Tim Saunders, a high school coach in Dublin, Ohio, is one who believes baseball is a mental game, and confidence is the main ingredient to any player’s success.
Saunders, who has coached at Coffman High in Dublin for more than 30 years, says repetition is certainly important in practice and pregame warmups. Most importantly, it’s how the coach sets the tone for those reps that counts.
“We know that we will not go 4-for-4 every game, so our goal is to hit the ball hard,” Saunders told theSeason. “As long as the players know a hit is the by-product and do not put pressure on themselves to get a hit versus hitting the ball hard, I believe they have a better chance of success.”
According to the book Baseball Skills and Drills from the American Baseball Coaches Association, knowing the mechanics of hitting is one thing; it’s quite another to successfully develop that skill in a swing that works on the field.
To implement proper hitting mechanics, it’s important for a batter to keep his or her body relaxed and his mind focused. Gripping the bat too tightly causes the body to go rigid. Some hitters fall into the trap of "not concentration". In other words, if a hitter isn’t focused, the swing has a chance to be sloppy.
The more knowledgeable a hitter is about the situation, the more mentally prepared he or she will be when they step in the box, according to USA Baseball. Coaches and hitters can work together on developing mental routines that will give them confidence before, during and after a game.
Before the game, a hitter should find out who’s pitching, create a visual picture of hitting their pitches and observe the pitcher’s warm-ups to discover his movements and point of pitch.
While waiting for their spot in the order, hitters should continue to watch the pitcher to look for patterns, talk to the previous hitter and look for any variations when he’s throwing pitches. On deck, start thinking of a plan for your at-bat, know the current situation and keep a relaxed, controlled mindset. As you’re getting to the plate, stay positive and believe your preparation will pay off.
Saunders agrees having a plan when stepping in the box is crucial to a batter’s success. Is the pitcher throwing hard or off-speed? Can he throw off-speed for strikes and does he use them in all counts, or just when he’s ahead in the count?
“If a pitcher is throwing hard or soft, we use the same philosophy,” Saunders said. “Think opposite field. If a pitcher is throwing at our bat speed, then think gap to gap.”
One of the biggest hurdles to maintaining a hitter’s confidence when he or she goes into a slump. Saunders teaches his high school players that a .300 hitter is a success at every level. Unlike other sports, players can get back in the box the next day or the day after and start over. The key, Saunders believes, is staying aggressive.
“The best players seem to rebound quickly and forget about yesterday, and even forget about the last play or last at-bat,” he said. “Those that struggle are those that can not put the past behind them, and it really shows in the big games under the big stage. I try not to yell and scream at our guys. Try to stay relaxed and focused at all times, yet stay competitive.”
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr
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