I haven’t posted anything since the beginning of the college season, because I have been busy working with baseball and softball hitters. It is always fun for me to see the fruits of my coaching labor when my high school and college hitters enjoy success. The text messages, emails, and phone calls describing hitting streaks or long home runs are always fun to receive. As rewarding as these messages are, the ones from hitters who struggle are equally frustrating for me. These hitters should take some time at the end of a long season to assess why they failed to acheive their hitting objectives.
Poor hitting performance is usually an indication of weak hitting mechanics. At least that’s a good place to start. When I work with hitters in the middle of a season, I can usually determine whether the problem is mechanical or mental. Mechanical issues can range from a weak set-up position, hands that are too forward, an ineffective load (leg lift and initial weight transfer), poor extension at the point of impact with the ball, and an abbreviated or awkward finish.
During a long season, hitters often lose the hitting form they worked so hard on during the offseason by failing to continually practice the individual components of the swing. Hitters can develop bad habits without even realizing their swing is changing. By concentrating on each of the hitting keys that comprise a powerful and consistent swing during tee or front toss sessions throughout the season, hitters can minimize the physical flaws that can slowing creep into the swing.
Too Much Batter’s Box Noise
In a previous post, “The Mental Side of Hitting” http://wp.me/p3zdlH-5E , I wrote about how hitters can have two personalities when they enter the batter’s box. They can enter the box with either a clear mind or one filled with too much noise. Hitters with cluttered minds in the batter’s box focus on the last few failed at-bats, a recent error in the field, history with the opposing pitcher, expectations of friends or family members in the stands, or any other negative thoughts. A mind is filled with loads of non-hitting information can negatively affect the physical swing by causing hitters to be tentative, tense, and guess too much before the pitch is thrown.
On the other hand, hitters who enter the batter’s box with a clear mind allow their bodies to perform uninhibited. When the mind is clear, any pressure hitters may feel is minimized. I encourage hitters to focus on only two keys in the batter’s box. When the pitcher releases the ball, I want my hitters to say the word “Release” in their minds and when the ball makes contact with the bat, I want them to say the word “Hit”. In practice, I ask them to actually say these two words out loud. This simple strategy forces the mind to ignore all the clutter, and focus on only what is important—the release of the ball by the pitcher and the contact of the ball with the bat.
Too Many Voices
Another common reason for poor hitting performance is confusing hitting advice from multiple sources. In the post “One Voice” http://wp.me/p3zdlH-S5, I emphasized the importance of finding the right hitting instructor and remaining loyal to his or her voice. Loyalty means having faith in the primary hitting mechanics and overall philosophy of the instructor. It also means avoiding the temptation to needlessly change parts of the swing during a slump. When hitters begin listening to advice from other coaches, they can become confused, which can result in even worse hitting performance.
The hitting keys I have described in this blog are sequential. Starting from the ground up, each of my hitting keys are interrelated and connected through the kinetic energy they generate. If one of them is eliminated or modified, the entire swing will be compromised. When my hitters begin listening to another voice, I will politely encourage them to find another hitting coach. I don’t believe my hitting mechanics and philosophy are perfect for every hitter. However, I have found when my hitters modify one or more of my hitting keys, bat speed decreases and power diminishes. I am actually helping my hitters when I suggest they find a new voice, instead of trying to match mine with someone else.
I like to tell my hitters when they are struggling that baseball and softball are games of second chances. A hitter can strike out the first three times in a game and then hit the game-winning home run. Hitters also have the opportunity to follow-up a challenging season with a great one by working hard on the right mechanics with the right hitting coach with a positive attitude.