click here for link to the test), that takes only a few minutes to complete, and it has been shown to be an incredibly good predictor of success.

Sullivan continues, “In their most remarkable finding, Duckworth and her team administered their test to an incoming class at the United States Military Academy at West Point.”

“There, cadets already undergo a complex evaluation of academic grades, physical fitness measurements, and leadership testing, administered by the Army to predict which cadets will survive the rigors of West Point.”

In the end, Duckworth’s twelve-question Grit Test was a more accurate predictor of who would stay in school.

Guaranteed Success?

Do I think that grit is the single determinant of success or achievement?

Of course not – but it clearly is one of the key attributes that successful players have.

High level performance is made up of a variety of factors, such as talent, good coaching, deliberate practice, avoiding injury, and motivation….just to name a few. Yet when I think of all the talented players I’ve seen who didn’t achieve their potential, the missing ingredient was often very close to Dr. Duckworth’s description of Grit:

“the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”

Many players have talent, they’ve worked hard in spots, but they did not maintain their interest and effort long enough to become superior competitors.

I’d highly recommend that you view Dr. Duckworth’s 6 minute exposition here.

Developing Grit

My advice is this: if your child is young and struggling to succeed in a sport, help them develop the grit to persevere, and the love of the sport to stick with it. Find them a team that allows them to play and have fun.

If your child is older, don’t make excuses for their failure. Let him or her own-up to their shortcomings. Encourage them to work harder and ask for help in getting better

Here’s a great video from John O’Sullivan that can teach us to help our kids develop grit.

Here’s what he says parents can do to instill grit, determination and self-control in your players:

  1. Allow them to FAIL: In fact, encourage them to fail! If you are always making excuses for failure, blaming other coaches, referees, players, etc., you have lost sight of the fact that failure is a MANDATORY component of both learning and becoming mentally tough. Children who are not allowed to fail never have any obstacles to overcome, and blame things outside of themselves for their failure. Every time they encounter an obstacle, they wait to be carried over it, they wait for the problem to be solved for them. They do not persevere, they do not persist; they only learn to give up. Let your kids fail, and teach them how to learn from failure.

  1. Praise Them for Effort and Tenacity: if you want an athlete with sports “affluenza,” then by all means praise him for his talent, intelligence, and ability. But if you want a determined, gritty athlete, then praise tenacity, point out the importance of perseverance and struggle, and highlight his achievements which came through sustained effort over the long haul. Children who are praised for being gritty will come to value, and even embrace the persistent pursuit of long term goals.

 

  1. Be a Model Grit for Your Athletes: This is a tough one, but remember that kids hear what we say, but remember what we do. Don’t complain about things out of your control that effected a sports outcome, or blame your boss or co-workers because you did not get the promotion. Instead, be honest about your disappointment with your kids, explain to them how while you are upset, you are going to work even harder, that this is a goal worth attaining, and soon achievement will come. You can even do something on your bucket list, such as sign up to run that marathon, do your first triathlon, or set out to lose some weight. Demonstrate for your kids that what you are doing is not easy, but it is worth the struggle, disappointment and perseverance required of achieving it.

Let’s agree that many of our kids’ today lack this quality – and let’s also agree that it is a key attribute to success. Don’t make excuses for your child – help him/her understand that setbacks are merely temporary.

It’s climbing over them that makes us better!

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!!

Quality At-Bats

Anderson_field wide

One major flaw in the great game of baseball is the way we’ve been measuring and evaluating a player’s performance.  Similarly, most players will tell you how well their season is going based on what their batting average is at a given point in time.

I believe that this is a mistake – as you can do everything correctly as a hitter and still make an out.  How do you account for that?

Well, many coaches today are utilizing a different type of evaluation – the Quality At-Bat.

slid-show-pic-of-batting-practiceCliff Godwin, former assistant coach at Ole Miss and current head coach at East Carolina University gives a great definition of the Quality At-Bat.  He said, “A Quality At-Bat is an at-bat that makes a positive contribution towards our team goals.”

