The Lending Coach

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Category: Baseball (page 1 of 5)

Visualization – A Great Baseball Mental Exercise

I’m linking to a fantastic article from Geoff Miller at The Winning Mind regarding visualization and it’s fantastic capabilities to help baseball athletes prepare.

What is Visualization?

Visualization is the widely used mental technique of “seeing” your performance in your mind.

The technique is generally done by closing your eyes and imagining a play or action.  It can also be used as a primary training device to take the place of actual physical activity when a player is unable to practice.

You can read the entire piece here…and here’s a little bit about Geoff Miller and The Winning Mind:

Geoff is an expert in baseball psychology and manages sport programs at Winning Mind. Since 2005, Geoff has provided mental skills coaching services to the Pittsburgh Pirates (2005-2009), Washington Nationals (2010), and Atlanta Braves (2010-2014.) 

Why Does Visualization Work?

Per Miller’s article, visualization is effective for two primary reasons:

1. “It strengthens neural pathways, the roads that our brain uses to send out messages to our bodies. A strong neural pathway is like an exact route you know to get from your house to the airport, the mall, etc. The more you picture yourself executing your skills, the stronger your neural pathways become until eventually you feel so comfortable playing your game that the movements feel automatic.”

2. “Our brains see real performance and imagined performance the same. We experience this phenomenon often in our dreams.  For example, you might dream that you are falling and wake up bracing yourself or dream that you are in a panic and wake up sweating.  When you’re awake you might experience a real feeling if someone describes that light, tingling you get that resonates from the bat all the way down your arms when you connect with the ball on the barrel or the stinging in your hands when you get jammed on a ball.”

How Do You Do It?

Miller continues: “When practicing visualization, you should describe the sounds and feelings that go along with swinging the bat, fielding the ball, and throwing pitches. In comic books, Batman and Superman would beat up the villains by punching them, but to get added effect, the artist would draw in a big POW and BAM. When a bomb went off, you’d read KABOOM! These words strengthen our pictures and make our visualization exercises more effective.

Pitching words: fastball ZIP, curveball DIP, slider WHOOSH, POP into the glove

Hitting words: CRACK, SLAM, WHAM, CONNECT, LIGHTNING, POW

Fielding words: GLIDE, REACH, STRETCH, SCURRY, LEAP”

In Conclusion

The biggest issue that many players have with using visualization is not that they can’t imagine the details of their performance, but that they can’t see themselves succeeding.

If this is the case, I’d highly recommend that you read the complete piece here.

The goal we are trying to reach in using the mental game is to know what to do without thinking about it. As Miller says, “using visualization helps us practice our skills so we are more familiar with them and we feel like we’ve already “seen” our performance happen when it does.”

Off-Season Baseball Strengthening and Flexibility

I’m linking to a great article from COR (a California based physical therapy firm) that outlines specific, baseball related strengthening and flexibility exercises.   

Baseball is unique in that many typical weight training exercises can be counterproductive, as players really need to stay flexible, but strong at the same time. 

Doing bodybuilding type work can actually be detrimental, as you can’t play baseball effectively if you are muscle bound!

Many of these exercises shown in the COR sequence are similar to what Jordan Zimmerman uses with his ZB Velocity and Strengthening program – and you can find our more on that here…

Here’s their concept:

Let’s explore what makes great exercises for baseball players. You need to know which exercises are blunders so you can pick the best for your performance and your body. Great exercises for baseball players do the following:

  • Train the entire body
  • Improve explosive power
  • Strengthen and protect the shoulder
  • Improve mobility of the thoracic spine
  • Improve ankle, trunk, and shoulder mobility

What exercises should not be are painful. Don’t shy away from soreness, but don’t fall victim to the ridiculous myth – “no pain, no gain.”

Baseball players need to focus on balance, explosive power, agility, and rotational power. Strength-training helps baseball players achieve these results, but only if the exercises are done properly and with the mechanics of the game in mind.

What baseball players need to avoid are exercises that exhaust only certain muscles, such as muscles in the shoulder. Doing so causes significant imbalances and leads to injury instead of success on the field. Baseball is a full-body sport, so the greatest exercises for baseball players must address all the muscles, not just a select few. 

