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In the game of football, the line of scrimmage is the ultimate battleground throughout the course of a game. The goal of the offense is to prevent the defense from penetrating the line of scrimmage in order to open up running lanes and protect the quarterback so he can have more time to throw. The goal of the defense is the exact opposite: blow up the line of scrimmage to clog running lanes, put pressure on the quarterback, and force him to make bad decisions under duress. The team who can consistently control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball wins, while teams who struggle to do either have trouble competing for 60 minutes. This constant battle between the offense and defense is a great way to illustrate a similar battleground on the baseball field: the war of the strike zone.


Just like football, the pitcher and hitter are constantly competing for control of the strike zone. Pitchers are trying to pound the zone early and often so they can get hitters into counts where there are more strikes than balls. Hitters are trying to hit good pitches in good counts where there are more balls than strikes. Pitchers who get ahead are able to put pressure on the batter by making them expand the zone and swing at pitches that initially look like strikes. Hitters are trying to get into counts where pitchers are going to throw their most predictable (and straightest) stuff.


To explain why controlling the count is so important, let’s look at some numbers by count from the 2017 MLB season. When hitters were working with two strikes, they batted .177 (0-2: 0.152, 1-2: 0.159, 2-2: .181, 3-2: .216). When hitters were ahead in the count (more balls than strikes), they batted .366 (1-0: .341, 2-0: .360, 3-0: .414, 2-1: .349, 3-1: 364). In three ball counts, the OBP was .702 (3-0: .946, 3-1: 698, 3-2: 462). In two strike counts, the OBP stood at .244 (0-2: 0.160, 1-2: .166, 2-2: .187, 3-2: .462). If you subtract the 3-2 count (a neutral count), OBP falls to .171 with two strikes.


Based on this data, we can assume a few things:

  1. Pitchers thrive when they get to two strikes quickly (0-2 BA: 0.125, OBP: .160, 1-2 BA: .159, OBP: .166).
  2. Hitters do their most damage when ahead in the count (no BA in hitting plus counts was below .341).
  3. Three ball counts are a hitter’s dream and a pitcher’s nightmare (hitters get on base more than 70% of the time in three ball counts).
  4. The only time when batting averages sunk below 0.300 was when the count went to two strikes. The worst BA in any non-two strike count was .330 in 0-1 counts. The best BA in a two strike count was the 3-2 count (.216).

Let’s dive a little further. Two counts I want to emphasize are the 0-0 count and the 1-1 count.


0-0 Counts


The first pitch is crucial to the direction the at-bat will take. Pitchers are going to throw their best pitches in their highest strike percentage locations in 0-0 counts. They want to get to two strikes as quickly as possible. They’re not going to nibble around the strike zone - they’re going to go right at you with their best stuff.


To avoid falling into two strike counts, most hitters are going to be very aggressive in 0-0 counts. They know the pitcher is going to throw the ball over the plate early in their at-bat. By hopping on pitches early in the count, they reduce the likelihood they’ll see an offspeed of breaking ball later in the count. In 2018, the MLB BA on cutters/sliders and curveballs was .267 and the BA on changeups was .279. On 4 seam and 2 seam fastballs, MLB hitters batted .348.  


In 2017, MLB hitters batted .348 on 0-0 counts and slugged .585. 2017 batting champion and AL MVP Jose Altuve (.346 BA) hit a staggering .449 in 0-0 counts. 2017 AL MVP frontrunner Aaron Judge was just as exceptional batting .400 in 0-0 counts. Mike Trout, another pretty popular name in baseball, batted .447 in 0-0 counts. When we look at all three players in two strike counts, they barely combine to scratch .200 (Trout didn’t even touch .200 in 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 counts).


As a pitcher, this does not mean 0-0 counts are time to nibble. According to research done by Jerry Weinstein, 92.7% of first pitch strikes lead to an out or strike one. 69% of strikeouts begin with a first pitch strike, while 70% of walks start with first pitch balls. If you throw a first pitch strike, there is an 80% chance two of your first three pitches will be strikes. Considering what we know when the best hitters in the world get to two strikes, this is a huge advantage for pitchers.     


