At practice we as coaches tend to spend most, if not all of our hitting time on the mechanics of the swing and getting reps in BP. A few years ago after realizing that we had some players who had perfect mechanics and weren’t hitting above .200, I chose to reevaluate what were we doing at the plate. I began to sit with players and ask them what their process, routine and mindset was when they were at the plate. It was startling to find out that most players didn’t have any and were guessing most of the time once they were in the box. Soon afterwards we began to try to spend a good deal of time at practice working on these things and we named it the Batters Box Battle Mindset. This consists of three things for us. Routine, Breathing and Approach.
The first of these is Routine & Breathing. We have our players write out and work on having a routine they can repeat during each at bat. We will even have a routine or breathing station in our hitting stations.
A common routine that many of our players use is:
1) Step one foot in the box and look down at the 3B Coach. Take a deep breathe in. Hold it. Then release.
2) Step into the box with both feet with a swagger, a confidence that you’re ready to rip it.
3) When you get into the box on each pitch, sweep your feet through the batter’s box as if you were cleaning it. You’re wiping away past AB’s and past pitches.
4) Take your bat and hit it on the plate slow and controlled. But not just anywhere on the plate. Finding a little pebble on the plate or outside corner. Something to help you focus on something small and zone out your other AB’s and be present in this AB.
5) Bring the bat up slow and controlled and lay the bat on your shoulder. Take a look at the pitcher and then take a another deep breath in and out. Relaxing your mind and body.
5) Get in rhythm with your body and have some positive self talk like “rip it, rip it, rip it”.
There are a lot of benefits to having a routine in the box. It can help hitter’s stay focused, yet relaxed and present in each pitch and each AB. It helps hitters stay comfortable in some otherwise uncomfortable situations as well.
The routine is a normal part of life according to future baseball Hall of Famer Nomar Garciaparra.
Some people wash their face then brush their teeth. Some brush their teeth first.”It’s more to get yourself focused than anything,” Garciaparra said. “You can askanybody if they take the same way to work every day. Or, if there’s going to be a big day, do they put on a certain shirt? Or if they’re going for a job interview, do they wear a certain thing? People do it in all walks of life.
University of Oregon All-American Alexa Peterson has been doing it so long she considers it more of a habit than a special routine. Routines can be broken. Habits are hard to break. Peterson has to do it, or the at-bat doesn’t feel right. “What I do is clean out the box,” Peterson said. “I dig my spot with the right foot. Then wipe it with the left.”
Each player should come up with their own routine that gets them comfortable at the plate and in the batter’s box. Each player’s routine is unique to her. If you watch major leaguers you’ll notice that they have all sorts of routines at the plate. There are times at practice where we practice this. The player will go through their routine and breathing and then take a swing visualizing a Home Run and come trotting out of the box. I talk to our hitters a lot about how the more relaxed their mind and body is during an at bat that not only will their heart rate be lower and mind clearer but their bat speed and strength will be increased as well.
A teammate of Chipper Jones once said that Chipper would look so relaxed at the plate in big situations that it looked like he was going to fall asleep.
The next, final and most important element of the Batters Box Battle Mindset is having a good approach. We talk about work on this every day in practice, scrimmages and games.
The approach that we like to have when at bat is what we call “Aggressiveness under Control”. H.A. Dorfman gave a perfect example in regards to how to do that at the plate. He says, “Every car has an accelerator and a brake. The accelerator represents aggressiveness – helping you get to where you’re going. The brake represents control – assuring that when you get there, you’re in one piece. Gas pedal and brake are necessary to appropriate operation of the vehicle, as both aggressiveness and control are essential to successful hitting. You see hitters are like a car. And the car’s movement starts by hitting the gas pedal first. That’s aggressiveness. A hitter’s first thought before going to the plate should be about making good, solid contact. She anticipates a pitch she can hit and is ready for it when she sees it. She does not anticipate taking a pitch, because then, seeing a pitching in the hitting zone, she’ll be surprised by it. Aggressiveness is her operative approach. On the other hand, her “control’ is based on using her eyes when she gets to the plate. That’s how she steers the bat to the ball. She hits the brakes only when she sees a pitch she does not want to swing at. Her eyes are essential for that discipline. That control.”
A lot of players that I first work with either don’t have an approach at the plate or they have an approach that makes it difficult to be aggressive. We still have hitters in our lineup that try to react to the pitch and read it before deciding whether to swing.
ESPN’S Sport Science did an episode on the speed of softball showing that a pitch traveling at 70mph at a release point of 37 feet gives the batter .35 seconds to react to the pitch. If our approach isn’t YES, YES, NO that .35 seconds goes by even quicker. By starting with the mindset of YES the batter only has to choose visual cues that are NO’s. We focus on those visual cues being high/low, inside/outside and rise. Anything else is (hopefully) within the strike zone and we’re taking a hack at it. When we have players strike out looking, I will always check in with them on what their mindset was on that pitch. A lot of times the answer will be “I was looking for this and she threw this instead” admitting that they got away from thinking just YES, YES, NO.
We have two rules on our team regarding what players are allowed to think about during an at bat. They are allowed to focus on breathing (with the goal of 2-3 deep breathes) and YES, YES, NO and that’s it. The mechanics of their swing, the scoreboard, the crowd and everything else has to be eliminated so that their .35 seconds can be focused on giving them the best chance to hit the ball hard.
If you’re looking for a way to improve your teams hitting ask yourself about how much time you spend on routine and approach. Take some time to sit and talk with your players about their current routines and approach and I think you’ll be surprised at the answers. I think you’ll find that they’re not as ready to get into a Batters Box Battle as you’d like them to be.