3 ways to help high school hitters (without mentioning mechanics)Sep 29, 2023
I sometimes think I'm crazy. I read books on some of the greatest hitters of all time, talk to the best baseball and softball coaches, and worked with some of the best hitters on the planet. Why are we still arguing about mechanics?
Why don't we start arguing about different ways to help hitters with the mental game?
When have you ever heard someone say:
"If only his mechanics were better, they would've made it to the next level."
"If only her rate of force development would've been better, she would've played more."
- Yeah, me neither.
But I bet you have heard of this:
"He couldn't get out of his head."
"She couldn't stop overthinking everything."
We've all heard that.
That doesn't mean that mechanics aren't important; they are. But most times, they're not the determining factor as to why most hitters never reach their potential.
So when I work with hitters, we take video, use 3D motion capture, blast motion, etc, but that's usually not the determining factor in whether or not a player improves their in-game performance.
These are some of the things that I work with hitters on:
1. Figure out strengths and weaknesses
2. Define success
3. What's the plan when you struggle?
4. Preparation = Confidence
5. Evaluate yourself on sticking to your process, not the result.
If coaches focused on those 5 things and did nothing else but repeat those over and over, I would bet nearly every hitter improves their in game performance.
They would also have more fun.
Side note * I have never met a hitter who had more fun and played worse.
Every Player Practices ‘The Mental Game:
- Body Language
- Time management
All these things I’ve listed above play a role in the headspace a player is in.
- Aren’t sexy.
- Won’t go viral on Twitter
But if players do them for months and years, they will increase their chances of going viral.
Nobody is going to know if the player is doing them or not.
As Ken Ravizza said:
“Control the controllable.”
Step 1: Want to be a pro? Act like one
Some players don’t take anything I listed above seriously; that’s okay. It’s their career.
However, they start caring a little bit more when they see the best players in the world taking all of those things seriously.
Here’s an example of Jake McCarthy of the Diamondbacks
Jake knows being on his phone for long periods isn’t good for him.
So, he creates a routine that forces him to go outside and walk around the park before the game instead.
Step 2: Systems
“You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.” – James Clear.
The mental game is no different.
Day after day, your mind is going to be tired.
It’s going to want to take the easy way out.
If the player has a system in place, they’re more likely to push through.
Here is an example of a schedule I created with a college player this summer.
Step 3: Zone in vs. Zone out
Baseball and Softball can be very time-consuming.
There are several hours during the game, not to mention all the time leading up to the game.
It’s easy to let your mind wander…
And that’s okay.
One of the things I tell players I work with is to “zone in & zone out.”
Example: The pitcher throws a pitch, and the batter fouls it off.
Let your mind wander for a few seconds, and take a few steps away from your position.
Then step back in your circle (position) and lock back in as he comes set.
Players don’t need to be locked in for every second of the game.
A game is over 2 hours long.
How long do you need to be locked in?
Think of an AB.
Let's say a hitter sees an average of 6 pitches per AB.
30 seconds for each pitch
4 ABs a game
= 720 Seconds
= 12 minutes
A hitter needs to be locked in for 12 minutes.
That doesn’t seem like it’s much to ask.
Maybe they talk to a few teammates about the pitcher and zone in while they’re on deck for a minute; it’s not that much time that you must be locked in.
Obviously, you can't just use practice time and not do anything, so let's discuss ways to develop hitters in a team setting.
I've observed that the best players in baseball have one thing in common:
They each have a routine.
Having a routine is incredibly important, and here's why:
Let me begin with an example that isn't even baseball related.
Whenever I go to the gym, I always follow a specific routine.
I have a program printed on a sheet of paper, and I simply glance at it to know which exercises to do.
It keeps me focused and eliminates the need to think about what to do next.
However, when I deviate from my routine, I find myself using the foam roller as a pillow while mindlessly scrolling through Twitter for an hour.
It never turns out well.
This happens when I forget my workout sheet or convince myself I can remember the exercises.
