Historically there has been some stigma around mental training and mental toughness. For the bulk of baseball history it’s been thought that mental toughness is something that you either have or you don’t. It can be embarrassing to admit that you need help with your mental game and for that reason players can feel alone, like they’re the only one’s who are struggling. Yet when questioned as to what percentage of their teammates struggle with the mental side players routinely answer 90% or more. This tells us that needing help developing the mental aspects of performance is more the norm. Player’s that seem to just “have it” are the outliers and not the other way around.
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.
If you’re like most of the people across the globe right now you’re spending a lot of time at home. Quarantine life has certainly thrown a wrinkle in our day to day routine and many hitters are feeling like their development is in a holding pattern. Like most things in life however this is merely a matter of perspective. Sure, you probably can’t get in the batting cage as often as you used to, unless of course you’re one of the lucky ones with a cage in the backyard. You might not even have access to a tee and a net. Yet this doesn’t mean you can’t still be developing and improving. In fact, this could be the very opportunity you need to focus on some of the more detailed, and frankly more important aspects of hitting that maybe you’ve been neglecting.
Having a quality approach at the plate is one of the best ways to put yourself in the best position to succeed. Too often however, hitters either don’t take the time to formulate such an approach or if they do they unknowingly end up creating an approach that is far from empowering. Typically, hitters tend to set an approach that is result oriented. One that is focused on achieving a particular result. This could be anything from moving a runner over, to driving a run in, to getting a hit, or even hitting a ball hard. Unfortunately, having a result oriented focus leads to inconsistent performance at the plate.
Something that’s rarely discussed in hitting circles is how the effort with which we swing impacts our overall level of performance. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of hitting “gurus” tell hitters that they need to be swinging with full intent or they’ll say things like “try to drop a tank!” But is this the best approach? Does this approach lead to consistent performance? Does swinging with 100% effort allow a hitter to maximize their power production? The simple answer would be yes. Our conditioning tells us that the harder we try the more success we’ll experience. However, when we dig a little deeper we recognize that peak performance occurs when a hitter is more effortless than effortful.
During this time of year you begin to read more and more on social medial about people looking back on the year and reflecting on what has transpired that they are grateful for. Taking time each day to cultivate a sense of gratitude has been proven to help people reduce stress, be happier, and gain more of a sense of fulfillment in their lives. But does it have the power to increase performance at the plate?
I’m often asked, “What can I do to develop my mental skills?” Like a lot of things we are looking for some complex sort of drills. Some step by step manual about how to develop the skills that lead to peak performance. While there certainly are a number of great exercises out there that can be used to develop the mind my personal favorite is relatively simple. I like to use the events that transpire in everyday life to help me develop the skills necessary to perform at a higher level.
If you’re as old as I am then you remember the cartoons from the ’80’s and ’90’s. The ones where one of the characters would be visited by two alter-egos that sat on each shoulder. One would always represent what was good, kind, and right and was portrayed wearing angel wings and sporting a halo. While the other represented something negative, usually anger, hate, or revenge. This character was depicted as the devil, probably colored red with a pointy tail and horns. Ultimately, it was the decision of the character in question as to which voice he listened to.
If we really want to maximize every opportunity as a hitter it’s important to keep things simple. We need to have a process that’s going to allow us to be present, repeat our mechanics, and learn from the results we produce. Regardless if we’re practicing on our own, in team practice, or competing in a game there are 4 simple steps that you can perform to get the most out of each practice session or maximize your performance in a game.
One of the most difficult things as a hitter is to accept when things aren’t going our way. One of the most powerful things we can train ourselves to do is to completely accept the situation we’re in with out resisting it in any way. What does that mean??? Let me give you an example… Let’s say you’re up to bat and the count is 1-1. The pitcher delivers the pitch and the umpire makes a terrible call. Now you’re down 1-2. Most hitters get upset, they feel robbed of an opportunity where they would be in a more advantageous count. Their mind begins spiraling out of control, they become frustrated, maybe even angry over the blown call by the umpire.