1-1 Counts


Aside from 0-0 counts, 1-1 counts are arguably the most important count in baseball. To illustrate this, let’s look at some numbers for what happens after 1-1 counts. If the pitcher throws a strike and gets the count to 1-2, hitters struggled batting .159 with a .166 OBP. If the pitcher throws a ball and lets the hitter work back into a plus count, BA and OBP jumps to .349 and .351 respectively. In the matter of one pitch, we’re looking at a difference of .190 in BA and .185 in OBP.


As a pitcher, 1-2 counts are where we thrive. We can throw our best swing and miss pitches without worrying about whether we’ll walk the batter or not. Hitters can’t be as selective and must battle off a variety of pitches to work themselves back into a favorable count. In 2017 in 1-2 counts, Altuve batted .235, Judge batted .172, and Trout batted .188.  


In 2-1 counts, the options for pitchers are limited in their arsenal based on what pitches they are most confident in throwing for strikes. We know that hitters get on base nearly 70% of the time when the count gets to three balls. We also know that in 2-2 counts, hitters batted .181 at the MLB level in 2017. As a hitter, we don’t have the pressure of fighting off a wicked curveball when the thought of going back to the dugout on strikes isn’t in our mind. Plus counts are where we do our damage. In 2-1 counts in 2017, Altuve batted .444, Judge batted .621, and Trout batted .486. If we’re doing the math from the averages above, that’s a .209 difference for Altuve, .449 for Judge, and .298 for Trout.


To summarize what we’ve talked about:

  • The line of scrimmage to football is what the strike zone is to baseball. Teams who win their respective line of demarcation win games.
  • Pitchers dominate when the count gets to two strikes.
  • Hitters do damage when there are more balls than strikes and when they aren’t in two strike counts.
  • 0-0 counts dictate at-bats. Pitchers who throw strike one succeed. Hitters who hop on a good pitch early have success.
  • There is a huge difference between a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count. Winning the majority of 1-1 counts is crucial.

Coaches: Put a premium on controlling the strike zone in your practices. If you don’t emphasize the importance of hitting in plus counts or getting to two strikes quickly, don’t be surprised when your team can’t do either in games. Below are some ideas on how to do so:


  1. Practice hitting in a variety of counts (0-0, 1-1, 2-0, 0-2).
  2. Talk about approaches in each count (what pitches/locations they’re hunting).
  3. Keep it simple in the box - if you’re looking for everything, you’re not going to be ready for anything. One speed, one location.  
  4. Have pitchers practice throwing with counts to RHH/LHH.
  5. Figure out what pitches/locations they are most confident when they need a strike, strike out, or ground ball.  
  6. Manipulate the count, baserunners (RISP) to create certain situations.  
  7. Develop multiple pitches that can be thrown with confidence in 0-0 counts.
  8. Pitch backwards in hitter plus counts.
  9. Create incentives (not having to do field work, team captain for scrimmage, etc.) for those who rise to the challenge and execute in certain counts.
  10. Keep track of how your team performs in certain counts throughout the season. Especially keep track of 0-0 counts and 1-1 counts.
  11. Record your team and the other team’s walks/strikeouts.
    1. Winning teams: Your walks/how many you strike out - their walks/how many times they struck you out = positive number. Losing teams: Same equation yields negative number.

Information used in this article from the 2017 MLB season can be found below.


Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.



This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

Your body and mind work together like a well-oiled machine to keep you safe when faced with life’s challenges. Whether it’s sharpening your focus or using adrenaline to give you the strength you don’t normally have, the mind will protect you at all costs to ensure your survival. If utilized correctly, your mind can take you to places you never could have imagined. There’s a reason behind the Navy SEAL 40 percent rule: When your body feels as if you can’t give anymore, you’ve still got
60 percent left in the tank
.


If used incorrectly, the powers of your mind will become your worst nightmare.
Your brain will build invisible barriers that you will start to believe. Those barriers are built with help from a small voice in the back of your mind that never seems to shut up when something is on the line. It feeds off negative emotions and manifests a permanent mark on your memory when you find yourself in a similar situation that you once failed.

When you’re about to take a math exam and you need a 75 to pass the class, it’s the voice reminding you about the test you failed just two weeks ago. You’re not good at math, it’s too much pressure. There’s no way you’ll pull off the grade you want.

When you walk up to the podium for that big speech you’ve rehearsed over 100 times, it’s the voice that makes you forget the first line you thought was ingrained in your brain. Look at all those people out there. Imagine what they would think of you if you couldn’t even make it through your opening sentence without stumbling.

