Ditch the GPS Roadmap for Effective Tracking

Written By Charity Butler

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Ditch the GPS for Effective Tracking

We coaches often state the obvious. We give players a result or destination on which to focus but do not provide a map for the trip.

As a directionally challenged driver, I find myself unhealthily attached to my GPS. When I was a teenager, my parents charged me with picking up my brother from school one day. Simple, right? Not for this chick. I never made it to pick up my brother that day. I took a wrong turn on the highway and found myself in another state, hours from my intended destination. I have yet to grow out of this directional deficiency. Without my GPS, I might not make it home from the grocery store each day.

As a coach, I would love to stand in the box with my hitters providing turn-by-turn navigation through their at-bats so that they stay on course. This GPS-approach is not technically possible, especially in real game situations. Barking instructions is not the approach that grows and develops players to their full potential. It creates the same dependency I have developed with my GPS.

Coaches, we do not want to cultivate players with an increasing dependence on our instructions. Athletes are nearer peak performance when they begin making their own adjustments. We do, however, want to equip them with some direction that will lead them toward their goal. Players, be willing to take ownership of your journey. Don't rely on your coach to always fix your hitting problems. Learn to appreciate the process and begin making your own adjustments. Navigating your offensive game with a little more independence may mean making some changes in direction, even u-turns. It will definitely require some “recalculating,” but be willing to take the directions you are given and apply them. Make your own adjustments. Hold yourself accountable. Tracking is one of the most important, yet least practiced, elements of hitting. Tracking is simply the ability to see the ball from the pitcher's hand to the point of contact. We seldom practice tracking because few coaches and players have a map for the journey toward effective tracking.

Players, if you follow the directions below, you are much more likely to have success at the plate. Hitters with ugly swings can experience positive results by learning to successfully track, while hitters with beautiful swings can struggle terribly if not effectively seeing the ball. Coaches can sometimes see fundamental issues and provide helpful solutions. When it comes to focus issues, though, players must make their own adjustments. A hitter knows if she is seeing the ball or not seeing the ball. She is the one who must fine-tune her focus. Learning to use our eyes most effectively is essential. The Zoom In/Zoom Out technique is a practical approach to accomplish timely tracking. To understand the Zoom In/Zoom Out concept, find a large wall or broad side of a building. Pick the tiniest point that is barely visible somewhere on the wall. Narrow the focus of the eyes and “zoom in” on the small point. The eyes must work pretty hard to make this happen. Then “zoom out” from the point and see the wall in its entirety. The eyes will relax. Then “zoom in” again… and zoom back out. Repeat several times. This Zoom In/Zoom Out process is the same approach hitters should use in the batter's box. Many times as hitters, we try to zoom in on the ball while the pitcher is performing her wind up. Following the ball through the pitcher's motion puts a great deal of stress on the eyes. By the time the pitcher releases, our eyes may be too fatigued to track the ball at maximum efficiency.

To overcome this obstacle, use a soft focus (aka zoom out) while the pitcher is receiving her signal and beginning her wind up. Look in her direction as if zooming out to see the entire wall. Once the pitcher's arm reaches the top of her circle, the narrow focus, or zooming in, occurs. At this point, the eyes must zoom in on the hip. The ball must come from the hip, so zoom in on that point and see the ball out of the pitcher's hand. This allows the eyes to zoom in and function most effectively at the most crucial time for tracking, from release of the pitcher to contact with the bat.

This technique can be practiced during BP while other hitters are taking turns at-bat. Set up a screen behind home plate and practice soft to narrow focus. Hitters can also stand in the box during pitchers' bull pen practice and simply practice tracking. While practicing Zoom In/Zoom Out, begin to notice the pitcher's release and spin of the ball. See the shadow on the ball. If hitters can begin to see the details, they will certainly be tracking with greater purpose!

At more advanced levels, hitters can begin to recognize the spin and determine the type of pitch (rise, drop, curve, screw etc.). Recognizing the spin allows hitters to anticipate where a breaking ball will be when it enters the hitting zone. Propertracking coupled with this anticipation gives hitters an incredible advantage and drastically increases the odds for success.

See it in, so you can drive it out!

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Charity ButlerCharity Butler is respected nationally & internationally as a pro athlete, writer, speaker, collegiate coach, hitting instructor and Certified Intrinsic Life Coach®.Currently, as a Pro Speaker for Sports World, Inc, Charity travels the country speaking to more than 40,000 people annually. As a recognized expert in confidence training, she also presents at various conferences, colleges & universities.Charity is the founder of Exceed Sports, LLC, and of the I Heart Fastpitch Campaign Join Charity On: Twitter, and on Instagram

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