Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Great Teammate


                                                                                (photo credit: forbes.com)



A great teammate is an energy giver. You can trust a teammate who always gives energy. You know that he gives past the point of exhaustion, boredom and pain. 

A great teammate runs every ground ball and pop up out with 100% intensity. He comes early to the field. He stays late. 

A great teammate trusts himself and his teammates. He doesn’t curse after a bad at bat. He doesn’t make loud noises and hit things to draw attention to his own “care factor.” 

A great teammate encourages. A great teammate holds his teammates to the standards of the program. 

A great teammate communicates and asks questions. He isn’t afraid to be wrong, and isn’t afraid to fail. 

A great teammate keeps going. He is relentless.

A great teammate hustles to the field when he’s late from class. 

He has great focus in the dugout and on deck. 

A great teammate looks for tips and free pieces of information from the pitcher. A great teammate carries equipment that isn’t his, before a coach asks him to do so. He is selfless. He knows the team only grows more when he gives more. 

A great teammate communicates on defense, regardless of his age, talent or position. He isn’t afraid to say the wrong thing. 

A great teammate has perspective. He is enthusiastic, but not reckless. He is patient, but not passive. A great teammate cares about his brothers and shows his love with effort, intensity, energy and communication.

Are you a great teammate?

                                        (photo credit: active.com)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

How to Practice "The Zone"



The very best hitters have trained themselves how to shift in and out of a soft and hard mental focus. They use their routines, breathing, and self-talk to bring themselves into a peak mental state, primed for attack.

The best hitters are no more than momentarily deterred by bad calls, belligerent fans, bad swings, bad at bats, or other distractions, no matter the stage. Think about when you were playing your best, swinging a red-hot bat. The ball was more clear, the swing felt effortless, the ball exploded off the bat. This is the "zone."

Why can't we live in the zone? Why do most hitters not have their best years until their last years? Is it simply physical maturation? Surely not. Think of all of the freshmen All-Americans. What do they do so well? Even when scouting reports get out, those guys keep hitting.

Too many cage sessions include bad self-talk, bad body language and inconsistent focus as hitters worry about their mechanics. In order to have successful rounds in the cage, you must separate rounds where you 1.) Focus on mechanics, from rounds where you 2.) Quiet your mind and compete.

Hitters must practice getting into the zone. How?

Imagine an hour glass, like the one seen above. A human's ability to focus is best utilized in short, high bursts of attention. The human mind is easily distracted, and when a hitter's mind is distracted, his thoughts detract from his ability to execute the task at hand: hit the ball hard.

To physically practice getting into the zone, you must have the "4 R's" in what peak performance coach Brian Cain calls his system 4RIP3.

1.) Routines

Routines are the foundation of all success. - Ken Revizza

A routine gives you stability. Routines are what you do no matter how you feel and no matter how you are swinging, hot or cold. You create a routine, you believe in the routine and you always do the routine. The routine might include your footwork in setting up, touching your batting gloves, touching your helmet, tugging on your jersey, tipping your bat a certain way. This is part of the routine. Humans take pleasure in routine, and the stability they create gives us a calm, yet constant place to go to emotionally.

This place of habit, stability, comfort and calm, gives us our best chance, when combined with quality breathing and aggressive self-talk/intent, of staying in the zone.

                                                                                            (photo credit: cbssports.com)

The 2015 ABCA/Rawlings National Player of the Year Dansby Swanson, the number one overall pick in the MLB Draft, hit: .335/.423/.623 with 24 2B, 6 3B and 15 HR...and 54 K. Dansby wasn't perfect. But he was committed, aggressive and relentless. He knew how to breathe to re-center himself, and he could clearly communicate what he wanted to do with a pitch or inside of a sequence because he was under control emotionally.

And if you ask him, I bet Dansby would tell you that he practiced with intent. He competed during his BP rounds. Mechanical adjustments were off the field, and the zone was honed in the cages. By game time, he had a process of how to get himself into his highest level of peak performance, regardless of distractions.

The next part of the mental game is much easier when you always have a routine:

2.) Recognize
3.) Release
4.) Refocus

I won't dive into the three of these today. If you want more info from these, see my earlier post called "The Mental Game System: 4RIP3" posted January 18, 2014.

Work smart this winter! Acquire the skill that means the most. Practice your routines, dominate your routines, believe in your routines, and you will have your most consistent season ever. Spend 25% of your swings working on mechanics, 75% working on approaches/competing.

