Mechanics, mechanics, mechanics. It’s all anyone wants to talk about. It makes total sense. I mean, it’s the thing we see. The swing is front and center and the most enjoyable aspect of hitting to work on. For a far back as I can remember the bulk of hitting has always had a focus on the swing. With all the latest technology we’ve only gone deeper down the rabbit hole. Unfortunately, just like the proverbial iceberg the swing is just the tip. The bulk of what drives performance in hitting lies beneath the surface.
Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy talking about and teaching swing mechanics as anyone. However, if there’s anything that I’ve learned over the last 35 plus years as a player and a coach it’s that you can’t simply copy another hitter’s swing and expect to have the same level of success. Are there certain principles that need to be met? Sure! What’s rarely discussed however is that the best hitter’s in the game are usually as successful as they are NOT because of their swing but because of their mental game and their approach. I’d say that most hitters understand this at least intellectually. Almost 100% of the hitters I’ve had the pleasure to work with or be around will tell you that that their mental game and approach are more important than their swing. Yet during competition with their results don’t match their expectations their questions are centered around what they did or did not do mechanically. When most hitters don’t experience the success they desire their first response is to question what they did wrong in their swing. Likewise, many coaches will try to help a player be more successful by giving them something mechanical to adjust. Unfortunately this leads to inconsistent performance and increased frustration. Why? First of all, there are a myriad of reasons as to why a hitter is or is not successful and almost none of them are swing based. Secondly, unless you adjust from the source your swing won’t change. What I mean is our mindset drives our ability to execute. Unless you shift your mental state any physical attempt to change your mechanics will fail to produce consistent success. So, during competition, before you fall into the trap of asking yourself or your coach “What did I DO wrong?” and focusing on your swing here are four questions that will provide you with more valuable information that will help you make better adjustments pitch to pitch…
Did I swing at pitch within my approach?
First of all, if you’re not going up there with an idea of what pitches in what locations you’re looking for then you’re shooting yourself in the foot and not giving yourself the best chance to be successful. At the speed at which the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand and enters the catcher’s glove it is nearly impossible to cover every pitch the pitcher showcases in every location. I won’t go too deep into it in this post however, please understand that your approach should eliminate certain pitches in certain locations so that you have a very defined idea of what pitches you want to execute on. That all being said, if you produce a less than desirable result the first question you should ask yourself is “Did I swing at a pitch within my approach?”. Did you get the pitch you were looking for or did you swing at a pitch outside of the area you were looking? Did you chase a pitch up, down, in or out? Did you swing at a breaking pitch when you wanted a fastball? If you answer “No” then the adjustment you need to make isn’t swing based. You need to get a better pitch to hit. You need to be more disciplined and attack a pitch that going to give you a better chance to be successful. There is no swing adjustment to make.
Was I early or late?
Let’s be honest, at the end of the day the pitcher’s job is to disrupt our timing. Our window for success is so incredibly small that if they can get us just a little early or a little late our chance of success goes down dramatically. Being early or late is not a swing issue but more of an issue of pitch recognition. If you find that the result you produced was do to poor timing then there’s no reason to look for a mechanical solution. Your adjustment needs to simply be a timing based one. Start a little earlier or see the ball longer either way there’s no need to change anything about your swing.
What was my effort level or level of physical tension?
If you’ve worked with me before or read any of my other blogs then you know I talk about effort level/physical tension a lot. Our level of physical tension has a direct impact on our ability to execute mechanically. Contrary to popular belief high effort leads to high levels of tension which creates havoc on our fine motor skills. The more tension you carry in a swing the more likely that swing is to breakdown and you’ll “just miss” the pitch you swing at. So why is this important? Because instead of focusing on the aspect of the swing that broke down and then trying to fix that on the next pitch (which only creates more tension and leads to more inconsistent swing execution) you can simply adjust your level of tension or drop your effort level and the swing will fall into place. It’s a much more powerful place to adjust from because you’re putting yourself in a better position to execute on the next pitch allowing your body to perform what it already knows how to do. For example: let’s say you get the pitch you’re looking for, your timing is perfect but you try to do a little too much and your swing breaks down just enough and you foul that pitch straight back. Most hitter’s will focus on what broke down instead or what created the breakdown. If you understand what caused your breakdown now you will adjust from a more powerful place. You’ll recognize that your effort level was up and instead of trying to change an aspect of your swing you’ll simply shift your level of tension and the swing will take care of itself.
What was my intent or what was I focused on?
This final question goes a little deeper to find the source of our experienced breakdown. This question is looking for the source of the physical tension that lead to the less than desirable result. Often our intent on the pitch, whether it was process oriented or result based can dictate the quality of the swing we execute which directly influences the result we produce. Let’s look at a situation where this would play out… You’re in a favorable count, maybe 2-0. You get the pitch you’re looking for, you execute on it, but your swing breaks down just enough to where you pop the ball up or foul it off. Focusing on the swing might tell you that you lost your posture during the swing. If that’s as far as you take things then you would try on the next pitch to maintain better posture and most likely in doing so you’ll repeat the broken swing. However, if you recognize that your swing broke down because your effort level is too high or that you had too much physical tension then you can go a little deeper and ask the above question. In doing so you might recognize that because you were in a favorable count your intent shifted from process oriented to result based. Maybe instead of staying focused on quality swing execution on a hittable pitch your focus shifted to hitting the ball hard, or hitting the ball out of the ball park, or getting a hit. Whatever the case might be the moment your intention or focus shifted away from steps that lead to success you activated your stress response which increased your physical tension, decreased your fine motor skills and created the swing break down you experienced.
The fix in this situation is to simply be more mindful of your intent pitch to pitch. This approach is adjusting from the source of your performance. It’s making a mental shift to put you in a better position to execute a quality swing on a hittable pitch. By making this shift everything else will fall into place. Your pitch recognition will improve, your level of physical tension will decrease, the quality of the swing you execute will increase, and as a byproduct your results will be better. Making adjustments from this level will provide you the most dramatic results. You’ll be much more consistent and be in a better position to be successful pitch to pitch.
Whenever we struggle or produce results we don’t want our natural inclination is to look at the swing. So much of hitting however isn’t swing based and there are multiple reasons as to why you might not be experiencing the success you desire. Instead of going straight to a swing based reason as to why you might be struggling look for what might be causing the issues you’re having. Dig deeper into your mindset, timing and approach to find clues as to what adjustments you need to make. In doing so you’ll experience much less frustration and be in a better position to successful in each individual pitch.