I highly recommend that you go through this link and take a look at the exercises and make them part of your routine. 

A Must for Pitchers – The ZB Velocity Program

I’ve got a really good friend that does some excellent work with pitchers – his name is Jordan Zimmerman – and he runs a program called ZB Velocity that is helping players get stronger, throw harder, and stay healthier!

This program isn’t about using weighted balls and focusing solely on arm strength. Instead, its a holistic approach to strengthening the core along with proper mechanics that brings about a noticeable change in velocity.

Why ZB Velocity?

Many of his players see an increase in 3 to 5 miles-per-hour after an 8 week session with ZB Velo – and more importantly, these pitchers are staying healthy because of it!

I’d invite you to click on the video below to take a look at what Jordan and his group are doing….

I highly recommend reaching out to Jordan to find out more – his contact information is here.

From ZB’s Facebook site:

April 2016 was the launch date of their DVD set and online video series of pitching instruction, velocity training and other baseball related product. ZB Velocity is now offering individual and group pitching instruction to youth, high school and collegiate players.

Below is a list of what is currently offered:

One on one instruction
Group instruction
Video analysis
Speed and conditioning training
Strength training
Arm health
Velocity training
Pitch grips
Mental side of the game
College recruitment

Jordan is a retired MLB pitcher and played 11 years of professional baseball before his official retirement in 2005. Prior to his arrival in professional baseball, Jordan played for the Canadian National Team multiple times.

He was drafted out of high school by the Los Angeles Dodgers but decided that going to college was the smarter choice at that time. While attending Blinn College, Jordan received All State and National awards as a pitcher. In 1995 he was drafted and signed by the Seattle Mariners. In 1999, Jordan got the official phone call and was called up to the Major Leagues with the Mariners.

Today Jordan resides in Surprise, AZ with his wife Jennifer and 4 children. He is the owner of ZB Velocity strength training and the pitching coach for Shadow Ridge High School.

Contact ZB Velocity

You can find out more on Jordan and ZB Velocity here, here and here – and I highly recommend reaching out to him if you, or anyone you know, is a pitcher and is looking for proper mechanics and strengthening!

One of my favorite baseball instructors is Steve Springer, of Quality At-Bats fame. If you haven’t read much or followed Spring, you really should. He’s one of the best in the business when it comes to baseball instruction.

His specialty is the mental game, although his mechanical teaching is fantastic, as well.

The topic of the video that I’m sharing has to do with players that don’t find themselves in the starting lineup regularly. This is a must-see video on how to handle being a bench player and the right mind set that must accompany this position.

Some key quotes:

“Don’t be that guy where it’s all about me”

“Take batting practice like it’s your game…take ground balls like it’s your game…take fly balls like it’s your game and be ready when the coach calls you.”

Take Steve’s advice to heart – there can only be 9 guys in the lineup – and teams carry 25+ players, so do the math. There’s not a starting spot for everyone.

Steve Springer’s baseball hitting lessons incorporate the mental side of hitting along with increasing bat speed drills and coaching improved hitting mechanics.  Players and coaches of all levels – youth little league, high school, college and pros agree – Quality At Bats™ is one of baseball’s best hitting programs.

Daily Mental Practice For Baseball Players

I’ve consistently pointed out that the mental part of baseball is an undervalued and lesser taught piece of this great game.  Sure, mental toughness and “having a good approach” are buzzwords used by coaches every day…but what can you do to teach it?

Well, I’m linking an article by Alan Jaeger regarding some specific advice on “mental practice” every day.

Here’s’ the link to the full article – and I highly recommend that you read the entire thing!

Here are some of the key excerpts…..

Addressing The Mental Game: Prioritizing Your Practice Plan

Practice plans have been passed down for generations, and they of course have plenty of merit. But at what point (and what cost) are we going to continue to center our practice plans around physical preparation when we know that between the lines, the game is at least 90 percent mental? Hitting, throwing and running bases are all indispensable, as is bunt defense, pitchers fielding practice and first and third run downs.

