Friday, June 4, 2010

How to Think Less at the Plate

How to Think Less at the Plate

Posted by Patrick Cohn

The ability to swing your bat naturally and instinctively is critical to great hitting. The major purpose of batting practice is to trust your swing when it’s time to play the game. As you get more repetitions through practice, you develop a memory program for that movement.

Soon with a lot of practice, your swing becomes instinctive, natural, and feels effortless to do (you reach a state of over-learning). An effortless reactive swing is essential for superior performance for all skill levels. Most players don’t allow their swing to be reflexive. They focus too much on technique or controlling the path of the bat instead of reacting to the ball.

It gets even worse for many players in big games. Their tendency is to tighten up and not trust the swing in pressure situations. When you focus too much on how to make a good swing, you guide the bat and consciously try to force a hit. Over control causes poor timing and throws off your natural rhythm. The purpose of practice is to build motor memory–that you can rely on in games. When you play, let your instincts take over.

Some baseball players can trust their hitting better than others. When you trust in your swing, you forget about the mechanics of the swing. Let your creative mind take over during competition. Once at the plate, you should react to the pitch. If you think too much about how to make a good swing, the ball will pass you before you had a chance to even make a cut at the ball. Less thinking is better. React to the ball and let your body do what it knows how to do. I call this reacting to what you see and skipping the mental gymnastics.

Do You Ride The Confidence Rollercoaster?

Doubt is the number one killer of your baseball confidence. You might think, “Can I get a hit off this pitcher?” or “Don’t walk this batter!” Your doubts cause you to lose confidence, question your ability and get down on yourself. Without confidence and a strong mental game, you crumble under pressure, play tentatively and under-perform in games.

Doubt isn’t the only challenge for baseball players though. Many players have fragile self-confidence. When you have fragile self-confidence, your confidence varies widely based on what’s happening during a game. When you get a hit, your confidence goes up. On the other hand, when you make a mistake, your confidence drops. We call this the confidence rollercoaster. Your confidence changes from moment to moment depending on your immediate performance.

Monday night’s game with the L.A. Dodgers and Houston Astros is a prime example of how self-confidence can benefit your game. Dodgers’ pitcher, John Ely, in his fourth career start, gave up one run and five hits striking out eight batters. Ely contributed to the 6-2 Dodgers win over the Astros.

“I’m just out here doing what I have always done. I just have complete confidence in what I bring to the table and the fact that if I execute my pitches the way I want to, I feel like I have the advantage. That is the way you have to feel every time out. If you doubt yourself, you’re going to give up hits,” said Ely.

Every time you go to the field, you want to have confidence in your game. Your confidence must not waver because of your opponent or the quality of your practice that week. A stable level of confidence is developed over years of practice and training.

Use your practice, training and preparation to develop the foundation of your confidence. After mistakes, you’ll want to remind yourself of why you deserve to feel confident. Is it your work ethic, your improved curve ball or your ability to come back after mistakes? Remember your strengths to help you feel confident.

“Ely’s going to make you hit it; he’s going to make them do the work. He changes speeds so well, I think that’s really the biggest reason why he’s had the success early on. He’s not afraid to throw the fastball any time. And behind in the count, he’s not afraid to take a little off,” said Dodgers’ manager Joe Torre.

Your mental game of baseball tip is to base your confidence over years of practice and play. Don’t wait until something good happens in the first inning to feel confident. Likewise, don’t allow a single mistake to shake your confidence. Rely on what you can control, such as your practice and preparation to keep your confidence when things don’t go according to plan.

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