When Curt Jefson evaluates his players’ performances at the plate, he’s big into quality at-bats.
Jefson, who will be entering his fifth season as the Seymour (Wis.) varsity baseball coach, won’t hit the panic button too quickly if one his players is in an early-season slump as long as he sees the kid registering quality appearances at the dish.
“Let’s say a kid’s 0-for-8, but of that 0-for-8 let’s say four of those he got to an eight-pitch count and he grounds out,” Jefson said. “Well, we consider that to be a quality at-bat. He saw a lot of pitches and he ends up getting out. Let’s say that the other four times he was up, he lines out twice — those too are quality at-bats.”
Jefson will wait on addressing a possible slump with the player unless the kid approaches him. The coach is happy to share his advice and try and get the player on the right track.
“I will try to point out if he’s had success and had hard hit balls,” Jefson said. “Now, if he hasn’t, the biggest thing I see with kids is they tend to get themselves out. If they’re struggling mentally, they’re going to swing at balls outside the zone. So, we’re going to talk about our plan at the plate. What are we looking for on the 0-0 count? What’s your pitch?"
“We have a plan up there for different counts, and sometimes kids are going to get outside of that if they’re struggling.”
If the hitting slump appears to be due to mechanics, Jefson will work one-on-one with the player.
“My favorite thing to do when I’ve had kids struggle is I’ll take them in the cage and we’ll work on soft toss, but it’s front toss with a hard ball,” Jefson said. “I’ll get about 10 feet away and I’ll just work on that outside corner, because so often kids struggle with that outside corner.”
Jefson will also utilize technology this day in age, take out is phone and shoot a couple videos of the player swinging at a pitch. Jefson will get views from the side and back. He’ll show the player the video and break it down, if needed.
“Sometimes just showing them, you don’t even have to say much,” Jefson said. “I’ll try and listen to them. I’ll say, ‘Tell me what you see.’ And then they’ll walk through and talk about their load, where their hands are and ultimately where we’re making contact with the ball.”
Jefson jokes that being a baseball coach you have to be part psychologist because it’s hard to know what a teenage kid is thinking, especially amid a slump.
“To me, I think when it comes to hitting and how we instruct the mechanics and techniques of hitting, if the kids are not performing it’s 90 percent mental,” Jefson said. “We’ve got to try and find that thing to try and get them over the hump.”
A common scenario that Jefson sees is a player who is hitting the ball on a rope in practice, but when it’s game time he’s struggling at the plate. The kid needs to loosen up in the batter’s box. Jefson will bring him into the batting cage and crank up the hitting machine.
“You just try and remind them that the game is simple,” Jefson said. “We try to have a routine when we get into the box -- so we’re going to scrape the dirt a bit, we’re going to take a deep breath, we’re going to try and see the ball out of the hand and see it and hit it.”
From GameChanger and Greg Bates
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