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.