The truth is not following my routine rarely leads to a productive workout.
Our brains aren't wired to push us to be optimal; their primary function is survival.
Routines force us to do things even when we don't feel like doing them or don't know what to do.
They provide structure and help us stay on track.
Some hitters swear by using a tee as part of their routine.
Regardless of the stadium they're in or how they feel, they incorporate tee work into their hitting routine.
It's a consistent element for them.
Batting Glove Routine:
We had Brian Cain as our guest on the podcast.
He shared an interesting routine he uses with the hitters he works with.
He advises them to get two pairs of batting gloves, each in a different color:
- 1 white pair
- 1 black pair
During practice in the batting cage, they use one color while working on their swing.
They switch to the other color when they step up to bat in a game.
This routine allows hitters to enter a different mindset without overthinking.
One color is for working on their swing, while the other color is for competition.
By following this routine, they can perform without unnecessary mental distractions.
I hope I've effectively conveyed the importance of having a routine. It truly is crucial.
Now, let's discuss how we can help players find a routine.
First, remember that some routine is better than no routine at all.
The mind is filled with thousands of thoughts we can't always control.
To help players establish a routine, start by asking a few questions:
- What are their strengths?
- What areas do they struggle with?
- What kind of personality do they have?
For players who need to relax before a game, suggest activities like:
- Breathing exercises
On the other hand, some players thrive by listening to music, dancing, and having fun.
There's no right or wrong way to create a routine.
Understanding each player's personality is essential.
Based on their characteristics, you can provide them with ideas to try out.
Being a hitting coach is similar to being a chef; you must be creative because what one player likes may not work for another.
Finding a routine that players can follow anywhere is crucial.
As time goes on, you can help them make minor adjustments to their routine, but they should stick with one routine for a period to establish consistency.
Most high school hitters don't move well. I didn't either. A way to help them improve without constantly talking about mechanics is through movement prep.
When warming up, hitters often fall short by picking up a bat and hitting off the tee or doing light stretches.
However, not activating the proper muscles before hitting can leave potential untapped.
Just like pitchers warm up to throw, hitters need to warm up to optimize their explosive power.
The Power of Movement Prep:
Dr. Ismael Gallo emphasizes the significance of muscle synergy activation for hitters. Without proper preparation, tension builds up, hindering quick and explosive movements as some muscles resist the intended actions.
To unlock explosive potential, it is crucial to focus on prepping muscle synergies rather than isolated muscles.
This concept mirrors the warm-up routines followed by pitchers, highlighting the need for hitters to adopt a similar approach.
By implementing movement prep exercises, hitters can unlock their full explosive potential.
An isometric core exercise, Pallof holds targets the muscles involved in trunk rotation.
By developing core stiffness, these holds improve muscle efficiency and coordination.
Training the obliques, abdominals, lower back, and glutes, Pallof holds promote proper muscle activation for explosive hitting.
This is a great visual from Bill Miller, a former guest on the podcast. Bill specializes in developing power in rotational athletes.
Tips when coaching players performing Pallof holds:
Emphasize the purpose: Explain how this exercise targets the muscles in trunk rotation, developing core stiffness and improving muscle efficiency for enhanced stability and control during rotational movements.
Stand with a side-facing cable machine or anchored resistance band at chest height.
Grab the handle with both hands.
Maintain a stable position with a slight knee bend.
Extend both arms in front of your body.
Brace core and resist rotational force.
Engage core muscles.
Focus on stability throughout exercise.
Med Ball Throws
Given that hitting is a rotational movement, it is logical to include an explosive rotational exercise like med ball throws in the warm-up routine.
The weight of the medicine ball is secondary; the focus is on generating explosive power from the core.
Tips to help players when performing med ball throws:
Emphasize the purpose: Explain how this exercise aims to develop explosive rotational power, essential for generating bat speed and power during hitting. Highlight how med ball throws improve energy transfer from the core to the upper body, ultimately enhancing hitting performance.
