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I recently attended the 2019 ABCA Convention in Dallas, TX from January 3-6 (It is a wonderful event and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in coaching!). At the convention I was able to listen to Steve Springer speak about hitting.  Springer enjoyed a 14-year career in professional baseball amassing 1,592 hits in 1,591 games with six different organizations. He previously worked as a performance coach for the Toronto Blue Jays where he instructed players about the mental game.  Some of Springer’s clientele include MLB All-Stars Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollack, Mark Trumbo, and Nolan Arenado.

Throughout the talk, Springer emphasized the importance for a hitter to have an approach.  In his opinion, it is the most important part about hitting!  He teaches the approach through a few simple ideas that kids can start implementing immediately in their game.  Like any physical skill, they need to be worked on and practiced so they can transfer to games.  

The first point Springer made was 90% of a hitter’s success is about walking up to the plate with confidence.  This is so hard for a lot of kids because they constantly beat themselves up over things they do not have any control over!  The biggest culprit of these is their most recent game performance. It’s easy to feel confident when you’re 4-4, but it’s very hard to feel good when you haven’t had a hit in your last 10 at-bats! This becomes the ultimate challenge: How do you consistently walk to the plate with confidence regardless of the score, your stats, or the guy on the mound?

Springer believes it begins with adopting what he calls an “Opening Day” mindset.  No hitter on Opening Day has ever walked to the plate without any confidence.  Why? Because they don’t have yesterday to beat them up!  It’s easier said than done, but walking to the plate feeling the same way when you’re 4-4 or 0-4 is critical for consistent performance.  When you don’t have the weight of your stats beating you down, you’re free to play the game focused on the most important pitch out there - the one you’re about to see!

Second, Springer believes kids need to change their goal when they walk to the plate.  Instead of trying to get a hit, Springer believes kids need to go to the plate with “an attainable goal to hit the ball hard and help their team win.”  Of course it’s important for hitters to get their knocks, but sometimes getting to first base depends on a little bit of luck.  Jonny can dribble a ball down the third base line, turn it into an infield single, and then smoke one at center fielder his next at-bat - only to be caught!

This is why Springer dislikes using batting average to measure the success of players.  Instead, he likes to use quality at-bats.  Some examples of quality at-bats include hitting the ball hard, drawing a walk, seeing a lot of pitches in an at-bat, laying down a sacrifice bunt, or scoring a run through a ground ball or fly ball.  All of these have one big theme in common - helping your team win the game! For these reasons, Springer believes hitters need to forget about getting base hits and instead focus on what they can control - hitting the ball hard and helping their team win!  By committing to a consistent, attainable goal with your focus on the good of the team, your stats will take care of themselves.

In the batter’s box, Springer talks about “hunting speeds”.  These speeds (pitches) should be determined by what the pitcher is throwing and when.  As Springer likes to say, “Should you look for what you want to get? Or what you’re going to get?”  This involves the hitter dialing in on a specific pitch and a location on the plate (in, middle, out) for every count that they’re in.  By creating a narrow focus, the hitter is going to be more prepared for what’s to come by anticipating a likely outcome.

To summarize Springer’s thoughts on approach:

  1. 90% of a hitter’s success is walking to the plate with confidence. Believe in your abilities, you are a good hitter!  
  2. Adopt an “Opening Day mindset” - no pitch is more important than the pitch you are about to see! There’s no sense in letting yesterday beat you up when yesterday doesn’t win the today’s games!
  3. Go to the plate with an attainable goal to hit the ball hard and help your team win the game.  You create pressure on yourself when you make it about yourself and your statistics. Focus on being a great teammate!   
  4. Look for what you’re going to get, not what you want to get!   
  5. Hunt one speed in a specific part of the plate.  It’s hard to hit 95 and 79 at the same time!

For more information about Steve Springer, you can visit his website at qualityatbats.com or follow him on Twitter @qualityatbats.  Reach out to us with any questions or concerns. Keep on getting after it!



This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.  

*This article is from a Facebook post from Ken Koenen, we do not own the rights to its content.*

Twenty years ago, in Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA's convention.

"While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man, worth every penny of my airfare.”

Who is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter; I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who is this guy?

After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage. Then, finally …

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”

After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?”, more of a question than answer.

“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Another long pause.

“Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”............“Seventeen inches!”

“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?

“Seventeen inches!”

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello !” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'”

Pause. “Coaches… what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice? or when our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate? "

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline.

We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We just widen the plate!”

Pause. Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”

Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross. “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it.”

“And the same is true with our government. Our so-called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate! We see our country falling into a dark abyss while we just watch.”

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable.

From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: "If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools & churches & our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside, “…We have dark days ahead!.”

Note: Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach. His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players—no matter how good they are—your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches."

And this my friends is what our country has become and what is wrong with it today, and now go out there and fix it!

"Don't widen the plate."

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