Next up on our mental game series is a routine I think is so important I devoted a separate article to it: developing a release. A release is a physical action that a player uses to help transition from the past to the present. The action signifies that the player is moving on from what has happened and is refocusing on the present. Athletes get into trouble when the past interferes with what they are currently doing, so utilizing a release is a great way to transition to what is most important -
Constantly hanging on to baggage from the last pitch will erode your abilities and ruin your enthusiasm for the game by constantly dwelling on moments where you couldn’t get it done. This negative self-destruction cycle happens more often in baseball because of the game breaks between pitches, action, and at-bats. These breaks allow players time to think about what has happened prior - good or bad. If players are not able to move on from recent negative outcomes, game breaks will eat their confidence away by constantly reminding them how much they suck. The less confident we are, the more likely the ball is going to come our way soon - and the result won’t be pretty.
Coaches: To avoid this snowball effect of negative thoughts, teach players how to utilize a release. We want to create athletes that live in the present and play with great joy, courage, and enthusiasm. Physical mistakes are a part of the game. Former MLB Performance Coach Steve Springer likes to say, “If you haven’t gone 2-20 at some point in your career, you haven’t played long enough.” If kids are going to fall on their face at some point, we need to teach them how to deal with failure - not to avoid it.
As for what a release looks like, there is no one answer. Aaron Judge picks up a handful of dirt and tosses it to the ground to “throw away” the last pitch. Evan Longoria picks up the foul pole and takes a deep breath before stepping into the batter’s box. Sports psychologist Ken Ravizza had Cal State Fullerton players flush a miniature toilet in the dugout whenever they wanted to “flush their mistakes away.” Oh, and they went on to win the national championship that year.
An important point to remember when developing a release is it becomes much more powerful when utilized with a deep breath. By adding a breath, the physical action takes on a new meaning by coupling it with a mental state of relaxation. The combination creates a powerful message for the player and helps give the release a purpose - be where your feet are. Doing the action by itself will not help players - it must be purposeful to the athlete! When the game speeds up, don’t let kids forget how to breathe!
How to Implement
Keep it simple when it comes to creating a release: Make it consistent, repeatable, and practical for competition. Examples include taking your hat or helmet off, unstrapping and re-strapping your batting gloves, looking at a spot on your bat, picking up a spot in the outfield, wiping away dirt with your cleats, grabbing a handful of dirt, stepping behind the mound, or taking a few more moments before stepping into the box/on the rubber.
Once you figure out something, make sure you and the athlete both know it. This is crucial because the release is a way to signal to your coach that you’re getting re-focused on the next pitch. If your coach cannot see you go through your release, it is a sign that the game is speeding up and you are losing control. If you cannot be in control yourself, you’ll never be able to control your performance. Release the bad, bring in the good.
When you can figure out something that makes sense for each player, make sure it is used all the time! Practice is a great way to work on your release after you have a bad swing, boot a ball, or throw a bad pitch. Like anything we’ve talked about on here, you must practice it for it to show up in games. Point out when athletes do it well and encourage others when it’s not done so well. Have athletes describe what it feels like when it’s done well compared to when it’s not done so well. Using a release should help a player clear their mind, relax, lose unnecessary tension, eliminate doubts, and create confidence. If the athlete cannot feel any of these things, it’s worth revisiting their release to see how it can be done better for next time.
The bottom line is this: Athletes are not perfect and they are going to make mistakes. If our practices demand perfect conditions and leave no room for physical errors, we’re simply not preparing kids for games. Jonny can field every single ball cleanly in practice and feel great, but the whole ball game changes when he boots the first one he sees in his game.
While every drill and rep needs to be done with game-like intensity, it will only harm your athletes if you scald every physical mistake made in practice. Instead of creating competitors who love to take on challenges and better themselves, you’re going to create players who are afraid to fail. If our goal is to teach players the skills they need to compete in games, we are doing a disservice if we don’t teach them how to address and deal with failure. Creating an individualized release for each player on your team is a step in the right direction.
This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.