But this is the 21st century – times have changed.

The good news is that society is changing for the better. More than any other generation in the past 50 years, this generation is privy to the reality that Mental Training is not only a credible field, but it’s application to sports and life is a essential. Which begs the question — what are you doing to act on this reality?

Done as a precursor to practice each day, each coach will be given enough information to lead his players through a 10 minute, mental training exercise or session that revolves around breath work.

Ultimately, whether we call “mental practice” relaxation, meditation or mental focusing time, the application of these exercises on a daily basis will have the greatest and most profound effect on your players minds. For without practice how can you expect any skill to be developed and maximized.

Understanding Where We Want To Be: The Zone, Locked In, Unconscious

Having a great mental game is as much about understanding where we want to be, as where we don’t want to be.

When things are going well it seems like the mental game is simple. And when things aren’t going so well the game can be very frustrating and complex. Understanding “how” we go in and out of these states of mind is extremely valuable.

In sports, we actually have many terms for this “optimal” state of mind. It’s been referred to by many names, including “The Zone”, being “Unconscious” and being “Locked In.” The technical term for this state of mind is called a Peak State, and has very specific attributes, including:

  1. The absence of thought
  2. A complete immersion with the action
  3. A sense of being process oriented
  4. A sense of calm or peace
  5. A detachment from the outcome.

By understanding the components of a peak state of mind, we can better understand ways to train the mind in order to put it in alignment with this ideal state.

Breath Work: The Core Ingredient Of Your Mental Practice

Mental Practice is a very broad field that includes breathing exercises, imagery, visualization, affirmations, and so on.  You can also get forms of mental practice from among other things, Yoga, Martial Arts and being in Nature. Anything that brings the mind into a state of “presence”, a state of peace and quiet can be categorized as mental practice.

But the most common element that I’ve found in mental practice revolves around the breath.

There are many reasons why the breath is at the center of mental training exercises universally, including several physiological benefits (relaxation, lower blood pressure, oxygenation), but some of the other profound benefits may be more subtle. For example, the breath is always happening now, which symbolically, can be extremely helpful in teaching the mind how to be present.

The breath is not a thought, thus, the more time you spend with your breath, the more time you are training your mind how to be in a “no-thought” state. Again, the absence of thought and being present are two major characteristics of a Peak State of mind. Thus, the breath alone can be a catalyst in changing the mind from a result oriented default, to a process oriented default.

Other benefits that can often be associated with breath work include calmness of mind, improved concentration, focus, patience, discipline and inner trust. Inner trust, which is similar to the term confidence, is a by product of spending time in a relaxing and comfortable space each day, and getting to know your self and your inner workings. Considering that your breath keeps you alive 24 hours a day, it’s safe to say that a lot can be gained simply by spending time, appreciating and understanding our breath.

Looking where to begin?

Control your breath.  Learn how to take deep breaths, in your your nose, out through your mouth.  Let your belly expand, not your neck.  Try this during your practice sessions and see how you feel.

Want to Learn More About the Mental Game of Baseball?

Here’s the link to Alan’s book that talks about his approach.  It’s called “Getting Focused, Staying Focused: A Far Eastern Approach to Sports and Life.”  

The Mental Side | 4 Keys to Success in the Batter’s Box

Instead of measuring success by how many hits you have (or don’t) in a particular game…how about having achievable, repeatable objectives (call them “attainable goals”)?  This will absolutely help your consistency and keep your emotions in check.

More importantly, you will be a much better teammate and competitor.  The object of the game is a team win, right?

Tying your self-worth as a player to getting hits is a guaranteed ticket to an emotional roller-coaster, and in the end, it’s counter-productive to getting the results you want.

Big shout out to  DOUG BERNIER for much of this content – go here, for the full version….

Attainable Goal #1 – Situational awareness

Being aware of the situation has multiple benefits. In addition to being a mentally stabilizing attainable goal, it also increases the likelihood of having a quality at-bat!

Step 1 – Study the Pitcher

From the dugout you should be watching and studying the pitcher – check for tendencies and track pitches in counts.