Assume a side stance.
Hold a medicine ball at chest height with both hands.
Both hands towards the bottom of the ball (don’t want to push the ball)
Rotate the torso explosively.
Extend the arms.
Release the ball in the desired direction.
Engage the core muscles.
Use the lower body to generate power.
Half Kneel to Oblique Sit
The player will transition from half kneel to oblique sit position. The key to this movement prep exercise is for the player to hip hinge without reaching with the front leg.
The player will use (5-15 pounds) to improve feel and movement quality.
As coaches, we want practice to carry over to the game. It can be frustrating to coach hitters who always do well in practice but never see it transition to the game. I’ve been there as a player and a coach.
I want hitters to feel pressure in practice.
I want hitters to feel stress in the cage.
So, when they start to feel it in the game, it’s nothing they haven’t already felt before.
While we can’t completely replicate the game in practice, we can do a better job of creating a game-like environment.
However, it’s a balancing act.
We want to challenge hitters but not so much to where they feel like they don’t have a chance to succeed.
I’ve seen coaches take this way too far. They crank the machine up to 100 mph (I’ve made this mistake before), and each hitter swings and misses at 90% of the pitches, leaving them frustrated and discouraged.
However, it’s still important to challenge them and make it game-like.
How can we do that?
We Need To Gamify Practice
Here's how step by step:
Step 1: Exit Velo Game
This is my favorite game to play to this day.
I know that only some have access to a HitTrax, Trackman, or Rapsodo, but you can still pull it off with a radar gun and some ropes to measure the launch angle in the cage.
Here’s how the game is played.
To get 1 point:
A hitter must hit the ball between a launch angle of 10-30 degrees. (This is going to be level dependent.)
Then, you take the max exit velocity of each hitter.
Subtract 10 mph.
And that is the velocity range they must hit the ball to score a point.
My max exit velocity is 100 mph.
So, for me to get 1 point
I must hit a ball between 10-30 LA and at least be hit 90 EV.
6 swings per round for each hitter.
First one to 15 wins. (How much time you have will dictate what you play, too.)
The winner has earned the right to get better, so they get to do 10 pushups while everyone else stays the same and watches. (Wait till you see the look on the winner's face, LOL.)
There are so many ways you can get creative with this game.
- Machine pitch
- Coach pitch
The players love it, and it gets them to feel some pressure while having fun and instilling good habits.
I normally will put players on teams when doing this.
- 12 hitters
- 3 teams
- 4 hitters on a team
Step 2: 1 Pitch Round
Normally, in batting practice, hitters get 6 swings each round. However, once the game comes around, they don’t get a do-over after they put the ball in play.
So why not put this same concept into play in practice as well?
Why not 1 swing per round?
That’s it, 1.
This is best done after the regular batting practice. (Players won’t be happy if all of BP is 1 swing per round.)
Coach is pitching to the hitters.
He can throw FB or breaking ball.
It’s a live AB.
Balls and strikes.
4 players a team
3 teams competing
Each time a hitter gets a hit (the head coach is the judge), they get 1 point.
The first team to 10 wins, or however much time you have.
It’s fun, competitive, and gets hitters a little closer to feeling what they will feel when they step up to the plate at 7:00
Step 3: Define Success
I’ve seen hitters get very frustrated when they hit off the machine.
They might hit 2-3 balls on the barrel and then miss hit 4 in a year, leaving them frustrated.
I will then stop them and explain that we aren’t supposed to barrel every ball off the machine.
The goal should be 4 barrels out of 10 swings.
That means you could miss hit 6 straight balls in a row.
It’s the same concept as the game.
When you explain this to them, you can tell they’ve never thought about it that way before in practice.
I'd love to hear how this works for you the next time you have practice with your team.
* I have a question for you.
Do you want to...
- Hit for more power
- Hit for a higher average
- Be more consistent
- Have a plan in practice
- Understand your swing