After the final putout in the bottom of the third inning, there was the usual pause in action during a youth game in Highland, Ill.
Except in the home team’s dugout.
Before his players could step off the field, Highland coach Jeremiah Knackstedt was on his feet, signaling the start of a between-innings regimen that frowns on idleness.
“Always look ahead,” says Knackstedt, a former Greenville College player who also coaches the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League.
“As soon as the inning ends, you should be preparing mentally and physically for the next inning.”
Knackstedt shared a few between-innings themes he emphasizes.
Hit the Mental Reset Button
Whether your team is coming off a good or a bad half inning, it’s key for the players to forget about it.
“Refresh yourself, hit the reset button, get ready to go,” Knackstedt said.
Instilling this mindset starts with the coach.
“Make sure everyone is focused,” he said. “If someone is screwing around a bit, pull him aside very quickly and say something like, ‘Hey this pitcher has a really good fastball, so on the first pitch…’
“In other words, you try to re-focus him without him realizing what is happening.”
Take the Field in Full Stride
Don’t assume warm ups are a formality. Impressions matter, even before the first pitch.
“You never know who’s watching,” Knackstedt said. “So always do a good job.”
Say you’re a catcher, for example:
“If the umpire is standing back there watching, do a good job of receiving,” Knackstedt said. “You’re showing him he can trust you.”
Or maybe it’s a college recruiter watching:
“During the actual game, there might not be a pitch in the dirt. It might only happen in warm ups,” Knackstedt said. “If you drop to your knees and block it, instead of a half-hearted effort, the recruiter might say, ‘I want this guy on my team. He’s going to work his tail off, and that’s what we’re looking for.”’
The effort isn’t just for those watching, though. Said Knackstedt: “By doing a good job of blocking the ball, it also says to your pitcher: ‘Hey, I’m into this game.’”
Focus on Positional Preparation
Each player has different situations to prepare for. That preparation is both physical and mental.
“For pitchers: don’t worry about location, necessarily, right away,” Knackstedt said. Instead, he recommends pitchers focus on getting their arms loose with the first couple pitches. “Toward the end of your warm up pitches, start popping the ball up,” he said. “And if you have off-speed stuff, throw that.”
Knackstedt recommends that outfielders also begin by loosening up their arms and preparing to throw. Mental preparation is key, too. “They should also be thinking: ‘If the ball is hit to me, where am I going to make the throw?’” Knackstedt said.
He offers similar advice to infielders, starting with loosening up the throwing arm. “They want to be ready to make a good throw to first base,” Knackstedt said. “And they should be thinking: ‘If the ball gets hit over my head, where am I going for the cutoff.’
“Again, be thinking ahead.”