Preparation is the key for any successful athlete. The fast-paced, “throw and go”, nature of youth baseball, these days, can put a major strain on pre-game preparation and post-game analysis. In this article, you will find some simple yet effective ways make sure the techniques you pay for find their way into games, sooner rather than later.
Pre-game off the Field I personally have experienced the entire recreational, travel, and high school baseball pre-game experience. Unfortunately, until a player reaches the collegiate level, pre-game preparation can be extremely difficult. There is an extreme lack of time and proper facilities, to fully get the body and mind, ready to go, at full capacity. With some travel games starting at 8 a.m., the ability to learn how to prepare fast, can really pay off. This is especially true if your player is getting ready to start real tryouts where prep time is minimal. Players at this level must have the “A” swing ready, and here are a few steps to get you started:
- Warm-up – Now this may be common sense for most of you, but what are you really warming up? Basic and static stretching does not prepare the baseball swing muscles to be used. Instead, try footwork patterns and core turning movements that get the body moving the way it does in a game. Also, take your time here and make sure the body is ready to perform.
- Progression – Even if there is little time, have a progression of movements. Have a systematic approach to get the swing ready, step by step. This should not take too much time, especially if you have an early game.
- Batting practice is nice if you can get it – most of the time this will not even be an option for youth teams. Dry swings with a bat and no ball do just fine as long as the hitter swings with a PURPOSE!
If you are already part of the Baseball Rebellion or you have another personal instructor, you should have very specific and obtainable goals that you are working on. Goals could be a certain movement that you have been trying to implement in lessons, or also mental, like being more aggressive earlier in the count or taking a full swing no matter the outcome. The key is to KNOW what your goal is, then go DO it. Don’t try… DO! No matter the outcome, if you accomplish your goal, that is all you should care about. Upon arriving early to a game, use your time wisely. Seek out a cage if you can and have your movement or mental goals ready. Once in the cage, try to get up to speed and full swings as fast as you can. You want to have the movements at full speed as soon as possible. Leave some time to get to the field and watch the opposing pitcher warm-up. He is going to show you what he’s got.
Pre-game on the Field
Have you ever wished that you could look through your algebra test the night before you had to take it? Well guess what? In Baseball, you can. For hitters, until you reach the college and professional levels, the opposing pitcher literally gets ready in plain sight. I can’t tell you how many young hitters I see sitting in the dugout not caring about the guy getting ready to try to ruin your day. I am definitely not putting everybody in this basket, but from 13-year-olds and younger it seems to be an issue. If you can see the pitcher warming up on the opposite side of the field, do not wait until the game starts, to get a feel for him. Look at his command, pitches, velocity, etc… This is a great time to see if this guy has good stuff and looks like he can hit his spots. If there is time, grab your bat and get your forward move going to stay loose and begin to figure out your timing.
- How did the pitcher attack you last at bat or last game?
- What is the pitcher’s go to pitch?
- What is the pitcher’s big strike out pitch?
- How was your timing last at bat?
- Why did you pop up last at bat?
- What felt good about that double you hit?
- What adjustments do you need to make?
Could they answer any of them? I understand that getting an 8-year-old to pay attention for ten consecutive seconds to anything is hard enough. There are definitely some things that are expected from different ages. However, learning to be a student of the game from an early age can pay huge dividends later. A lot of kids go to the on-deck circle not even knowing what they are about see. Once the player reaches on deck, they may only see one pitch. Encourage your players to learn from the game they are a part of. If the pitcher is the test, he is giving you the answers. Coaches, teach your players that if you’re getting your timing down on deck, it is too late. Players should know that it is okay to be “that kid” in the dugout watching and moving to the pitcher’s tempo. That kid, more times than not, will be ready. Once the player gets to what we call “in the hole”, they should have a good idea of the tempo, pitches, and umpire zone. Players should use this time to move with the bat if they can, otherwise they should have the bat and helmet with them, and continue to read the pitcher. Once on deck, players need to get the body ready. Unless your are in the top 1% of all baseball players in the world, DO NOT do what you see on T.V. Stay true to your training and your game swing. Get your feet moving, turn the body, and get the bat going in the good upward plane. You could also remind yourself of your goals and really dedicate this next at bat to accomplishing them. Also, try to visualize. See the at-bat before it happens. Get the positive vibes flowing and be in a good mental state, believing you will execute is half the battle.
Post Game As a baseball player, it is important to learn how to have a “short memory”. For some young players, this skill may take some time to learn and really understand what it means. While it is important that we don’t allow a bad at-bat, game, or tournament fester in our memories for too long, it is still necessary to learn from our mistakes. A player needs to take in the game and get an overall feel for how it went at the plate. Then ask themselves certain questions that will help them grow, without asking questions that could be detrimental like those involve batting averages, RBIs, etc. More productive questions that will help the young player grow and better prepare for the next at bat, game, or weekend would be:
- Did I go to the plate with a purpose?
- Strike out or hit, was I aggressive?
- Did I accomplish my goal?
- Did I learn from my previous at-bats?
Final Thought A youth player should know the difference between statistical success and at-bat success. If your player is working on perfecting a new aspect of their swing or making any changes then that should be the focus after the game. This especially pertains to the younger players. There will be an age where success will be measured by results and statistics. Is this easy to do for a young player? Absolutely not, but if parents and coaches can get our young players to evaluate what really matters at their developmental level, they can make huge strides to becoming better hitters faster. If their focus is purely statistical, baseball will become more and more difficult and frustrating. This will be especially true for kids who are used to going 8 for 10 every weekend. Remember, 3 for 10 for life will put your kid in the Hall of Fame. If you are paying for instruction at any capacity, expect a process. Chas wrote a great article on the ups and downs of a player and learning a new swing pattern; you can find it here. This process will take time to work its way into a game. One of the best ways to expedite this process is by having clear and specific goals and preparing to execute what you have been taught. Hoping specific movements will happen in your swing because you want them to, leaves room for failure. Instead, JUST DO IT.
JK Whited, Leader of the Baseball Rebellion