Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Big Game


                                                                                           (photo credit: nytimes.com)

Today's the big game. A rivalry game. An undefeated season on the line. Maybe today is a championship game. Or Scout Day. Today is the day you've been working toward for months. For you, for your team. Today is the big day. The big game.

What will I do to be special today? How can I step up? These are dangerous thoughts.

When the big game arrives, you have either put in the preparation, or you haven't. Players who perform consistently high in practices will have the confidence to perform consistently high in games. Players who perform well in regular season games should play with confidence in big games.

It doesn't take a Hall of Famer to tell you that the rules of the game haven't changed. A 90 mph fastball is still coming in at 90 mph. The requirements in approach and swing path are still the same. Why, then, do some struggle more than other in big games?

Hitters who have big game success have practiced at high speeds, have created intensity in their minds in regular season games, and know how to gain control and slow their minds down.

When the mind is slow, the body can react.

When our belief is that we have to do something different as a hitter, or if we feel unprepared, we get stressed and don't breathe as deeply. Muscles tighten, brain function slows just enough to affect clarity and precision. Results suffer. Ok, so we know we have to breathe well while in the midst of stressful competitions. What else can you do?

Visualize. The part of the brain that processes real information can differentiate those experiences from those that you vividly imagine. Practicing mental imagery creates confidence in preparation that never actually took place. Your brain can take you through scenarios that, when presented with similar real life images or information, feel familiar. Familiarity breeds calmness and confidence.

Here is a link to great info and instructions from Brain Cain on practicing visualization.

Great big game hitters also have perspective. Over-focusing on the meaning or importance of a scout day or a rivalry game creates a need to do well. When your body goes into fight or flight mode, your adrenaline and cortisol levels rise so high that your body's fine visual focus and manual accuracy are compromised.

The feeling of desperation can be helpful in athletics, but not in hitting.

Big moments require high energy, aggressiveness and instinct. But if you aren't playing with the same energy and intent every single day, you will feel the need to step up.

If the big game is wildly different in your mind than a regular game , your results will be compromised.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Symptoms vs. Problems.


When you get a cough, the cough isn't the problem. Your virus is the problem.

Many hitters diagnose their own swing problems incorrectly.For example, they believe their inability to stay through the baseball is a problem with their hands rolling over too soon.

What truly happened was that their center of gravity was too high or too far forward, disallowing them from retaining separation between their load and their stride, causing them to have less bat speed and their contact point to be too far forward. Then the hands rolled over.


                                                                                    (photo credit: dailyclimate.org)


There are many other examples. You all have heard the genius coaching tag line, "keep your head on the ball."

To the human eye, processing 30 frames per second, the collegiate or pro hitter appeared to yank his head pull-side in a desperate and futile effort to pull the baseball. What actually happens, when you analyze these swings with post-1980 technology, is that the hitter got beat. His body's natural reaction to making contact with the ball down the barrel, nearer the handle, was to evacuate the zone. Had he continued through with a normal swing path, his fingers would have felt as if they had been individually pulled from his hands, ringing with a sharp pain we all can remember.

Simply, when hitters feel mid-swing that they are beat, they pull every part of their body out of the zone in an attempt to salvage their hands, and perhaps, advance the ball more firmly than should they have continued on with natural extension.

Those are mechanical symptoms.

Even more challenging to evaluate, without proper communication with a hitter, are approach problems. Often these are misdiagnosed by the resident hitting guru as bad mechanics, or worse yet, the coach says the hitter "just doesn't know how to hit."

The student is often not the problem. Someone once said, "there are no such things as incapable students, only teachers who cannot properly communicate or adjust."

When a hitter is looking for an oppo FB and swings at a FB middle in, it looks like he has all sorts of swing flaws! His approach might have been good. But his commitment to his approach was the problem. His bad mechanics were a result, a symptom of the problem.

Many times, the mechanical problems begin with problems in the lower half. What should you look for? Start here:

1.) Center of gravity (high, low). High COG creates uncontrollable movement forward. The hitter isn't in control, gravity is. Timing is inconsistent. High COG creates more problems than a bull in a China shop. High COG is the most common mechanical problem I see in amateur hitters.

2.) Separation between stride and load. If their is no stretch in the bottom arm, there is no space to accelerate. Sure, you've got great barrel control, but with zero bat speed. Congrats on sucking.

3.) Hand path. Hitting coaches are notorious for talking about hitting with the hands, staying inside the baseball, etc. The reality is, if you create your bat speed by pushing your hands (linear hand path), you will be a low ball hitter, struggle with velocity IN and/or UP, and make most of your outs pull side on the ground and oppo in the air. You will lack your max ability bat speed, and will have to commit earlier than hitters who have elite swings.