The Swing follows the mind, not the other way around
Hitting is not just about physical mechanics. Though, mechanics are important in the grand scheme of things, the support of a players mind, or lack thereof, is what ultimately dictates a hitters success.
When hitters go from batting practice to game situations they simply don’t forget how to swing a bat. They’ve had thousands and thousands of mechanical repetitions. But what mental repetitions have hitters earned through practice to rely on when they enter the batters box? What mental skills are in place to deal with the potential pressures, consequences and statistics of a game situation? What have hitters done through a daily mental practice to insure that their mind is Quiet, Clear, Relaxed and Free? Does a physically prepared swing necessarily translate into a prepared mind?
One of the major reasons why hitters may find that their physically prepared swing may not be translating into game situations is because they haven’t worked on their mental approach to hitting. In many cases, it may simply be because they’ve never delved into this part of the game…they’ve never identified what their mental approach is, and/or how to work on it through various Drills, Strategies and Mental Exercises (e.g. Relaxation, Imagery, Visualization).
The goal of this article is to do just that — to help you understand how to have a more consistent, mental approach to hitting by: 1) incorporating various mental drills that can be applied on a daily basis (at the practice field) without even swinging a bat, 2) understanding, philosophically, the importance of eliminating the distinction between the practice field and the game environment, and 3) developing a daily mental practice routine away from the playing field.
For unless the mental approach to hitting is identified and addressed, players (and coaches) may wonder why a physically, well earned swing, is not translating into game situations.
“It’s not your swing that changes between the lines”
In all of my years of consulting, it seems pretty clear that most hitters seem to make a major distinction between how they approach and experience the “practice” environment, and how they approach and experience the “performance” environment. For example, in the practice environment, players tend to get used to repeating their swing in a “relaxed” state of mind compared to the potential “stressors” of a game situation. They get “familiar” with this environment, as does their mind, because there aren’t any “real” distractions or consequences at stake (winning, losing, statistics, playing time).
As familiar as practice is, game situations are inversely “unfamiliar” (at least until the daily schedule of professional baseball). For example, the average at-bat in a game situation may last one to two minutes. Four to five at-bats a game equate to approximately five to ten minutes — five to ten minutes of being in an actual game situation “mind-set” pales in comparison to the countless hours a week in a practice environment. The reality is, players spend way more time a “practice” mode, and thus, tend to get a false sense of comfort with their preparation.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the typical characteristics that players will tend to associate with a “practice situation” relative to that of a “game situation”. These characteristics include: relaxed, clear minded, free, confident and the absence of major distractions (consequences, statistics, fans, media, umpires, scouts, etc.). Now let’s take a look at those characteristics that may be associated with a game situation because things “count”: tension, pressure, over-thinking and the presence of major distractions (consequences, statistics, fans, media, umpires, scouts, etc.).
What do you think happens when the typical hitter crosses the line and puts the uniform on? Do you think that their mind is as relaxed and comfortable as it is in practice? Do you think that they are the same hitter in the batters box on game day? For most hitters, “putting the uniform on” when “statistics count” can bring into play a lot more variables not only because “consequences” are now in play, but because the mind may be dealing with the foreign elements of a game situation. Unlike a players physical swing, which doesn’t need to “compute” the changing environment, the mind will tend to need some type of mental strategy and/or skill work to make the adjustments to this potentially foreign territory.
In short, the variables that a hitter must deal with in a game situation are relatively foreign compared to the familiarity of a practice environment. This is the irony of why a large percentage of hitters, who work so hard on their hitting in practice, may find it difficult to translate this hard work into a game situation.
Mental Training: Skills Are Learned And Earned
So, how do you work on your mind? How do you get your “mental mechanics” to be as reliable and consistent as your physical mechanics? Well, the first thing you must do is realize that you earned your physical swing mechanics, and that earning your mental mechanics aren’t any different.
The good news is that your mind, like your swing, wants to be trained, taught and practiced. But to do this, it needs your help…it needs input.
Files in the Computer
The beauty of a computer is that it can be programmed to do what you want it to do. It can store files that can be retrieved much in the same manner that the human brain stores memory that can be retrieved. This is the reason why you don’t think about “how” to ride a bike. You do it because the muscle memory has been ingrained and the brain “recalls” those “files”. It happens unconsciously.
Similarly, physical swing mechanics get ingrained due to muscle memory and become stored as a “file”. This is why you don’t think about your mechanics while you are hitting. You also just do it. Theoretically, you could say that from a physical standpoint, your swing mechanics also happen unconsciously.
But what happens when you haven’t “filed” away any mental mechanics? What happens when you get into a game situation and you want to recall such files as clear, relax, free, patient, disciplined, confident, and they haven’t been “programmed”? Not to mention that the computer tends to be more inefficient when it is cluttered by the potential additional “data” of a game situation (potential consequences, statistics, results, distractions). How efficient is your computer going to run now? How clear are your messages going to be? How smooth are your actions going to be? If you don’t store “mental files” through mental practice then how can you expect to recall any of this data from your computer?
4 Drills to Input Data (Files) into the Mind and Body
“Don’t just know your swing…know your mind”
The following 4 drills were designed to help hitters identify their mental approach to hitting by understanding what it means to 1) Get in the batters box with an ideal state of mind (Drills #1 and #2), 2) Get to know their ideal hitting zones through improved pitch selection and discipline (Drill #3), and 3) Learn to maintain the same approach by eliminating the consequences of the situation by committing to their process (Drill #4). Drill #4 helps hitters learn to focus on what they can control (their process) rather than those things that tend to be out of their control.
Drill #1: The Box of Unconscious
When you get down to the most fundamental elements of having a good at-bat, it would be hard to disagree with the notion that it starts with a clear and relaxed mind. When the mind is clear and relaxed, it’s safe to say that your natural instincts (reactions) are in the most ideal position to take over without any inhibition.
Likewise, physical muscle memory (files) can best take over when tension, stress and pres