Superstition is synonymous with softball! From tee ball to the NPF, it seems we hitters have some rather irrational routines and beliefs.
In mild cases, players decide wearing a particular headband or certain color of nail polish will bring them luck at the plate.
More extreme episodes cross the threshold of hygiene and cleanliness creeping into what I call the Hot Mess Zone! When Sally is on a hitting streak, the stench of superstition billows through the close-quartered dugout. Her dirty socks are the reason she is having success, so washing them is out of the question.
Susie will not step foot on the field without her “lucky sweat band ,” the 15 year old misshapen rag, faded and without elastic due to dry rot. Then there is Josephine who will not shave her legs when she is hitting well because, “it is a good batch of hair.”
I can not make this stuff up! The examples above are all true stories , but the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Unfortunately, I must admit to having my own pre-game and pre-at bat rituals. Every action has its time and every piece of equipment has its place.
Ultimately, however, I have to step in the box and hit the ball. Having a good at bat (AB) has little to do with my hairstyle, socks , nail polish or even the particular bat I am using. If the bat is not broken and the length and weight are a good fit, the bat has nothing to do with the outcome of an AB.
Whether a hitter makes solid contact or chokes at the plate, she must take responsibility and own the outcome of her performance. Blaming the results on an irrational superstition or a situation outside her control is not acceptable or beneficial.
Although our superstitions can sometimes appear a bit insane, proper habits and routines can prepare us to be at our best when it matters the most. One particular routine became my secret weapon as a hitter: check- in, plan and trust. Let me explain.
To begin, when I am four hitters from my at bat, I find my helmet, batting gloves and bat. On a typical day, they are always be in the same place! This is a pre-requisite for check- in, plan and trust. I cannot work through my mental and physical routine without all the necessary equipment.
How many times do we see a hitter racing around trying to find a bat when she is supposed to be on deck? The hitter before her has a short AB. The unorganized and flustered player rushes to step in the box completely unprepared!
Gathering our equipment at the right time is a small step that can make a big difference.
Once I am “in the hole” (3 hitters from step ping into the box), the process begins. With my bat in hand, I find a place in the dugout where I can clearly see the pitcher. From that spot, I begin to check-in. Closing my eyes , I take long deep breaths and visualize myself during my at bat.
As if I am watching myself on TV, I see me. I go through my pre-pitch routine: fix the dirt, get the signal, step in the box, two flicks of the wrist toward center field , take a deep breath and then find my rhythm as I slip into my stance. I see the pitcher winding up. I see the ball release from her fingers and spin as it slowly moves toward me. It is my pitch , and I see myself drive it over the center field wall.
After seeing a perfect swing or two in my mind’s eye, I open my eyes and practice seeing the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. I will admit, my bat lays a certain way, and I secure my hitting gloves very particularly and at just the right time. Superstition does seem to inevitably weave its way in the game!
Once on deck, it is time to plan. I am sure to survey the situation becoming aware of the outs, runners on base and the set-up of the defense. I know the count of the hitter before me. It is also important to remind myself of the strengths and weaknesses of my teammates. If the hitter in front of me is not super-fast, I must be careful not to overrun her. In a tight game with runners on base and a short-game hitter behind me, I am looking for pitches to produce RBI’s, not simply move runners.
While planning in the on-deck circle, I also think through the potential situations coach may call on me to execute: hit and run, bunt, hit behind the runner, sac fly, squeeze. Will I be in a position to take a “big hack, ” or will I aim to simply drive a base hit through the infield?
Thinking through the different scenarios allows me to be most prepared, rarely blindsided by an unexpected situation that may surprise me.
When it is my turn to step in the box, actually perform the entire pre-pitch routine I pictured earlier. Once in my stance, I take a deep breath. Now it is time to Trust.
Trust? Trust what? I must trust myself and my preparation. I must clear my mind. The goal: remain relaxed and confident.
To help me Trust, I usually adopt one focus for my at bat. Some examples are: “See it and hit it.” “Release, Contact.” “Load and Explode.” “Middle of the ball.” “See it and drive it.” “Let it fly.” “BRING IT!” “Throw me a strike. ”
Once in the box, I turn off the superstitious thinking and simply trust the routine!