Step 2 – Be Situationally Aware

Remember, baseball is actually a team sport. Take a look on the bases and know the outs, is there a situation that needs executing?

Attainable Goal #2 – Aggressive vs Passive Mentality

Once we are ready to hit in the batter’s box, our goal is to find a way to be 100% confident and ready to do damage all the way until the ball is either hit or caught by the catcher. This 3-5 second period should have no doubt, worry, or fear, penetrate its walls.

Step 1 – Identify Who You Are

To make this a truly attainable goal, you need to identify which way your thoughts are leaning.

In between pitches or at-bats take a deep breath and either continue with the aggressive attacking mentality, or realize you are a little passive or defensive and regroup and give yourself assertive and confident self talk.

Step 2 – Make the Adjustment

There is no one way to get your mentality where it needs to be. Find a way that works best for you, to get your mind right when you get into the batters box.

It’s important to remember that nobody can tell themselves to stop thinking something. The thought has to actually be replaced by a new thought.

Attainable Goal #3 – Choose your velocity

By trying to be ready for both fastball (FB) and off-speed (OS) pitches, a hitter will often find his timing isn’t great for either one. The hitter ends up being somewhere in the middle – too slow for the FB and too early for the OS.

Looking hard velocity or softer velocity can simplify an approach that will still allow you to be able to hit the pitches in that group.

With 2 strikes, all bets are off, of course.  Just battle and put the ball in play – and if you see a mistake, crush it!

Attainable goal #4 – Shrink the zone

Home plate is 7 baseballs wide. But if we are looking at the strike zone I would say its closer to 8 baseballs wide and lets say 10 baseballs tall.

If we are looking to hit every strike in that 8 x 10 box we are not going to be very successful.

There are high percentage strikes we should swing at (more likely to get good results) and there are low percentage strikes that if we swing at will usually result in weak contact and/or an out.

We need to shrink up our hitting zone until we get to 2 strikes. I like to think of making my own 3 x 3 box within the strike zone. I place this imaginary zone where I most want to hit the baseball.

In Conclusion

Having a plan isn’t guaranteed to give you the results you are looking for every time. However, taking your best swing on the pitch and location you wanted will result in better at-bats and better overall production.

And you can best help your team win that way!

Trust in the process which will clear our mind and that will allow you to take your “A” swing on more pitches in the zone that you want to hit.

Weighted Baseballs – Velocity Silver Bullet or Front Row Surgical Ticket?

Weighted baseball training has been a widely debated prescription for increasing throwing velocity since the first research on it was published in the 1960s, though it has gained greater attention in the last twenty years.

Why Weighted Baseballs?

These types of training programs utilizing weighted baseballs continue to rise in popularity for pitchers of all levels.  At the same time, scientists are not entire sure about why they may improve velocity, the long-term effects on the body, or the most appropriate program to perform.

From Mike Reinold at Elite Baseball Performance:

There has been a recent increased emphasis on pitch velocity within the amateur and professional levels of baseball.  According to Pitch/FX data, the average fastball velocity in MLB has gone up each year since tracking began in 2008, from 90.9 MPH to 93.2 MPH in 2017.  Previous studies have shown both a correlation between increased pitch velocity and increased elbow stress and elbow injury rates.   Thus, it is not surprising that injury rates continue to increase in a nearly linear fashion with increased average pitch velocity.

One Side

From Brett Pourciau at TopVelociy on a recent study:

Yes, weighted baseball training causes serious injury. It is a hard reality, but anything that tries to force a physical gain in a short period of time, in a sport that already has a pattern of throwing related injury, usually comes with serious consequences. The problem today is, either people are ignorant of this or they don’t care. 

You can read the complete article here….

Brett is a biomechanics specialist and a consultant with Major League Baseball

The Other Side

From Driveline – a big proponent of weighted baseballs:

Research backs up the use of underload and overload training in various forms, and it’s no surprise that it works for baseball pitchers as well. Dr. Coop Derenne is the foremost expert in this field and has published a number of research papers that indicate that weighted baseball training creates a significant increase in velocity for those training with underweighted and overweighted baseballs. His most popular paper is Effects of Under and Overweighted Implement Training on Pitching Velocity, which concludes that training with either underweighted (4 oz) or overweighted (6 oz) baseballs improved pitching velocity when compared to simply throwing normal baseballs.

