With the baseball / softball season now underway, the last month and a half has been a very exciting time for us here at Baseball Rebellion, as both our local and online clients have started competing all over the country. This is the time of the year when our students get to apply their training and see the benefits of their diligent offseason preparation. Many of our baseball and softball students are having a great start to the season which can serve as a confidence boost to continue their success through the rest of the season. Below, I’ve posted a few of our baseball and softball hitters early season, game swings that closely resemble their swings in in-person and online lessons.
While a large percentage of our hitters are finding success, there are some who have started out slow. For many of the hitters in this group, their struggles can’t be explained by a lack of preparation, practice time, or dedication. So, what can we attribute the slow start to? In order to answer this question, I’ll first present three of the most common statements we have heard from parents of struggling players.
All of the above statements reflect a feeling of panic that places pressure, fear, and doubt in the minds of hitters. This often results in a cycle that spirals into a season long slump. So how do we fight the pressure and doubt? Hitters, parents, and coaches should avoid hitting the panic button, ask intelligent, reflective questions about their swing, and remain as even keel as possible. Let’s dig deeper into each of the bold statements above and reason through each of them.
The cage swing isn’t translating to the game
Crowds, unfamiliar pitchers trying to get you out, holes in the batter’s box, umpires, and weather are all variables that are not generally accounted for in training. I am not making excuses for hitters but merely revealing that when comparing cage and game results, we are not exactly comparing apples to apples. For instance, some of our players routinely hit upwards of .600 during a HitTrax session at our facility. These same hitters will be very disappointed if they expect to replicate those results in a competition setting. Players, parents, and coaches should have reasonable expectations when they reflect on a hitter’s results and swings. I often tell my hitters that while we obviously want to take as many game swings as possible that resemble the way we practice, a certain percentage of swings are going to look and feel different. Many clients who are educated on swing mechanics are too quick to assume that there is a problem with their swing. When hitters do this, they often end up tinkering with their swing until it is almost unrecognizable. The first two things I look for when I watch video of our hitters are pitch selection and timing.
A hitter’s swing mechanics are slave to their timing and pitch selection.
Almost no one takes good swings at pitches significantly outside of the strike zone or when their timing is excessively early or late. Swing mechanics should only be identified as the main reason for failure when pitch selection and timing are good.
His/Her swing is just off
This statement is said out of general frustration with swings and misses or weakly hit balls but communicates defeat, hopelessness, and lack of confidence in the hitter. I constantly remind my players and parents that there is always a reason for swinging and missing. Most of the time, these reasons are extremely simple and come down to two easy questions:
1. Are you early or late?
2. Are you missing over the ball or under the ball?
If you are late, start your stride sooner. If you are early, start your stride later. If you are missing over the ball, lower your vision. If you are missing under the ball, raise your vision. How easy were those answers? I believe having easy, identifiable answers and cues empowers hitters to make positive changes that can dramatically impact their results and give them confidence that they have a degree of control over their own success.
We’re just not seeing the results
When hitters and/or parents begin focusing only on the statistical results rather than the process it takes to achieve sustainable, long term results, I know that they are beginning to panic. When I hear a statement similar to the one above, I often ask about timing, pitch selection, and quality of the swings. More often than not, I find out that the hitter is actually hitting the ball well, but right at the defenders. They tend to panic when they look at their batting average in a small sample size of games and forget that baseball and softball are games of odds and numbers that can be very erratic in the short term but almost always even out during the course of the season. Through the first six games of this 2016 season, Mike Trout was only hitting .200 with one double and zero home runs. Should he panic and totally change his swing? Of course not! Possibly due to the brevity of a Little League or high school season, some hitters do exactly that. Below is a MLB example that illustrates how a small sample size can be extremely misleading.
Anthony Rizzo had a tough 2015 Spring Training to say the least. He played in 20 games and finished with a .172 batting average, 2 home runs, and a .578 OPS. For many, this seems like an extended slump but most professionals probably couldn’t tell you any of their Spring Training stats. They see the first month of play as a time to see live pitching for the first time in four months and to begin implementing things they may have changed during the offseason. Rizzo’s early struggles seemed nonexistent during the 2015 regular season as he hit .278 with 31 home runs, and a .899 OPS in 160 games. Rizzo’s performance during the regular season is much more indicative of his talent and skill than the first twenty games. But, what if Rizzo had panicked after a tough Spring? He may have made unnecessary and potentially harmful changes to his swing.
If you began playing in games in March or April, your are right around the one month mark in your season. You likely have far less at bats than a player like Rizzo because he plays almost everyday. If you have struggled thus far, I want you to remember that you have plenty of time to turn it around since you are only 1/8th of the way through your baseball season (March – October)!
Below is some quick advice for players and parents respectively:
Players: If the start of the season hasn’t gone as planned, take a step back and remember the work you did in the offseason. What were the two or three major things that led to your most successful training sessions. Get back to focusing on those key components of your swing and be confident that things will turn around! Also, assess whether your timing and pitch selection has been sound before assuming your swing needs an overhaul.
Parents: If your kid takes baseball or softball seriously, they are already feeling a great deal of pressure from themselves. Don’t let their struggles and your desire for their success drive you into a panic. Kids sense this disappointment from their parents and often begin to play with a fear of failure mentality that ultimately leads to a lack of enjoyment and diminished results. Help your child understand that handling failure is an essential part of baseball and life. Kids can be challenged by their parents and coaches but need to know that their parents are supportive of them regardless of athletic performance.
Thanks for Reading!
Gabe Dimock – Baseball Rebellion Hitting Instructor