Early March is tryout time for many high school baseball and softball teams around the country. For freshman hitters and their parents, it can be a time of great stress. Even upperclassmen can be stressed out by tryouts if they are trying to secure a position on the varsity. Here are a few tips that should help when it is time to hit during tryouts:
- As soon as hitters pick up a bat, they should be totally focused on hitting and only hitting. I have seen too many hitters at tryouts waste valuable time before it is their turn to hit. Often, players will hit in groups during tryouts. If players have to wait for their turn at the tee or in the batting cage, they should avoid standing around. Coaches will be impressed if hitters who are waiting to hit are stretching, taking practice swings, or doing something constructive.
- Coaches are also looking for leaders and good teammates. Hitters who are waiting their turn to hit should look for opportunities to encourage other hitters. Focusing on teammates who are hitting can be a welcome distraction for a few moments, and should reduce some of the stress hitters may have about hitting in front of the coaches.
- Before entering the batting cage, AND BEFORE EVERY SWING, hitters should breathe! Here is a link to a previous post where I reviewed the importance of proper breathing to relieve stress and to enhance performance. http://torque-hitting.com/2013/09/15/just-breathe/
- While hitting off a tee, hitters should focus on just making solid contact with the first few swings at about 75% power. Hitters who try to muscle the first ball off the tee through the netting will often not make good contact. If the first hit is not solid, some hitters will begin to panic. It could ultimately take a few pitches to get in a good groove. If hitters only get to hit a few balls, they may never find a rhythm. Hitters who start under control and focus on making solid contact, will typically hit the first few balls well. After a three or four solid hits, hitters can gradually turn up the power for the rest of the swings. By the last swing, hitters should be hitting with maximum power, which will leave a favorable and lasting impression with the coaches who are doing the evaluating.
- During front toss sessions or batting practice off a machine or an actual pitcher, hitters should adopt an approach that will lock in the right mechanics and highlight their versatility. The approach I would suggest is simple. Hitters should begin by trying to hit pitches to the opposite field. If you watch most major league hitters in the batting cage, they do exactly what I am suggesting. By hitting the first few balls to the opposite field, hitters will be forced to concentrate on the ball. More importantly, they will be forced to extend their arms during the swing. This is what I mean by getting locked in. Hitters who begin batting practice by trying to pull every pitch may never get their arms extended appropriately. This will affect bat speed and consistency. Conversely, hitters who hit the first few balls to the opposite field will quickly get that feeling of full extension, which will carry over for the rest of the session. After hitting a few balls to the opposite field, hitters should then concentrate on hitting balls up the middle, while maintaining that great extension. Finally, hitters should use the last few pitches to pull the ball with power. This is when hitters can really put on a show. As I mentioned, this approach will also highlight the versatility of hitters. All coaches are looking for hitters who can be called upon to hit the ball to the appropriate field, depending on the game situation. When hitters step in the cage and ask batting practice pitchers to throw the ball on the outside corner so they can hit to the opposite field, any coach will be impressed. This will set the tone for a great hitting session, and it will enhance the hitter’s chances of standing out among the other hitters at the tryout.
- STAY POSITIVE! During a tryout, hitters will have some great swings, some good swings, and some bad swings. Hitters should remain calm and positive after each swing. Coaches are looking for players who can perform in pressure situations. If hitters show negative emotions or get down on themselves after a bad swing, coaches can easily project this behavior to games. In a tryout environment, reacting to a bad swing will bring unnecessary attention to something that is negative. On the other hand, if hitters react to a great swing with a big smile and by saying something positive (without being boastful), this will have the opposite effect on coaches.
- HAVE FUN! Even under the pressure of tryouts, it is important to have fun. Having fun reduces stress and sends a positive message to coaches and other players. There is a fine line between goofing around and having fun, but players who can perform in the cages and show they enjoy playing the game, will stand out. During tryouts, coaches are looking for players who they feel will be “coachable”. It has been my experience that hitters who are fun-loving and positive are also usually the most coachable.
Unfortunately, there will be cuts after most tryouts. For those hitters who fail to make a team, they have two options. They can let this setback derail their desire to play in the future. Or, they can use the disappointment of not making the team as motivation to work even harder. I have seen too many hitters with great potential give up on baseball or softball because they were cut from one team. With hard work and good instruction, players can come out of nowhere to become stars in baseball and softball.
For those hitters who make their high school team, they should be proud. My advice would be to make the most of this opportunity by working hard to be the best player possible. Baseball and softball can be humbling sports. The best hitters at all levels, including professional baseball and softball, have attitudes of continued improvement.
I hope some of these tips help. Good luck!