Hitting is not just about physical mechanics. Though, mechanics are important in the grand scheme of things, the support of a players mind, or lack thereof, is what ultimately dictates a hitter’s success.
When hitters go from batting practice to game situations, they simply don’t forget how to swing a bat. They’ve had thousands and thousands of mechanical repetitions.
But what mental repetitions have hitters earned through practice to rely on when they enter the batter’s box? What mental skills are in place to deal with the potential pressures, consequences and statistics of a game situation? What have hitters done through a daily mental practice to insure that their mind is quiet, clear, relaxed and free? Does a physically prepared swing necessarily translate into a prepared mind?
One of the major reasons why hitters may find that their physically prepared swing may not be translating into game situations is because they haven’t worked on their mental approach to hitting. In many cases, it may simply be because they’ve never delved into this part of the game.
They’ve never identified what their mental approach is, and/or how to work on it through various drills, strategies and mental exercises (e.g. relaxation, imagery, visualization).
The goal of this article is to do just that — to help you understand how to have a more consistent, mental approach to hitting by: 1) incorporating various mental drills that can be applied on a daily basis (at the practice field) without even swinging a bat, 2) understanding, philosophically, the importance of eliminating the distinction between the practice field and the game environment, and 3) developing a daily mental practice routine away from the playing field.
Unless the mental approach to hitting is identified and addressed, players (and coaches) may wonder why a physically, well earned swing is not translating into game situations.
In all of my years of consulting, it seems pretty clear that most hitters seem to make a major distinction between how they approach and experience the practice environment and how they approach and experience the performance environment.
For example in the practice environment, players tend to get used to repeating their swing in a relaxed state of mind compared to the potential stressors of a game situation. They get familiar with this environment, as does their mind, because there aren’t any real distractions or consequences at stake (winning, losing, statistics, playing time).
As familiar as practice is, game situations are inversely unfamiliar (at least until the daily schedule of professional baseball). For example, the average at-bat in a game situation may last one to two minutes. Four to five at-bats a game equate to approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Five to 10 minutes of being in an actual game situation mind-set pales in comparison to the countless hours a week in a practice environment.
The reality is players spend way more time a practice mode, and thus, tend to get a false sense of comfort with their preparation.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the typical characteristics that players will tend to associate with a practice situation relative to that of a game situation.
These characteristics include: relaxed, clear minded, free, confident and the absence of major distractions (consequences, statistics, fans, media, umpires, scouts, etc.). Now let’s take a look at those characteristics that may be associated with a game situation because things count: tension, pressure, over-thinking and the presence of major distractions (consequences, statistics, fans, media, umpires, scouts, etc.).
What do you think happens when the typical hitter crosses the line and puts the uniform on? Do you think that their mind is as relaxed and comfortable as it is in practice?
Do you think that they are the same hitter in the batter’s box on game day? For most hitters, putting the uniform on when statistics count can bring into play a lot more variables not only because consequences are now in play, but because the mind may be dealing with the foreign elements of a game situation.
Unlike a player’s physical swing, which doesn’t need to compute the changing environment, the mind will tend to need some type of mental strategy and/or skill work to make the adjustments to this potentially foreign territory.
In short, the variables that a hitter must deal with in a game situation are relatively foreign compared to the familiarity of a practice environment.
This is the irony of why a large percentage of hitters, who work so hard on their hitting in practice, may find it difficult to translate this hard work into a game situation.
So, how do you work on your mind? How do you get your mental mechanics to be as reliable and consistent as your physical mechanics? Well, the first thing you must do is realize that you earned your physical swing mechanics, and that earning your mental mechanics aren’t any different.
The good news is that your mind, like your swing, wants to be trained, taught and practiced. But to do this, it needs your help…it needs input.
To read the rest of Alan Jaeger’s in-depth story, purchase the Jan. 24, 2014 edition of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.