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Great College Hitters have a tremendous amount of mental and emotional management skills. That should go without saying. Compared to the mental side, the physical side of hitting is really a smaller part of college success. I would like to expand on just 3 of the things I feel make hitting at the college level easier.
1. Less Equals More. Shorter strides and smaller steps rule. I can pick out the better hitters in a college batting practice simply by watching the stride lengths. The hitters with the smaller strides will be a lot better with their timing and ultimately more consistent. Hitters with the bigger strides tend to be more susceptible to chasing bad pitches. This is mainly because their front foot is usually landing at the same time the commitment has to be made. This is multi-tasking and pretty impossible to manage at the speeds necessary to recognize, track, and time a ball. More accurate timing systems happen much sooner in the process. If it is absolutely necessary for a hitter to have a huge stride, it needs to be completed prior to the pitcher’s release -a feat that is more difficult to do than we think. The hitters with more raw talent can usually get away with bigger strides. Shortening stride lengths is a great way to help your 7, 8, and 9 batters to improve their consistency.
2. Keep It Under 100. You ever see a hitter hit a long home run and it seems like they barely swung? Yeah. That happens more often than you think. Swinging at 100% strength levels actually makes hitters weaker. I always preach this to my hitters, “I’d rather you be in control of 85% than to not be in control of 100%.” Balance, body control, coordination, vision, and power are far more efficient when a hitter is performing somewhere in between 85 and 90 percent strength levels.
3. Extension is Everything. So many super coaches out there put so much emphasis on the things that do not support great hand path. In fact, if the lower half of the body takes the hands in the wrong directions, there are a lot of problems that will occur that the most talented athlete cannot recover from. The body has to support hand path. It cannot do its own thing. Simply getting to the ball is contact -getting through the ball is power. I promise you if you spent more time on extension and less time in the weight room, your power numbers would increase and your injuries would decrease!
I have recently been asking my hitters the question, “What do you hit with?”
I have gotten all sorts of answers from hips, to legs, to arms, to entire body. Quite frankly, I do not believe that any of those answers are fundamentally incorrect, but there is certainly a best answer. So what is the best answer to that question? What does a hitter hit with?
I would have to say, “hands.” Let's take a look at that answer for a second. Keep in mind that I only say hands, because I want the hitters to focus more on hand path. It seems that so many young hitters are focused more on legs and spinning -which undoubtedly affects or misdirected the hand path in such a way that it creates bad spin and flight of the batted ball.
Since the bat is actually in our hands, not our legs, arms, or hips, let's take a closer look. First of all, let's look at preparation for the Prom. The most important piece to the preparation is undoubtedly the dress. Everything else, including the shoes, purse, jewelry, and even the prom date is nothing more than an accessory. Accessories which support or enhance the dress -not overshadow it.
In hitting, the hands would be the dress -the most important part of the physical swing. Everything else in the physical swing would be the accessories as they are supporting the hand path -not taking away from hand path. In other words, accessories as they are supporting the hand path – not taking away from hand path. In other words, anything that a hitter does that takes the hand path out of the strike zone or off the path of creating the appropriate angle to the ball, is no longer an accessory but a hindrance. Hence, we need to address it.
We address the accessories with drills. Drills that actually improve, enhance, and support the hand path. Here are some ideas for drills that can improve hand path:
It seems like I'm always talking about Invisible Mechanics -that is the things that occur in which we do not see. It is the mindset of the hitter. In a world where so many hitters are mental midgets, it is difficult to develop the proper mindset in an individual. However, if the we can teach hitters how to think as they engage in the various drills we prescribe, we can help them win the battle they often fight against themselves.
Most hitters do not understand this: The Best Hitting Coach I Will Ever Have is Me. If more young players understood this, there would be so many good hitters and it would be difficult to make out a lineup card. But seriously, I would like to stress the importance of helping hitters to understand the finer details of the swing, especially what they are feeling and then correct their own errors. Here are a few tips on mindset training:
In drills such as tee-work, side-toss and front-toss, hitters should focus more on where they want to hit a ball. For example, looking to take the ball up the middle is always great. You would be surprised how many hitters are thinking about hitting the ball somewhere other than the middle. It is also surprising to me, how many hitters cannot execute the simple task of hitting a ball off a tee up the middle consistently. As a coach, if you make the middle a priority, so will your hitters.
As a coach, don't allow your hitters to swing at pitches out of the strike-zone. NO MATTER WHAT!
Unless of course you are working on the hit and run. In order for hitters to understand the decision making process, you must be strict about this. It is difficult to unlearn the bad habit of swinging at everything in practice -which ultimately translates into a lack of discipline in the games. Again, this is mindset training.
If a hitter for example, pulls consecutive outside pitches, a correction needs to be made. I watch too many batting practices where coaches allow hitters to commit the same errors consecutively. Hitters can only make adjustments if someone coaches them through the thought process -they won't do it by themselves at first. Once you correct a hitter enough times, they will begin to make coach themselves. This is a sign of a mature hitter.
