Friday, November 28, 2014

Imagery: Mental At-Bats

A mental at-bat is a simulation, a visualization of an actual at-bat, and may include any number of real or imagined stimuli: bat in hand or imagined, uniform on or street clothes, in the dugout during a game or in your living room on a Tuesday night.

Mental ABs use the power of imagery, visualization and the mind's eye, to enhance confidence and emulate the experience gained of having a live at-bat. The power in this practice is in the power of imagery. In relation to confidence from experiences, the mind cannot separate what is real experience from what is imagined.

At Lee University, our lineup card has our game lineup on the left, and our "Mental ABs" lineup on the right. Non-starting hitters practice and go through their in the hole, on deck and pre-AB routines just as they would live in the game.

If a hitter is a part-time player and only gets four at-bats this week, he does not have but four opportunities for focused thought, approach planning and adjustment making. If that same hitter got 16 mental ABs from the four games he in which he did not play, he now has 20 at bats of experience.

Cold outside? Hitting facility closed? Got to the field earlier than anyone else? Tired of studying for your business finance test? GET YOUR MENTAL ABs IN.

Here's an explanation of what imagery is and how to best use it:

And here's a great article on Olympic athletes and their experiences with imagery:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Core Covenants of Hitting Consistency

Consistent performers control what they can control. Attitude, approach, effort and preparation are the core covenants of controllables.

Nothing is more important to a hitter than his attitude.

Attitude is a choice, a decision, a conscious control we each have over our thoughts. Attitude controls thought processes, body language, energy and enthusiasm. If any of these areas are poor, a hitter's chance of success is poor.

Controlling body language and self-talk are the two quickest ways to improve attitude, confidence and performance. A hitter who improves his body language to combat how he feels inside will find that he more quickly feels positive, aggressive and in control.

Bad body language is the mind saying "I'm defeated. I'm frustrated. This is hard. I hate this."

No hitter can have consistent success with thoughts like these.

Approach is not a reference to hunting a breaking ball or trying to pull the ball. Approach is a general term that reflects a hitter's selflessness, perspective and intent. Trying to hit a home run with the bases empty and your team down three is not having a bad attitude. This is a poor approach. This hitter's perspective is not good. His strategy is one of self-importance and ego.

Effort is easy to see. We can all tell when someone is giving less than their best. Often, a poor effort is related to a poor approach. A runner lets off the gas because he is worried about re-injuring a knee that is fully healed. A hitter doesn't lift as hard during his session because he knows there is a game today and he is afraid of being tired or sore.

Often, poor effort is a result of an attempt to avoid pain. Frequently, this perception of potential pain is just that: perception. No real pain is imminent or even likely. Conversely, when an athlete pursues pleasure (i.e. the pride of hard work, the feeling of success, record breaking, winning, etc.), there are few limits, particularly in his effort.

Preparation is as much about having a detailed plan as it is about working hard. Working smart is underrated. Success leaves clues, and the most consistent hitters pay attention to the detailed regimen of professional hitters. Professional hitters are not just hard working, they are smart working.

Each workout has a plan of action, and each plan is a piece of a puzzle that they know how to put together. Working on hitting sliders in the first week back hitting in the off season is not a smart plan. A hitter's pride and ego can be restricting, if his approach to his preparation is not well thought-out.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"When" Is Just As Important As "What"

Part of being a helpful hitting coach is empowering a hitter with mechanical awareness. However, the timing of the hitting "teach" is as imperative as the actual lesson itself.

Most collegiate hitters have some awareness of their swings, and can generalize what they think a good swing should look like. This knowledge, and a desire to create consistency, can cause hitters to analyze and make corrections to each swing. This is an average and unhealthy behavior.

Yes, the best hitters work on their swings relentlessly, but they are working on their energy, focus and concentration as much as they train their mechanics. A thousand swings working on your mechanics doesn't make you a better hitter, necessarily. Intent is king. Purpose is paramount.

Coincidentally, knowing when to coach a hitter with a particular mechanical teach is important. Video review can assist a hitter's awareness and drill work can give a hitter consistency. But when a coach or a teammate makes a mechanical comment to a hitter, are his words well thought out and planned?

Most hitters having success will be resistant to change at that time, and who can blame them? Hitting is challenging. Some elite hitters can make adjustments without sacrificing current success. But let's not think about statistical aberrations here. We're casting a large net.

A helpful hitting coach should evaluate the emotional stability, confidence and current success of a hitter. The goal isn't to give the hitter the answer, but to help him learn the answer.

There will be a time for every hitter on your team, when they crave that interaction, that assistance, that trained eye and communication. If you've been building them up with confidence, energy and passion, hitters will listen keenly to your recommendations.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Most Important Thing You Aren't Practicing: Breathing

Nothing is more important to your hitting success than breathing properly.

Consistent mechanics are important. A committed and aggressive approach is a must. But without the ability to breathe properly, consistently, and deeply enough, you or your hitters are never in complete control.

As world-renowned sports psychologist Ken Ravizza preaches: "You cannot control your performance until you are in control of yourself."

Tom Hanson says "Act Big, Breathe Big, Commit Big."

Both gurus intend for our hitters to practice awareness, positive body language and breathing techniques.

Whether you are teaching your players relaxation techniques through deep breathing for counts of 8 to 10, or teaching them to take slow and deep breath, an increased awareness of their heart rate will improve their in-game success.

Here's a great article, with plenty of science behind breathing: