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)



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