What are you working on? This question must be posed to the hitters as a group and/or to the individual hitter. It's perfectly fine to take one or two hitters out of the normal team or group routine and assign them to specific tasks more relevant to their individual issues. I feel like basketball players, golfers, and tennis players do this more than hitters do. I'm finding that so many hitters are practicing with the group but have their problems that are specific to them. Be sensitive to the needs of everyone. A coach should give the group a word or objective in the beginning of the session. I usually pick one or two objectives and establish corresponding drills. Any specific issues a player may have individually, I will address throughout the session.
Mindset training certainly transcends the actual mechanics of the swing. Keeping in mind, that mechanics are not why hitters struggle -especially not at the highest level. It is mostly focus, attention, and game plan. Whether you play at a high level or not, you should prepare as though you are playing against the best team in the country tomorrow! That is a mentality. Mentality begins and ends with the coach, the CEO, the Pastor, the parent, the leader.
HP1:Patient-Aggressive – the athlete that is poised and experienced enough to wait for the right opportunity and then be aggressive enough in their pursuit to make things happen.
Knows her strengths
Understands her weaknesses
Waits for her pitch
Aggressive when opportunity presents itself
HP2: Passive – the athlete that takes patience to a whole new level. This is the one who waits too long and then tries to be aggressive when it is no longer called for.
Takes the first 2 pitches
Unsure of one's self
Unable to pull the trigger
Not a 4th quarter or late innings player
Not very clutch
HP3:Over-Aggressive – the athlete that over does everything. They swing too hard. They chase change ups in the dirt on the first pitch. They always foul out of games. They take ill-advised shots from out of their range. A risk-reward type of athlete.
Swings at too many bad pitches
Swings too hard
Steps up in the clutch
HP4:Self-Destructive – when you meet this person's parents you will know why they are the way they are.
Always finds what is wrong
Focus on the bad
Never acknowledges the good. e.g. 0-4 with 3 line drives and gets depressed
HP5:BA – the badass. Every championship team needs like 3 of these. There is no way you win a championship without at least 3! Seriously. BA's are fearless and step up in big situations. They don't care who the opponent is. In their minds, they are always better than their opponent. BA's strike out and walk back to the dugout like they just hit a HR. (see Play Like a Bitch/Boss Chapter)
Lives for the big moment
“Bring it On” Mentality
The one you want at the plate in the last inning
Bullet Proof Confidence
The perfect amount of cockiness and humility
Hates to lose as opposed to loves to win
You want to go to war with this person
Plays Like a Bitch/Boss
HP6:QBA – The Quiet Badass
Natasha Watley, Mariano Rivera, Angela Tincher
Silent but deadly
The Diva Complex
“So gifted, its become his greatest asset and his absolute number one liability.” – Colin Cowherd on LeBron James (before the ring)
Let me begin by saying that athletes are not born with Diva Complexes but parents, coaches, media, etc, create them. Children become what their circumstances allow them to become. As adults, we have a choice about what we will allow. For example, if a young player strikes out and throws his bat in frustration, and as a coach you allow that, then it is your fault when they are unable to manage their emotions later in their careers. Too many coaches allow the best players on the team, to get away with things that are simply unacceptable. You are an enabler and hurting that player by fueling the fire of their immaturity. They will not be able to cope with adversity later on.
So the Diva has always been the best player on the team or the best player on the team is always the Diva. Which one is it? Didn't really have to work too hard, but still dominated. In contrast there is the grinder, the one who worked twice as hard and never realized the same success. So Michael Jordan could get cut from his high school team and develop the spirit of a grinder and Lebron James could be worshipped at 16 years old and develop that fighting spirit later in his career. Now it becomes more evident why the Pac-12 conference has 400 championships. West coast athletes are raised with the spirit of a grinder. Are East Coast athletes the most spoiled? As a parent, do I love my child less if I am tough on them? As a coach, if I kiss my best player's ass, am I really helping them? For more information on the Diva Complex, see the New York version of Alex Rodriguez or Dwight Howard.
Most people fail for lack of planning. Especially lack of effective planning. That is not only in sports performance but life in general. As far as hitting is concerned, whenever I ask a hitter the general question, “What's your plan?” a hitter will look at me as though I have two heads. It is my intent as a coach to make sure all my hitters understand that in order to perform at a high level they must master the organizing of their thoughts -a vitally important factor.
Let's look at some ways in which hitters can begin to improve in the area of game plan development:
1. Know Thyself
First I need to know how to separate what I am good at from what I am not so good at. Identify my zone. What pitches do I drive more consistently and what pitches do I struggle with? I need to better position myself to get those pitches that are more me, the majority of the time.
2. Know Your Opponent
Before the game starts I need to identify the opposing pitcher when she is in the bullpen. What is her best pitch? What is her second best pitch? Here is where I begin to get a sense of how I will time her. Most players do not do this until they get in the batter's box. Too late.