When you’re up to bat in the last inning with bases loaded, two outs, and down one run, it’s the same voice giving you every reason why you can’t lead your team to victory. These guys have owned you all day. You’re the worst hitter on this team, you’ll be lucky if you touch anything.  

Instead of facing your fears head-on, this voice won’t let you risk the embarrassment. It might be a cool feeling if you succeed, but just imagine how painful it would be to fail. Who cares how much you’ve worked on your swing in the past month. Now it actually matters, and you haven’t found the barrel in your last eight at-bats. What makes you think that’ll change when it actually matters?

If you can’t tell, this voice is probably the reason why you get so worked up over something you’ve practiced a million times. It’s the reason why you freeze up in the box in the last inning and choke away your last at-bat because you were too worried about failing. It’s the reason why your mental picture of your math study guide all of a sudden went blank during your test. With each failure, the voice grows stronger and stronger until it’s the only thing on your mind when it comes to crunch time. It’s a vicious cycle that will send you back to the drawing boards searching for answers - unless you take action and put an end to the lies it makes you believe.

This is where self-talk comes into play. When you listen to yourself, you hear the fears, doubts, and reasons why you can’t get the job done. When you talk to yourself, you can feed your mind positive thoughts, encouragement, and reasons why you CAN get the job done. Your thoughts are your body’s natural defense mechanism to get you to avoid situations you might fail. Self-talk is how you remind yourself that you’re more powerful than you could ever imagine.

If you’re feeling a little nervous before your big biology exam, starve your negative thoughts with positive self-talk. You’ve prepared as much as you could. You’re ready to go, you got this! Before you take the mic and prepare to address your fellow classmates, remind yourself how you’re going to crush it. You’re a great speaker. How exciting is it to finally share with your friends and family how much you’ve worked to master these next 10 minutes. You’re on the mound with two outs, bases loaded, and the other team’s best hitter ready to erase their one-run deficit? Yeah, wish him luck. You’re the man. There’s nobody better for this situation. He’ll be lucky if he touches one of these next three pitches.

In life, we are always going to face challenges that test our faith, will, and determination. We’re going to make mistakes and fall on our face when the spotlight is beaming on us. Striking out with the game-winning run on third doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes you human. With the right mindset, a work ethic that doesn’t hear the word can’t, and some positive self-encouragement at the right moments, you will overcome these obstacles and use them to propel your game to the next level.   

Our mind fears discomfort. It doesn’t like moments where we’re most vulnerable. It’s a curse that impacts everyone who walks this earth, but the great ones learned how to conquer this by feeding their mind what it needed. When the lights turn on and it’s time to play, you don’t need more reasons why you can’t be the guy. You need the assurance from yourself that you can.  


Don’t let you give up on yourself.
Feed your mind positive words, encourage yourself when you’re down, and give yourself the confidence to rise up to any challenge that comes your way. If you’ve put in the work, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t believe you can get it done.

Don’t listen to yourself; talk to yourself. You are great, you were born for this, and you can do this.






This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks. 

To review our mental game series, we have covered a variety of concepts which include learning how to breathe, designing an approach, controlling the controllables, creating routines, and developing a release.  While this doesn’t summarize it all, it’s a great start to helping your kids develop the game between the ears.  All that’s left at this point is arguably the most important skill of them all: COMPETING!


Competing, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated and undervalued skills in youth baseball today.  A large reason why I believe this is because of the culture we have created at the youth level.  Instead of developing competitors, we are developing “lesson babies” who believe their secret pill to success is in some small mechanical tweak.  Just underneath the ball? Make sure you keep your hands up!  Hit a ground ball to short?  Make sure you don’t roll those wrists!  Oh, and don’t forget to stay back, step straight, and take your hands to the ball while managing to track a pitch traveling through space at 90 miles per hour at the same time.   


As a result, we’ve created kids who can’t stop thinking about their mechanics in games when mechanics are the last thing they need to be thinking about!  Hitters have under three tenths of a second to decide pitch type, speed, location, and whether they should swing or not.  Any focus that is not on the baseball is wasted.  Did you seriously think reminding Joey about his back elbow would be a good idea when he’s got fractions of a second to do arguably the hardest thing in all of sports?  