What’s Next

Well, if you are coaching young players, do your research first.  There seem to be two sides of the coin here, but my take is to be extra conservative with the younger set.  Their bodies are not physically mature and they can injure easily.

Don’t be that coach/dad that pushes your player so hard that they break down prematurely.

Great Christmas Gifts for the Baseball Minded

Paul Petricca’s Hitting With Torque

This is a fantastic read – not only from the physical adjustments that must be made, but to the mental side, as well. Get in your ready hitting position early, players!

Paul is the hitting coach at Wheaton College in Chicago, and I know him pretty well. He works with both softball and baseball players to maximize their power from the ground up.

Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson’s Heads-Up Baseball 2.0

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 and take it to heart.

Steve Springer’s Quality At-Bats “Mental Side” CD

Steve Springer is the former mental hitting instructor for the Toronto Blue Jays and one of the best instructors out there.  I’d invite you to visit Quality At-Bats site to find out more about him. His “Mental Side” CDs are fantastic and can really help a player learn how to find the right mental state prior to competition.

Jeff Passan’s The Arm

For three years, Jeff Passan, the lead baseball columnist for Yahoo Sports, has traveled the world to better understand the mechanics of the arm and its place in the sport’s past, present, and future.

Totally worth the read for parents and players

Zepp Baseball Swing Analyzer

The Zepp product helps players by giving information on everything imaginable From hand speed to the amount of time it takes to make an impact, this device provides a wide variety of data. It can even help by pairing to the camera on your phone or tablet to create HD videos that players can use. Hitters can compare their videos to the 3D models that the tracker makes.

This device can create custom training programs to help the hitter figure out what they need to do to improve.

Hitters: Never Be Satisfied – Torque Hitting and 4 Key Things

I’ve linked to Paul Petricca’s Torque Hitting before (his blog is here and I highly recommend his book which can be found here).

Paul is back as the hitting coach at Wheaton College in Chicago, and I know him pretty well. He works with both softball and baseball players to maximize their power from the ground up.

I‘m a believer of what he teaches. I love his passion for hitting…and the commitment he has to his players.

Here are a few excerpts from one of his torque hitting blog post, entitled “Hitters Should Never Be Satisfied”:

“As a hitting coach, it is difficult for me to observe the “real” swings of my hitters until they are in the batter’s box in live games. The goal of every hitter should be to use the same hitting mechanics in games as they do in the batting cage. Unfortunately, many hitters struggle with this.”

Hitters…

  • Don’t be content, even if you are leading your team in hitting.
  • Continue to search for small ways to generate extra power by using your body more effectively.
  • Strive for more consistency by continually working on perfecting every hitting key, which will lead to a repeatable swing.
  • Transfer your batting practice swing to games.
  • Never be satisfied!

Here are 4 of his torque hitting hitting keys….

Hands Back

Even though I can objectively prove to my hitters with a swing speed radar that by merely moving the hands back toward the catcher a few inches, bat speed will increase dramatically, some don’t trust this advice in games.

They move their hands in towards their body in an effort to be “quicker to the ball”. This only leads to a slower bat and less power. I’m convinced that most hitters don’t want to accept this very simple fix to their swing, because they want to look “cool”. They see professional hitters with their hands and bats in all kinds of crazy positions before the pitch is thrown.

What they don’t see is how all professional hitters move their hands back toward the catcher at some point before the pitch is thrown. They can get away with some pre-swing bat movement, but amateur hitters cannot!

Powerful Load

Hitters who adopt a leg lift that is slow and powerful will enjoy both increased power and consistency. Hitters who decide not to lift the front leg at all will be at the mercy of pitchers who are able to effectively pitch on the corners of home plate. They will have to reach for outside pitches and will be forced to swing earlier than necessary for inside pitches.

I tell my hitters that hitting success begins with a slow and powerful leg lift (load). Without this important hitting key, the entire swing sequence is negatively affected. In my book, Hitting With Torque: For Baseball and Softball Hitters, I detail why lifting the front leg is imperative to be a complete hitter.