Also how has she worked some of the other batter's? Do I have a clear sense of what she will throw certain hitters in certain counts? Remember, most great ones know what pitch is coming more than 80% of the time.
3. Keep a Journal
It is really important to document your successes and shortcomings. The writing down of your goals and objectives is what lots of successful people do. It is a great habit. Writing down important post game information such as what pitcher you faced, what she got you out on, and what you were successful hitting -especially on what counts you had specific results is key.
Going back to reference what has transpired can be very helpful in your process for not repeating history in the failure department and vice versa.
4. Stick to My Strengths
I feel like one of the worse things a player can do especially in season, is work on their weaknesses. In fact, I almost want to say, “If you have a weakness, try to avoid exposing it.” One should be totally focused on what they do well. And position yourself to be able to feature your strengths as often as possible.
For example, if you are really good at hitting the inside pitch, you should crowd the plate more. So many hitters continue to position themselves to get outside pitches when they know they aren't very good at hitting them. That's not smart hitting to me. Not good planning.
All softball players and coaches playing in fall games this year -I encourage you to try this in your games. Coaches, if you can get your less talented players to be smarter, they can realize a lot more success by elevating their mental game.
Effective game plans help with more efficient decision making and helps younger players to grow as the competition gets better and faster.
This is an open letter to a player headed to go and play college softball for the first time. Basically, it is what I have explained to all my girls during our final sessions before departure. It is important to me that they understand the adaptation process at its core and at an intellectual level.
I just wanted to write you this letter to offer some words of encouragement. I have been mentoring you for a number of years now. And being weeks away from going to college, I feel you are more than ready. In fact, you are ready both mentally and physically. Believe me, there is a huge difference.
Over the past 15 years, I have seen so many players like you -headed into a “different world” and thinking its all good.
Someone asked me the other day, “Rob, if you could tell your college-bound hitters one thing, what would that be?” “What is that 1 thing they need to know?”
Trust me, this is such a good question. And I will say this to you -“When a coach tries to change your swing or approach, don't freak out.”
“Yes -that's it.”
“Can you elaborate?”
In my recent years of mentoring and preparing hitters for intercollegiate competition, I have realized the need to re-focus my format -to create a format that is more adaptable to the possibility of being changed.
The truth is most softball hitters become extremely emotional during the process of adapting to a new hitting model. Especially a model which is radically different than the swing model one has employed for the past 4 or 5 years of their life. Here is where the emotion can be the biggest hindrance to improving and being able accept changes. Proof that emotion is really a weakness that disconnect the brain from the body.
Side note: Strengthening the connection of the brain to body is the point of practice and reps.
Apparently, the more educated the hitter, the more difficult it can be to adapt or buy into radical changes. The truth is, many of the programs with the younger assistant coaches have not been exposed to different hitting styles. These younger assistant coaches are more likely to teach only what they have learned or done themselves. The more experienced and open-minded hitting coaches will be able to adapt to the various styles throughout the team.
“So then, what should a new college hitter do when they find themselves in that situation.”
It basically comes down to mindset. In fact, it always comes down to mindset. I feel more comfortable as a mentor and coach, teaching hitters how to stick to specific principles in their hitting approach. This ensures adaptability on the part of the hitter-especially if the college coach does not have the ability to adapt. I learned this from hanging around professional baseball coaches. Seems like those pro baseball coaches realize they get more out of a player (sooner) if they can adapt as a coach and teach to the player -that is teach to a player's natural swing. So sometimes I find myself teaching something I actually hate or disagree with fundamentally, but it works for the player. In other words, sometimes the comfortability of the hitter is more important than what I believe is fundamentally correct. There's an old saying, “There's more than one way to fry chicken.”
Now don't get me wrong, there are certain things hitters want to do that are simply non-negotiable. However, there are benefits to allowing a hitter to adapt slowly and not force them into an uncomfortable place too soon. A seasoned, experienced coach understands this and will get more players too succeed. I would never want my stubbornness as a coach to be the reason for a player's failures.
“Well I can tell you this, a lot of hitting coaches don't teach outside of what they believe.”
That's true. And that's the reason why there aren't many highly effective coaches out there. A lot of winning college hitting coaches have the ability to teach to the various hitting styles they will encounter. Better yet, they understand how to recruit players that can fit into their hitting model or they know they can transition into good college hitters.
People pay me to help get players to the next level. So if I am teaching what works at the HS/TRAVEL level and not the college level then I am serving myself and not the best interest of the athlete's future. Therefore, my sole responsibility is to prepare my athletes to dominate the college experience -which is more mental and emotional than they can ever imagine.
“What advice if any do you have for the younger college coaches who are struggling with relating to the various hitters they will see on teams?” I would say, “Find out what you can learn from your hitters before you teach. Establish open dialogue and listen to the hitter's interpretation of their own approach. It may prove to help you understand them better and help them more.” “Don't be a supercoach and pick your coaching moments wisely.”
And to college-bound players, I admonish you to talk hitting with the coaching staff before you get there. If your coaches don't love talking hitting then … read between the lines.