There are numerous ways that to have a Quality At-Bat:

  1. Executing a Hit & Run, Sac Bunt, Sac Drag, or Squeeze
  2. Executing a Bunt for a Hit
  3. Walk, HBP, or Catcher’s Interference
  4. Moving a runner from 2nd base to 3rd base with 0 outs
  5. Driving in a run from 3rd base with less than 2 outs
  6. Any RBI (Sac fly, 2 out RBI, etc…)
  7. All hard hit balls (NOTE: All base hits are not QAB’s. i.e. bloop hits.. We want HARD contact!)
  8. 8+ pitch at-bats
  9. When you can see 4 or more pitches after you are down 0-2 in the count

“Make a hard out, perform an offensive fundamental, throw any at-bat up there of eight pitches or more, a good bunt — not a bad bunt but a ball put on the ground where somebody’s got to make a good defensive play, a walk,” Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates Manager

Justin Dedman – Lee University Hitting Coach

One of my favorite coaches, Justin Dedman at “Hitting Mental” has a post worth viewing regarding his definition and planning for the Quality At-Bat:

Deadman

“Hitting is challenging, which is why we love it, but when a hitter is consumed with stress about his own stats, fearful of future performances repeating past failures, or distracted by expectations, hitting has become nearly impossible.  A focus on QABs allows a hitter to stay focused on simplifying the game.”

Here’s Justin’s list:

  • No one on base, first inning? I should be focused on reaching base, nothing more. Get a good pitch to hit, and I will maximize my chances of making a HARD CONTACT.
  • Developing toughness in practice, and the mechanical savvy to hold your ground on an inside pitch, allows a hitter to react appropriately in-game and take an HBP.
  • Acquiring plate discipline in front toss and batting practice allows a hitter to avoid weak contact more often, see more pitches, and improve his chances of coaxing a BB.After a foul ball and a close call for strike two, we find ourselves down 0-2. Battle your way from 0-2 to seeing 4+ pitches! You have just flipped the script on the pitcher! Now, many pitchers are begging to get any ball put in play, as they don’t want their pitch count to continue to skyrocket.
  • Any executed bunt, slash, hit and run or run and hit is a QAB! These are huge skills to master. Executing these skills keeps an opposing defense, pitcher and manager on the defensive, and alleviates the pressure to get hit after hit by only swinging against good pitchers.
  • With a runner at second base and 0 outs, it’s great to advance the runner from second to third, but this is situational. I should not give away at-bats in an effort to manipulate and push the ball back side. Our offensive goal is to score as many runs as possible each inning, not just one run, unless we are in a “tight and close” scenario.
  • Any time you get an RBI while making an out, that’s a QAB. Let’s not focus on perfection. An RBI ground out may not be ideal, but it’s quality. These aren’t called Perfect At Bats! Of course, hitters must be taught which situations ask for them to potentially sacrifice a more aggressive approach for something simpler that more consistently gets the run home. Most situations with a runner at third and less than two outs create this QAB opportunity.
  • Hits aren’t QABs, but 2-strike hits sure as heck are. To get a two-strike hit, a hitter must take advantage of a mistake or fight his way to getting a pitch he can handle to score the run.
  • Lastly, any at-bat that ends with 8+ pitches is a QAB, regardless of the result. The average number of pitches per plate appearance in MLB in 2015 was 4.30. Having an 8 pitch AB has a similar impact on a pitcher to having faced an extra hitter.

The True Believer and Preacher – Steve Springer

Steve-SpringerOne of the priemer mental coaches regarding the Quality At-Bat is Steve Springer – and his website called qualityatbats.com.  I’d highly recommend that you visit Steve’s site and grab his CD – his mental approach is spot on.

He’s worked with a ton of big league players and coaches – and he’s really brought the concept of the Quality At-Bat to the forefront of baseball today.

For example, what if during a game a hitter goes 0 for 4 on the night and the at-bats go like this:

1) Line out to the shortstop

2) Ground out to 2nd base that moves a runner to third with no outs

3) Grinds out a long at-bat by fouling off pitch after pitch late in the game, which ultimately leads to the opposing team having to go the bullpen

4) Scores a run from third with less than 2 outs by weakly grounding out to the middle infield that was playing back.