                                                                                                            (photo credit: mlb.com)



Friday, December 4, 2015

Have a Plan: Hit Smarter In the Cages This Winter


                                                                                            (photo credit: youtube.com)

Many hitters do not hit with an organized plan. They know they are going to hit today. That is their plan.

To be a good teacher, you have to have an organized plan. To become a stronger athlete, you have to have an organized weight training program. To become more fit, you need an organized nutrition plan. To rebuild a car, you need an organized plan. You get the point.

So, why do so many hitters hit with no plan and expect success? We call hitting the hardest single task in sport, and then show up to the gun fight with a sword.

To be a better hitter, we must practice intentionally.

We know the swing is important. A great swing maximizes bat speed, contact opportunities and assists good approaches. And no hitter can be consistent without a strong approach and ability to make adjustments. So, off to the cages we go to work on our swings, out bat speed, our contact and our approaches.

First, the average hitter gets loose with four or five swings, mixed with a couple of awkward half-stretches and back twists. Ah, there we go. After one hard contact and a couple of 6-4-3s, we're ready to really start hitting.

Let's back it up and start throwing to each other. Now is the time when many hitters "get on time for the fastball." Which one? One fastball velocity can have a relative velocity difference of up to 12 mph in the strike zone. An 85 mph fastball thrown down and away has a relative velocity of 79 mph while the same 85 mph fastball up and in has a relative velocity of 91 mph. Think you can sit on 85 and handle 91 and 79 in locations opposite to each other in the strike zone? Good luck. You may make contact, but you won't hit many balls hard. {For more information on relative velocity, see my previous posts "Box Positioning" (4/25/15) and "I Hate Slow Pitchers" (7/16/15).}

These types of cage hitting philosophies (or lack there of) are prime recipes for meddling in mediocrity and frustration. Don't be average, folks.

Let's create a plan. Every hitter should have a plan for what he is going to accomplish in the cage that day. That plan should be a progression from fundamentals to more challenging aspects of hitting, and can include mechanical focuses, varying approaches, changes in velocity, adjustment making, mental game training, strength training and vision training.

Quality of Swings

When you step into the cage, preset how many swings you are going to take. This innately makes the round competitive. You know how many swings you are taking and you will focus more on each repetition. The quality of the work immediately improves.

To start, cap a round at 12 swings. Elite hitters will take so much time between pitches to go through their routine, that they may only take one swing every 10 seconds. Most hitters take one swing every four seconds. This is an enormous difference in ability for the body to physically reset, and for the mind to refocus. Hitting is an anabolic movement. It's explosive. If you're swinging every four seconds, you must be trying to lose weight while you hit.

Instead of getting tired and pushing through, hoping to finish your round on a swing that makes you feel good, set parameters and goals for each round. When each round and each swing is competitive, the thought process and adjustment making between swings should become more intentional and game-like.

Approach 

Rather than just seeing it and hitting it, know whether you are looking for a fastball or an off-speed pitch. What are you sitting on? Then hunt one side of the plate or the other.

You cannot cover the entire plate. Sure, you can hit the baseballs thrown anywhere on the plate, but that shouldn't be your goal, should it? Desire to hit each ball with energy and aggressive flight into a gap. Let your misses be hard contacts that find holes.

Don't seek to make contact. You'll achieve that goal too easily, and create a manipulative, handsy swing that lacks bat speed, and commits to pitches at the same instance that it generates bat speed. Your outs will be pull-side on the ground and opposite field in the air. Sound familiar?

Making Changes/Level of Difficulty

If you are seeking to improve your swing, work off of the tee, and progress no further than front toss. If you can't master front toss with a swing adjustment, you will struggle against a live arm.

Once you have success against a live arm, increase the velocity to one that feels increasingly more stressful each round. Move the L-screen closer to the hitter, or have the BP pitcher throw harder. Eventually, we can work on the most challenging elements of hitting that mimic the most difficult game moments: high velocity/high spin fastballs, low and away fastballs, aggressive off-speed approaches and two-strike approaches.

If you have access to a pitching machine, this transition can be easy. If not, don't settle for the same old easy, feel good BP. That isn't building your swing, and it isn't challenging enough to truly build your confidence.


Note Taking

Many MLB hitters take notes. Some of them even do it in game. Taking notes allows hitters to retain more information, and to create a thesaurus of at bats, approaches, pitches, emotions, etc.

When you hit, take a note pad with you. This is Josh Donaldson's tweet from November 13th of last winter. Did he end up having a good season? What's an MVP?



This holiday season, be a giver. Give the gift of intelligence. Help your teammates work smart.

Be creative, be intentional, be prepared.