Back Elbow Rotation

The most common cause of inconsistency in hitters, especially fastpitch softball players, is the collapsing of the back elbow as the swing sequence is initiated. When hitters move the back elbow close to their bodies as the swing begins, the bat quickly loses the important 45-degree power angle.

This angle is critical for consistent hard contact with the ball. The back elbow should be totally still as it rotates around the body. This rotation without lowering the back elbow will ensure the angle of the bat is maintained until the arms move toward full extension at impact with the ball.

High Finish

In practice, I encourage my hitters to let the bat finish where “it” wants to finish, which is high and away from the body. Average hitters will often manually change the path of the bat (higher or lower) before the swing is fully completed. Not only does this affect the flight of the ball, it also decreases bat speed and power.

Some coaches and hitters erroneously believe that where the bat finishes is not important. They contend the ball is already gone, so it doesn’t matter where the bat finishes. I believe the velocity and trajectory of the ball off the bat has everything to do with the path and finish of the swing.

Ask any professional golfer the key to a successful swing. They will always point to a balanced, powerful, and high finish to the swing. When hitters focus on the end of the swing and trust the rest of the swing sequence, the results are typically very good!

Both baseball and softball players alike can take a ton away from what Coach Petricca is saying here….and best of luck to Paul and his Wheaton team this upcoming season!

Stop Revisiting Negatives From Past Games

As you probably know by now, 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 about mental toughness – as well as the techniques athletes can use to grasp it.

He sent out an e-mail blast recently that I’ve posted below regarding eliminating negative thoughts regarding past performance – and how to best get past it.

For instance, you whiffed the last two at-bats swinging at balls in the dirt and now you are facing the same pitcher with a runner in scoring position, “Here we go AGAIN!”

Or you walked the bases loaded and are having difficulty with your control and are now facing a hitter that has torched you in the past, “Here we go AGAIN!”

Or your team has blown the lead in the ninth inning the last two games and now you are clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom on the ninth, “Here we go AGAIN!”

This is a common problem among baseball players, but this mindset is based on a misconception. This misconception implies “what happened in the past will continue to happen in the present.”

It is an over generalization to believe the past will repeat itself but many baseball players, in the moment, buy into the “here we go again…” mindset.

When you allow past outcomes to influence your mindset in the present, the pressure heightens, which creates anxiety and tension.

Playing anxious and tight ball is a recipe for athletic disaster and under-performance.

In Action

The San Francisco Giants could have easily defaulted to the “here we go again” mentality after a breakdown against the Texas Rangers.

The Giants started out the first game of a three-game series against the Rangers with a tough game, blowing a six-run lead to lose in extra-innings at home.

To add to the potential pressure, the Giants had lost 10 of the previous 13 at their ballpark.

The San Francisco Giants had to quickly re-focus in Game 2 of their series.

The Giants quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead but gave up three runs in the eighth inning.

Despite similar circumstances, the Giants fought forward and San Francisco relief pitcher Mark Melancon closed out the game with the bases loaded to secure a 5-3 win over Rangers.

Hunter Pence, who had a pinch-hit home run in the seventh, talked about their “keep attacking” mindset rather than succumbing to the “here we go again” mindset.

PENCE: “It’s very important to continue to send that message of relentless attack. Even where we are and as clouded as it may seem, you still never know. When there’s still a chance in this game of baseball, things can get hot in an instant.”

Knowing there is a chance is a great strategy to keep your head in the game and avoid the pitfall of “here we go again.”

Keeping Your Head in the Game

Knowing you have a chance comes in many forms:

*Knowing there is a chance to still win.

*Knowing there is still a chance to bounce back the next game.

*Knowing there is still a chance to hone your skills and improve your game.

*Knowing you can learn from the past and adjust.

If you can adopt the “there’s still a chance” mindset, you can focus on making things happen in the moment.

Let go of what’s already happened, look for signs to build momentum, and get things moving in a positive direction. Instead, take a trip down memory lane to when you did drive in that run!

 

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