This player normally would consider the as 0 for 4 but in the Quality At-Bat system he would be 4 for 4. Players view their performances much differently through this system and it won’t lead to as much stress and frustration, which we know, are performance crushers.

I’d invite you to change your perspective on hitting performance metrics.  Don’t forget the end goal is to help your team win!  It’s not just about personal statistics anymore….

The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of American Financial Network, Inc

Playing Baseball and Mental Preparation

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We all have been there at one time or another – when you are playing with confidence and playing “free”, even when you are exhausted.  The game seems slower, in a good way – you see the seams on the ball more clearly and it doesn’t seem to be moving as fast. You can’t wait for your next at-bat or the ball to be hit to you or to throw that next pitch.  Really, it’s all about mental preparation and being ready in that particular moment.

“My ability to fully focus on what I had to do on a daily basis was what made me the successful player I was. Sure I had some natural ability, but that only gets you so far. I think I learned how to focus; it wasn’t something that I was necessarily born with.”

Hank Aaron

How do you get there?

I’d highly recommend that you first check out this video/interview with Evan Longoria about how he made the decision to really work on his mental preparation. Click on the image below to play:

longoria

As Tom Hanson and Ken Ravissa write, “working on the mental game is not a substitute for hard physical work. Regardless of how good your mental game is, if you are not putting in the effort on your physical body….you will not find out how good you can be.”  Hanson and Ravissa have co-written Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time.

I’d invite you to take a look at their book, here:

It’s the mental side of the game that makes the difference in getting to that “zone”.  Most athletes leave their thinking to chance.  If they are playing well, they are easy going and loose – but when things are not going well for them, they can’t heads-up-coverget out of their own way.

I’m a big fan of both authors – and I hope you become one, too.  I love the fact that these guys want players to embrace being uncomfortable in practice – so that they will be better prepared when the game is on the line.  They encourage players to have a mental plan of letting the uncontrollables go and moving on to the next pitch or play.

I’d also highly recommend that you take a look at a variety of other “mental coaches” and read what they have to say.  Here’s a list to start:

If you are a parent, take the time to sit down with your player and watch the Longoria video.  And make sure to check out the links listed above.  Take heart – you never know when your physical tools will catch up to your mental side to take you to that next level!

Hitting Mental – Planning to Hit

baseballreturns

The mental game of baseball is always a great topic – because it is important, clearly has value, and players perform better the more time they spend on their mental game.  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.

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” – John Woodenslid-show-pic-of-batting-practice

Says Dedman “Wooden nailed it when it comes to hitting, too. Whether you are a college, high school or travel ball coach, or a hitter working on his craft during the summer or winter months, you better have a plan.”

Year-Round Planning

Dedman talks about how his team plans for the fall – they plan in segments.

“Over the course of a fall season, we have a skill work segment, team practice segment, and then more skill work. Our first set of skill work is three weeks, with one hour each week to work with a hitter, divided into two, thirty-minute sessions. Without a distinct focus and direction, we couldn’t optimize the time allotted to help our hitters improve.”

They then begin video work of their mechanics, although there is very little talk of mechanics in the first three weeks. Their plan is to develop rhythm, tempo and timing (their approaches) first. Justin believes that when a hitter implements these things first, there are fewer mechanical adjustments needed.

“Our plan also includes side work (next to the main BP cage) of exit velocity testing, forearm/grip strength development, mental game training, breathing techniques and mirror work. In the cages, during those two weeks, hitters throw to each other, work tee drills, overload and underload train, front toss, do mirror work and hit mini wiffle balls with a taped broom handle.”

