“One of my favorite sayings in sports and in life is “Let the game come to you”. Simply put, this means “Don’t force things—Be patient—Don’t try too hard.” Sometimes, the best strategy is to slow down and allow the natural forces around us to provide guidance when we have a big decision to make or when we need direction to choose a path in life. The same holds true in baseball and softball.
After a long offseason of conditioning, tee work, front toss, and batting practice, high school and college baseball and softball hitters are finally ready to get the season started. Early on, it is very common for even the best hitters to feel anxious, awkward or unprepared, no matter how hard they worked in the offseason. I attribute these feelings to the excitement and stress that comes with games that finally count and the intense pressure to succeed. Here are a few tips to reduce hitting stress and enhance performance:
Breathe deeply and relax!
In a previous post, I wrote about a simple technique to reduce stress…..take a deep breath before every pitch. In every professional sport, athletes can be seen taking deep breaths to ensure their bodies are as relaxed as possible before engaging in their respective athletic activity. Deep breathing techniques have been medically proven to be good for everyone, not just athletes.
This point was driven home for me during my last annual physical. I don’t have chronic high blood pressure, but when it is measured in a doctor’s office, my readings tend to be on the high side. As the doctor was pumping up the blood pressure cuff on my arm, he could obviously see the apprehension on my face. After reading the results, he asked me to try something. He asked me to inhale as he raised his hand very slowly. After a few seconds, he asked me to exhale as he gradually lowered his hand. We did this two times and then he pumped up the cuff on my arm again. To my surprise and amazement, my blood pressure reading was as low as it had ever been in my life. He explained that deep breathing increases the oxygen levels in our blood that contributes directly to a more relaxed state, increased energy levels, and improved athletic performance.
Be a Little Leaguer
On several occasions, I have heard public speakers attempt to convince me that if I clearly identify my greatest fears, only then will I really be able to deal with them effectively and constructively. I wouldn’t consider striking out to be one of the greatest fears in life, but don’t tell that to hitters who come up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the last inning, with two outs, and their team trailing by one run. At that moment, fear of failing can be a bigger obstacle to success than actually hitting the pitch. My advice to overcome this fear is to approach these situations like a Little Leaguer.
After striking out and failing to drive in the winning run, the Little Leaguer kicks the dirt, walks back to the dugout, and hangs his head. He then packs his mitt and bat into his baseball bag before listening to his coach attempt to put this tough loss into perspective. The coach is visibly upset and preaches about how this game was a “life lesson” and how the team will find a way to endure this hardship. The Little Leaguer leaves the dugout, slowly walks up to his parents and says…”Can my buddy Johnny stay over tonight?”
This Little Leaguer is wise beyond his years. He knows that no matter if he succeeds or fails during one at-bat in a baseball game, it will not change the trajectory of his life. The memory of a strikeout or a home run will quickly fade, until eventually no one remembers whether this Little Leaguer struck out or was carried off the field after a game-winning hit. I have some great memories playing baseball as a youth, but I can only remember one or two at-bats from all the games I played.
If hitters enter the batter’s box honestly assessing the long-term impact of failing at that moment, any fear should quickly dissipate. When fear is eliminated, it is replaced by confidence. Confident hitters are more likely to be relaxed, and relaxed hitters are better able to employ the hitting mechanics they worked so hard to perfect in the offseason.
Use the “Doctrine of Easy”
In a previous post, I discussed the importance of “The Mental Game” for hitters. As I wrote, many of the mental techniques I teach to my hitters stem from the ground breaking ideas developed by Tim Gallwey.
Here is a revised excerpt from that post describing my baseball/softball application of his Doctrine of Easy:
“Most hitters perfect their swings primarily through hitting off a tee or front toss. During these drills, they rarely miss the ball and consistently hit most balls solidly. Using Gallwey’s “Doctrine of Easy”, when hitters are facing live pitching in a game, they should visualize the ball coming at them as if their coach was tossing the ball to them from a few feet away or as if they were hitting off a tee.
When the mind is able to make the connection between the pitched ball approaching at a high velocity with the simple action of hitting off a tee or front toss, the body responds by being relaxed and confident. I have had many players tell me that this one technique has improved their hitting performance dramatically, especially against top pitchers. They are able to convince themselves that after the ball leaves the hand of the pitcher, it is just like an easy front toss from Coach Petricca .”
Simply stated, the key to this mental technique is to completely tune out everything after the pitch is on its way to home plate. Hitters should merely see a ball suspended in air, just like the one that has been sitting on a tee during or just like the one that was crushed during front toss sessions.
Trust your swing
When the season begins, the best advice I can give to hitters is…”Trust your swing”. Many hitters work hard on the technical aspects of their swings in the offseason, but as soon as games begin, they are unable to trust what they worked on. More than trusting the swing, I am really asking hitters to trust their bodies. Through the observation and self-instruction techniques I described in my “Mental Game” post, hitters train their feet, legs, hips, arms, shoulders, and head exactly how to act during the swing sequence. The body knows what to do, it’s now just a matter of hitters allowing it to succeed without intervention. Tim Gallwey wrote, “All we need to do is learn to trust it (the body), to quiet our minds, and to stop trying so hard.” When hitter’s truly trust their bodies, it is almost like an out-of-body experience. Instead of “trying”, total trust is more like “admiring”. These hitters allow their bodies to perform and all they have to do is admire the beautiful swing and the successful outcome.
Let the game come to you
Each of these tips are designed to help hitters relax, be patient, and let the game come to them. When hitters are relaxed, the game will slow down and their bodies will do what they were trained to do. When hitters face their fears in the batter’s box like a Little Leaguer, they will realize that a positive or negative outcome is merely a fleeting moment in their lives. This will free hitters from the shackles of fear and self-doubt and will naturally lead to confidence and improved performance. When hitters find the ability to block out their surroundings and allow their bodies to hit like they did off the batting tee or during batting practice, the results will be truly amazing. Finally, if hitters trust what they worked so hard on in the offseason, they will find peace in the batter’s box. This peace will allow hitters to enjoy the moment with total satisfaction.