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.
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.
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
The absence of thought
A complete immersion with
A sense of being process
A sense of calm or peace
A detachment from the
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.”
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….
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
With that said, here area a number of key items that stand out to me – and I really hope players and parents follow this advice:
First off, if you expect to get much bang for your buck at these tournaments, you will hopefully have been communicating with colleges beforehand. If not, you won’t be on a follow list, and you generally become background noise.
This is so cliché, yet at the same time so true: You never know who’s watching.
Even at an event that has few to no college coaches, there may be someone in attendance who can have an impact on your future. The baseball world is a small place, with relationships that stretch across the country. Don’t make the fatal mistake of taking pitches off.
Catchers: I say this every year, and yet this remains one of my biggest pet peeves. Please show me your arm in between innings. You may not have a live game opportunity to flash that hose, but in between innings we are paying attention. Chuck that rock like your life depends on it.
This also goes for infielders. We don’t see you in pre game like in high school, so in between innings show off that cannon.
Please run out ground balls. It’s amazing to me that in an event that is supposed to be a “showcase” , I continually see players half-assing their way down the line as I stand there stop watch in hand. Running times are a vital piece of the evaluation process, don’t ignore this.
Body language is another incredibly important piece of the puzzle. Remember, baseball is a game of failure. Players that fail in MLB 70% of the time are called All Stars. The key is how you respond to failure. Throwing your helmet, tossing your bat in disgust etc, are sure ways to get your name crossed off by coaches.
Pitchers: it’s inevitable that you will encounter an umpire with a postage stamp sized strike zone. It happens in college too. However, the worst thing you can do is to react negatively to a questionable strike zone. Treat it like it is a part of the game and show that you are in control of the situation.
Act like you are serious about the game. College coaches have a job to do. Their job is to win baseball games. They are looking for players who can help them do that. If you look like you are not a serious player, coaches can’t treat you seriously. Don’t goof off in the dugout. Many of you look like you are only out there to hang out with your buddies and have a good time. Play the game and conduct yourself like you mean business.
It’s amazing to me how things have changed in regard to ballpark decorum. I watch the way parents interact with their players during games and I just shake my head.
If I were to design a baseball field, it would have dark shades from dugout to dugout to prevent parents from placing their chairs right next to the on-deck circle. Unfortunately, virtually all the fields in the summer are wide open, and mom and dad have been sitting there for tournaments for the better part of a decade.
If you insist on being that close to the action, please try not to interact with your son during the game. He doesn’t need coaching. He doesn’t need you to break down the pitcher for him.
Your player should be mature enough to ensure that he has proper hydration for the game, so you shouldn’t have to hand drinks and snacks to junior in the dugout. It’s just a really bad look.
Don’t be that parent who constantly complains about balls and strikes and questions every call on the field. We will find out who you are and who belongs to you.
Finally, acting like a fool during a game puts unneeded stress on your young player. Baseball is a very difficult game to play. It becomes almost impossible when a player is nervous or stressed out. Don’t contribute to this.
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.
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.
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.”
Thomas Eugene Bonetto
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About The Coach
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