When interviewing a new hitting student, I ask a series of quick-fire questions to understand as much about each player as possible before working on new hitting ideas or techniques. Most hitters can articulate at least three weaknesses or struggles they possess, and have difficulty recalling any of their strengths.
Players are so constantly told what not-to-do or what to avoid that they become fixated on the negative. Many of my new students describe themselves pessimistically by saying, “I drop my hands a lot.”
Hitting a fastpitch softball is one of the most difficult skills to perform in any sport. The reaction time allotted a hitter from the pitcher’s release to contact with the ball is almost instantaneous. Trying to decipher the hands’ path during this rapid succession of movements is seemingly impossible.
As hitters, thinking too much about our hands is a source of frustration and stress. This causes tension in the mind and body and creates additional problems. To be successful, hitters cannot guide or aim the bat barrel with rigid movements. They must be free to trust the hands and let them fly through the hitting zone.
Further, when the focus in a hitter’s mind becomes, “Don’t drop my hands,” she is mentally practicing what she wants to avoid. Our minds work visually, disregarding the “don’t”. When a hitter hears or internally repeats, “Don’t drop.” What is she seeing in her mind? Dropping her hands!
Dropping and hitting pop flies as a result is a common problem at most every level of play. The solution, however, is quite simple. Dropping the hands is usually a symptom of a different problem: poor posture. Changing a hitter’s posture quite often eliminates or dropping.
Watch this 47 second video for a quick explanation of Punching Posture at Contact:
When hitters feel for themselves the power and consistency generated through a tall, strong and balanced punching posture, they can visualize proper form and work toward achieving it.
Rarely will a hitter drop her hands while maintaining a strong punching posture. Most often, the hands drop as a result of the entire upper body leaning (or dropping) back toward the catcher.
Correcting a posture problem is much less tedious than changing hand movements. Hitters tend to feel the difference in strong and weak posture immediately and can make the adjustment with ease. Once posture is corrected, the hands begin to work more effectively without additional thought or worry.
Another beneficial visual for hitters is what I call, “the pole”. While in her hitting stance, I encourage a hitter to picture in her mind a pole running vertically through her body, from the crown of her head to the dirt or turf beneath. I then challenge the hitter to keep her body in line with the pole throughout her entire swing.
Staying in line with the pole only applies to leaning forward toward the pitcher or backward toward the catcher. A nature body tilt down and in toward the hitting zone is natural and necessary. This tilt, though, will happen naturally.
Much like the idea of punching posture if a hitter can picture, and more importantly feel, staying in line with the pole she is much less likely to drop her hands and hit pop flies.
A focus on punching posture or staying within the pole equips a hitter to picture proper form. As she adopts the new concepts, “Swing like I’m punching,” or “Keep my pole,” she is visualizing a more fundamentally sound swing. She is training her mind to lead the way, so her body executes more effectively.
The top athletes in the world make intentional visualization a part of their regular training routines. We use the same part of the brain to practice mentally that we use when physically performing. Visualization does affect performance, both positively and negatively. The words we repeat and the resulting mental images they create are powerful.
In addition, a punching posture mind-set emphasizes aggression. Although improving as hitters does sometimes require scrutinizing minute details, players often shut down when overloaded with too many particulars to process. Over-thinking creates unwelcome caution. Training cautiously does not equip hitters to maximize their potential.
The best hitters build solid fundamental muscle memory and then execute with reckless abandon. Caution is not welcome! The punching posture mindset allows hitters freedom to read the pitch and react without hesitation.
Concisely, punching posture produces competent and confident hitters!