Non-Physical In-Season Hitting Adjustments
Here in New England, we are only two weeks into the high school baseball and softball seasons. At this time of year, hitters have a decision to make: stick with what they've worked on throughout the off-season or hit the panic button and look for quick fixes. Obviously, one choice is better than the other.
When a player starts the year 0-10 and feels the pressure to get a hit start to mount, they want the instant adjustment that will get them a hit. The first change is usually a physical one. There are times that a physical adjustment needs to be made, but starting with what's going on in the head is usually the best place to start. Instead of hitting the panic button and changing everything that you've been working on two weeks into the season, here are three areas to look at before making any physical changes at the plate.
1) Approach. Going into the box with a plan is vital to a hitter's success. If you are going to drive to a destination, you instinctively plan out how you're going to get there. If there is no plan in place, you're never going to make it to where you want to go. My college coach at UConn, Jim Penders, would always say, "Plan your work and work your plan." So many hitters just walk up to the plate hoping to get a hit without any thought of how they will make it happen. What pitch are you looking for? What has the pitcher been doing to the other hitters? When you're in the dugout, are you watching what the pitcher is doing? If he is painting the outside corner with breaking balls, going in just trying to get a hit by pulling will probably result in a weak roller to the third baseman or shortstop at best. Every time you put your helmet on to go to battle with the pitcher, you should have a clear plan that you want to execute. Be intentional with what you want to do.
Practical application: A simple approach that most high school hitters would benefit from is, "Hunt the fastball and hit it off the center field wall."
2) Mindset & In the Now. Out in the wild, you are either the hunter or the hunted. The same goes for a battle between the pitcher and hitter. One will end up being the hammer and the other the nail. Most hitters worry about what the pitcher is going to do instead of focusing on the damage they are going to do once the ball leaves the pitcher's hand. The worry of getting out often overtakes the hitter's mind. Why does this happen? Simple, the hitter is focusing on a future event that hasn't happened - the possibility of getting out. The more a hitter focuses on a past or future event, the more they miss out on what is going on in the present moment - the now. Going into the box with a present, positive, animalistic mindset can be a game changer for any hitter.
Practical application: Adopt a mantra or phrase that you say in your head as you're in the on deck circle and batter's box. I wrote "Whatever it takes" on a piece of tape and put it inside my helmet. As I would go through the at-bat, I was reminded of getting the job done and helping my team rather than focusing internally and getting lost in possibility of failure.
3) Breathe. According to a Harvard Medical article titled, "Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response" deep breaths reduce anxiety, slow the heartbeat, and aid concentration. That sounds pretty beneficial to a hitter. However, as a coach watching players hit on a daily basis, most miss out on this crucial skill. Standing in the third base coach's box, I can feel a player's heartbeat from ninety feet away. Instead, players should work toward staying in control of their breath throughout the at-bat. One Major League All-Star stands out with breathing: J.D. Martinez. Before he steps into the box on every pitch, J.D. takes a big inhale and exhale. You can see his shoulders go up and then fall as he lets the breath out. It is as if the tension is leaving his body. He then steps into the box loose and in the moment ready to do damage. Many other big leaguers also utilize the breath as a powerful tool. Alex Rodriguez visualized blowing the ball out of the park as he made contact. This is the same idea as a power lifter bench pressing. They breathe in on the decent and exhale on their press up. The breath is powerful tool that allows the athlete to relax, use their body efficiently, and be where their feet are.
Practical application: Take a deep breath from the bottom of your belly (diaphragm) before you step into the box. Release all the tension and let your mantra resonate. Let all the worries of the past and future subside. Go into the box with a relaxed body and clear mind.
Give these three "adjustments" a shot before changing your stance and swing during the year. We all know the player who has a terrible swing but always gets their hits. I would almost guarantee that they go into the box with an approach to do damage, extreme focus on the present moment, and a relaxed feeling throughout their body. Give me a player with a plus mentality over a player with perfect mechanics who can't get out of their head any day. If you are that player that is lost and swimming around in your head, please put these subtle adjustments to work and see what happens.