Source: Justin Dedman’s Hitting Mental Blog

DeadmanThe Mental Workout

Secondly, Justin shares his “Mental Workout” – a pre-game process that will help players focus on the tasks at hand:

1.) Centering breath: Breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, breathe out for seven.
2.) Identity statement. Say a preconceived personal mantra to yourself that reflects your strength and desire for success.
3.) Personal Highlight reel: Spend 30 seconds visualizing three “done-wells” from the previous 24 hours, and then spend another 30 seconds visualizing three things you want to do well in the upcoming 24 hours.
4.) Repeat your identity statement (same as Step 2)
5.) Centering breath: Take another centering breath to prepare yourself for the upcoming performance. Again, breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, breathe out for seven.

If all hitters would take the time to see themselves doing great things – and breathing effectively to slow things down, I guarantee their success rate will go up!

 

“The Champion’s Mind” – Dr. Jim Afremow

Gold Medal Mind

“What separates the top few from the many in a sport?  Mentality.  The importance of the mental side of athletics was once brilliantly summed up by basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘Your mind is what makes everything else work.'”

Dr. Jim Afremow is a mental game coach, licensed professional counselor, and the author of The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive. He is the founder of Good to Gold Medal, PLLC, a leading coaching and consulting practice right here in Phoenix, Arizona.  His book (it’s also available as an audio book) is really worth checking out.Champions Mind

Dogged determination requires keeping your feet moving forward through inconveniences, discomfort, and insecurities to reach your goals.”

Here’s an excerpt from his book:

“Mental toughness is built by doing something that is hard over and over again, especially when you don’t feel like doing it. Our society has conditioned us to believe that there should be no discomfort, to stop when we are uncomfortable. But the discomfort we feel when we’re doing a challenging workout is an important part of the strengthening process. Push through your down days when you’re not feeling your best (unless, of course, you are injured or ill).”

I’d encourage you to learn more about  Dr. Afremow’s book here.

Dr AfrenowFor over 15 years, Dr. Afremow has assisted numerous high school, collegiate, recreational, and professional athletes. Major sports represented include MLB, NBA, WNBA, PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, NHL, and NFL. In addition, he has mentally trained several U.S. and international Olympic competitors. He served as the staff mental coach for two international Olympic teams, the Greek Olympic softball team and India’s Olympic field hockey team. From 2004 to 2013, he served as a senior staff member with Counseling Services and Sports Medicine at Arizona State University.

Sports Performance 101: Visualization

Basketball thinking

Visualization is one of the primary techniques used in sports psychology today – and one of the most underutilized by athletes.  An athlete’s performance is often the result of what’s happening inside his or her head, or more specifically the movies and soundtracks playing inside that head!

Performance visualization is used by virtually all great athletes and research has shown that, when combined with actual practice, improves performance more than practice alone. Imagery also isn’t just a mental experience that occurs in your head, but rather impacts you in every way: psychologically, emotionally, physically, technically, and tactically.

Think of mental imagery as weight lifting for the mind.sport_psychology-300x198

There are two keys principles to keep in mind when practicing visualization. The first is, your practice needs to be consistent. 10 minutes a day every day, will always beat an intense hour long session once a week. It helps to make a commitment to practice your visualization the same time every day.  First thing in the morning as close to waking as possible is ideal. This is because the mind is still slightly lucid at this time, which makes it easier to conjure up images.

The second key principle is you must stay positive in your thinking.  Even if you can’t quite see crystal clear images yet, you will still gain huge benefits from your visualization practice.  Trust me, it still works.  For some people that will be feeling the image, or just getting a sense of what it might look like.  Wherever your current level is, nurture it and allow it to grow.

Accept that you can’t always perform the way that you visualizedClayton-Kershaw-Alone-on-Bench

Research has also indicated that the act of envisioning a relevant muscle movement can potentially result in electrical activity in the specific muscle, despite the fact that there is the absence of the actual movement of the muscle. That same electrical activity bears a resemblance to the electrical movement that occurs during the actual movement. In this regard, the relevant muscles are primed for the upcoming physical activity.Jason Day

Finally, check out this video  from one of my favorite sports psychologists, Dr. Patric Cohn.  I’m a big fan of the good doctor, as he really values and emphasizes the power of visualization in sports. Although this isn’t the most dynamic video you’ve ever seen, it’s content is extremely powerful.

Best of luck to you out there!

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