It’s that time of the year where games are starting and the excitement is high as hitters now get to showcase what they have been working on all off-season. Then it happens, some guys get off to a great start and some guys get off to a slow start, which is a frustrating time for a kid and parent because he has worked hard all offseason and expectations are high.
How can this be, why is my timing off or why am I not hitting?
I have to remind players and parents to not push the panic button. You have to understand that game setting replication cannot be replicated. It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you just can’t replicate it. Seeing, whatever the competitive velocity is for your level is going to take some time. You’ve got to pick the ball up on time, track the ball, and launch your swing on time. You have to be on-time twice. This is going to take time.
Unfortunately, being in a cold weather state of Oklahoma, a lot of guys did not get much scrimmage time to assist with this process. Scrimmages would essentially be your Spring training.
I think a lot of players and coaches miss the objective of these scrimmages. A lot of hitters and pitchers do not take advantage of these scrimmages in a way that will prepare them for regular season games.
So, what I typically tell hitters, as well as parents:
- The goal early in the season and in scrimmages is to establish your timing. Try and see as many pitches as possible with the sole focus of seeing the baseball. Pick the ball up on time, track the ball, and be in your launch position on time.
- Slow the game down. Be slow with your body and late with your bat. Most guys are late and coaches and parents in the stands feel you need to be quicker and faster when really you want to start slower and earlier.
- Transition your cage mindset, which is to think about what you are working on with your swing, to just compete, see the baseball and hit it. Thoughts will interfere with the decision making process for your brain and body to react.
- Have great awareness of what’s happening. (Ex: Am I missing under? Over? Am I late? Early? Etc) and understand adjustments need to be made on the fly.
- Understand that your swing is likely not the issue. Your swing can be perfect, but if you are not on time with picking the ball up or not on time to launch then you are not going to do well.
- Do not expand your strike zone and press for hits. Trust your process, trust your work and it will come together.
- Stay out of your own way. Any self-doubt at all will have you trying and changing things. Self-doubt is loss of confidence, and when you lose confidence everything goes against your ways.
- Barreling up some baseballs will fix everything.
How long will it take?
Everyone is different. Some guys will get off to a hot start, some guys it will take them several weeks. The goal, however, as you mature as a hitter, you recognize what it’s going to take for you to shorten this time down such as certain cues or thought process.
The key, for now, is to be calm, get out of your own way and trust it will come together.
Most guys, especially younger players, such as high school or below, do not want to have conversations about their at-bat if it isn’t good. But it is important for guys to evaluate their at-bats both good and bad. The guys that are willing to have these conversations and be open to it instead of fighting it and wondering all year long why they are struggling are the guys who will flourish. Most guys will fight it and shed many tears because they are not living up to their own self-made expectations.
So how do we work on this? We have hitters keep a journal. Now we can have honest and deep conversations about what they were thinking and how that at-bat turned out. Did we execute? Did we have the right approach? Why did we swing here and what was the thought process there? So many things we can bring awareness to for hitters to start evaluating their at-bats.
Remember, with kids, it’s not enough for them to relay in memory. They miss details so you must encourage them to keep a journal and have these conversations.
Remember also, young hitters have to be reminded quite a bit about everything. This journal allows you to have these conversations to repeat what you have been repeating for the last year or so. And coaches, you cannot get frustrated with having to repeat your self, they will eventually get it. And sometimes it takes them hearing it from someone completely random, which can be frustrating, but at least they heard the message from another party so there must be some validity.
The last thing I want to share: you are better off not having any expectations and you are better off being where your feet are.
Having no expectations allows you to just play free and loose with nothing to accomplish. The looser and freer you play, the better you will play. Trust your work will take over because it will. Expectations kill a lot of fun for a lot of players.
Be where your feet are. Stay present. Enjoy the game you get to play right now. Enjoy this inning you get to play defense, enjoy this at bat. 99% of people will not play in the big leagues, so learn to play and enjoy everything that’s happening at this very moment.
If the game is kind to you, then it will take you far. But if the game isn’t so kind, which it isn’t to most, at least you played at the moment and you enjoyed it because you had no expectations.