As a baseball community, we need to get away from this fixed mindset of thinking that mechanics lead to success.  If mechanics are the reason why athletes succeed, why have no two people in the history of baseball ever had the same exact mechanics?  Why do some guys who have pretty swings never make it out of high school, while some others with “bad mechanics” play professionally?  The answer lies between the ears.  If you’re an aspiring player and you want to maximize your window in baseball, forget the mechanics and get great at competing.     



What is Competing?



In Heads Up Baseball 2.0, Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza define competing as “giving 100% of what you’ve got right now to win the next pitch.”  Note they did not say anything about feeling good, having your best stuff, or needing perfect conditions.  Competing is messy and demands everything you have - but nothing more.  Some days will be great, some days will be alright, and other days will be just plain ugly.


Jon Lester talks about this saying out of 30 starts in a big league season, he will have his “A” game for 5, his “C” game for 5, and the rest he will have to battle with his “B” game.  Those 20 starts with his B game are where his season is made.  Great competitors find ways to adjust, compensate, take punches, and return punches regardless of how they feel.  In Ravizza’s words, “Are you really that crappy of a baseball player that you have to feel good to perform well? Feeling good is overrated.”  


Anthony Rizzo, All-Star First Baseman for the Chicago Cubs, talked about the importance of competing saying, “The key for me is just competing and not really worrying from pitch to pitch about how my swing feels or how I’m feeling mechanically that day. It doesn’t matter how I feel today, I’m going to beat you. I’m going to will it to happen.


Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks and Super Bowl champion, uses competition as his overarching theme for the Seahawks.  In his book Win Forever, Carroll talks about how he instills an “always compete” mindset into his players. Whether it’s their competition, teammates in practice, or themselves, Carroll wants his players to constantly strive to compete and get the most out of their abilities.  


Dean Smith, Hall of Fame basketball coach at North Carolina, used competition in every drill he organized for his teams.  There was always something on the line and a consequence for the loser.  Through this structure, he was able to teach his players to compete just the way they would in a game.  


Ron Wolforth at the Texas Baseball Ranch uses competition on a daily basis to help get the most out of his pitchers.  Athletes call locations out loud and are forced to do a punishment for every target missed. When athletes become accustomed to challenges, they are forced to adapt to a new circumstance (different sloped mound, weighted baseball, fatigue induced, etc.).  Those who love competing thrive.  Those who can’t crumble under the pressure.  



How to Implement  



The good news is that competing is a skill and can be taught - just like any other skill.  The biggest predictor of competitiveness, according to Milwaukee Brewers pitching coordinator Jake McKinley, is the environment the athlete has grown up in.  It’s no coincidence many great athletes spent their youth years competing in backyard sports.    


In McKinley’s 2019 ABCA convention presentation, he broke down competition into three different components: Self-competition, competition against others, and unspoken/organic competition.


Self-competition is any sort of challenge aimed at developing a specific individual beyond their current capabilities.  Examples of how to utilize this include:


  • Constraints
    • Ex: Using obstacles to teach right-left infield footwork, how to avoid baserunner on double plays
  • Variability
    • Ex: Different length/weighted bats, different size/weighted baseballs, plyo balls
  • Targets
    • Ex: Pitching to a specific target, hitting a certain part of the cage/field
  • “Edge” training (getting guys to compete at levels that just exceed their current skill level)
    • Ex: Moving the hitter closer/farther away from a pitching machine to simulate different velocities, lifting heavy weights
  • Stopwatch
    • Ex: Making plays from the infield in less than four seconds, plays from the outfield in less than seven seconds
  • Radar gun
    • Ex: Needing to hit three out of five balls over 85 mph, beating a personal record in throwing velocity

Competition against others is exactly what you see in a game: Man vs. man - one winner, one loser.  You can get as creative with this as you’d like, but the idea is simple: Beat the guy in front of you.  Below are some ideas to help you design your own:


  • Pair people of similar abilities for challenges
    • Ex: Do a velo competition with guys who throw hard, command competitions with your highest strike percentage throwers
  • Use handicaps for guys of different skill levels
    • Ex: Have a slower athlete start at a shorter distance than a faster athlete, give less powerful athletes +5 mph on their exit velocities
  • Physical challenges can be great ideas, but also poor ones
    • Speed is a great skill to enhance using competition, but doing as-many-reps-as-possible (AMRAP) push-ups for a minute is a great way to reinforce poor movement patterns. The emphasis must always be on good movement.
  • No gray areas, no ties
    • There are no ties in baseball games. You either win or you lose. The winner and loser must be clear.
  • Teach kids how to be their own officials
    • 21 is a great game to teach catch play, but also a great way to teach kids how to resolve conflict. A winning-at-all-costs mindset is dangerous. Play the right way, accept defeat, move on to the next challenge.
  • Reward effort, don’t undermine it
    • Give points for accomplished tasks, refrain from subtracting points for miscues. You want to create athletes to rise to the challenge over athletes who are afraid to screw up.
  • Create teams for challenges
    • Have kids draft teams and get after it. After all, you are competing against a team in a game.
  • Encourage emotion, involvement from teammates
    • Competition will bring out the best and worst of everyone. Let kids be who they are and encourage their teammates to cheer them on. Use this energy to enhance the environment.

Unspoken or organic competitions are ways to help create competition by unifying your team to accomplish different objectives.  Since competition can bring out the worst in people, unspoken competitions are a great way to create cooperation while still increasing the intensity of a challenge.  Some examples include:


  • Having to hit a certain number or percentage of balls over 80 mph
  • Throwing at least 60% strikes throughout a team bullpen session
  • Taking a clean round of infield before ending practice
  • Completing a physical challenge under a certain time
  • Posting leaderboards of batting exit velocities, command percentage, throwing velocity, weight room personal bests, etc.
    • Celebrate when kids crush records. A candle does not lose its light when it lights another candle.  

*See the entire presentation here.


Overall Notes for Competition


  • Keep verbal involvement with competitions at a minimum.  The environment you create as a coach is the most important aspect of competition - not verbal feedback.
  • Let kids fail.  We learn the most from our biggest setbacks.  Be there to lend a helping hand, but let athletes work through the challenges themselves.  Considering the failure rate of some of the best hitters in the game, it’s important to let kids cope and respond to it.  
  • Create challenges that have immediate feedback.  This includes numbers, scores, exit velocities, batted/thrown ball feedback, and other results.
  • Self, others, and unspoken competition do not have to operate exclusively.  Combine these to get the best bang for your buck.  
  • Make sure athletes have some sort of adequate skill level before turning it into a competition.  Challenges should be stimulating and push athletes just on the edge of their abilities - not over or underwhelm them.
  • Be creative.  No one drill will make or break an athlete.  Designing competition has no limits.
  • Use your athletes as feedback.  They will tell you whether the challenge is too hard or too easy.
  • Competition brings out an innate quality in human beings that pushes performance to the limits.  If you want to bring the best out of your athletes as a coach, it must be utilized as much as possible.  
  • When athletes hang up the cleats for good, they will soon enter the real world where they will have to compete for jobs.  Sports are an incredible platform to teach qualities that will help them compete beyond their playing days.  At the end of the day, we’re trying to build better men and women through sport.  


As always, reach out to us with any questions or concerns. Keep learning and growing.







This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.  

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 - being where your feet are.  By losing the negative emotions from what has happened, athletes are able to compete with freedom and play one pitch at a time.  


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.  


(Image Credit)


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.  



             

Next up in our mental game series is the idea of routines.  Routines are consistent habits that players use to get themselves in a frame of mind where they’re physically and mentally ready to compete.  These include what you do before, during, and after competition.  Some routines change and evolve over time, while others remain consistent.  However, it’s impossible to modify your routines if you don’t have any to begin with.

Below are some ways to introduce routines into your training sessions.  Some ideas are more flexible or specific, but all of them are ways to purposely prepare players for training and competition.  Routines are something we can control at all times and are going to be there for us in any kind of situation.  When (stuff) hits the fan - and I assure you, it will - we need something to go back on and help us re-set.  This is where routines come into play.  

Hitting

One of the first things we do with our hitters is address their current routines.  Training sessions are not a race to see who can speed through the bucket the quickest and get the most reps.  Every single rep we take must be done with a purpose, and many times that requires the athlete to simply slow down.  We’re going to get plenty of swings in within a half hour session, so the focus must then turn to the quality of reps we’re taking.

To start, teach your hitters how to step into the box by escorting their feet with their eyes.  If the tee is set up at the front part of the plate, we teach our athletes to line their front foot up with the break in the plate (where the plate starts to angle into a point).  This gives hitters the ability to work behind the tee since we know the average hitter moves forward when they stride.  

We then teach our hitters to tap a part of the plate.  We do this so they consistently know how far away they are from the plate whenever they step into the box.  After they tap the plate, we teach kids to create rhythm by taking their hands towards the pitcher and back.  We then encourage athletes to keep this rhythm by moving their barrel and keeping their body in a relaxed, constant state of motion.  

Some guys do things a little differently, but what we want to prevent is hitters who turn into statues when they step into the box.  We are governed by the laws of physics, and the law of inertia states that a body in motion stays in motion (vice versa).  We want to match the pitcher’s rhythm, tempo, and timing, and that starts by keeping some sort of movement as we anticipate the pitch about to come to us.

From here, we encourage hitters to use their eyes and pick up an area where they want to hit the ball.  On the tee, we set up the baseball so two seams of the ball are facing the hitter and tell hitters to hunt the inside seam.  When we advance to a moving object, we encourage kids to stretch their eyes and pick up where they want to hit the ball.  This could be the screen, back part of the cage, top part of the cage, or something outside like the outfield fence.    

Once a routine is established, it is crucial to reinforce the routine on a consistent basis.  Have the athlete practice stepping out of the box and stepping back in, touching the plate, creating rhythm, and stretching their eyes.  After a bad swing or two, have the athlete step out and re-set by going through their routine. If you let kids get away with it in practice, they’ll never have something to go to in competition when the game starts to speed up.

Fielding

In your average nine-inning baseball game, a fielder will see anywhere between 120-150 pitches.  Of those pitches, as little as 2-5 of them will decide the game.  Since we can’t predict when these pitches will take place, it is absolutely crucial all nine positions are completely locked into each and every single pitch.  You may be locked into 119 of those 120 pitches, but the one you take off could decide whether your team wins or loses that night.

To maintain focus, concentration, and improve reaction time off the bat, we teach our infielders and outfielders to get into a pre-pitch ready position by stepping into the circle.  This can be done by stepping forward with both feet, one foot, or even adding a hop after both feet land.  It is to be done as the ball is about to enter the hitting zone (around when the ball enters the dirt circle).  Following the rules of inertia, we want players to be moving before the ball is put in play so they can get a better first-step read off the bat.

While everyone is different, we highly encourage kids to take a hop step after stepping into their circle.  This move is seen a lot throughout professional tennis (see examples from Andy Murray and Roger Federer)  Considering they see serves upwards of 140 mph, I think their pre-serve actions are incredibly useful to baseball players.   

Here is a video I took of Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres.  Notice how his actions mirror the ones from Murray and Federer.  

If you ever get a chance to attend a baseball game, pay close attention to the pre-pitch actions of all seven fielders.  You might pick up a thing or two from them.  

As a coach, be deliberate in how you teach this to kids.  Draw a circle in the dirt and have kids step in and out of it.  Stepping into the circle is where they lock in and take their focus to the plate, while stepping out is when they can relax and prepare for the next pitch.  Preach it when it’s done, point it out when it’s not done.  It’ll seem tedious, but it will build good habits that will really help kids out when the game starts to speed up.  

Other Notes on Routines

  1. Learn how to utilize the breath when performing your routines!  Breathing helps create clarity, calmness, and focus by slowing your heart rate down and getting oxygen to your brain.  For more benefits on the breath, see our recent blog post “Just Breathe!”
  2. Teach kids good pre and post training/competition routines.  This includes a proper warm-up, recovery, nutrition, hydration, and journaling.  We’ll get more into these topics in the future, but start with something and be consistent with it.  It’s all about building good habits.    
  3. Some routines are built into the game, such as warm-ups in between innings.  Every position should treat these like game-reps.  If you play shortstop for 24 innings in a tournament and get 3 ground balls every inning, that’s 72 opportunities for you to improve your craft.
  4. Mental routines are every bit as important as physical ones.  Visualization, simulating at-bats, self-talk, re-set buttons, and other actions to fuel the mind are critical to game performance.  
  5. Try different routines, experiment, and figure out what works best for you.  As a coach, give kids freedom to do so - but make sure they are actually developing some sort of consistency.  

These are only a few ideas, so feel free to come up with anything on your own as it relates to routines.  If it can be done consistently and help a kid perform to the best of their ability, use it!  

Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns.  We love to hear what you’re doing!

Keep learning and growing.






This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.       




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