Batting average is a simple statistic to understand but it can also teach a player of any age many valuable lessons on and off the field.
It is one of the easiest stats to calculate: hits divided by a player’s at-bats. But a lot goes in to doing the work behind the statistic, which often reveals who a player is off the field, or who he or she wants to become.
Matt Hornsby, head softball coach at Heard County High School in Franklin, Georgia, knows that as well as anyone.
Heard County prides itself on running an efficient offense. A major component in achieving efficiency is each player putting in the individual work in practice so that her batting average will be a benefit to the team as a whole.
Positive examples to come out of Heard County are the duo of Cali Harrod and Anna Shelnutt, both of whom now play collegiately at Florida State.
Hornsby identified four major life principles you can also correlate to a player’s average.
While he's a high school coach, these lessons dont have to start in high school. The earlier players learn these skills, the more success they have at home, in the classroom and on the field.
Hornsby said he and his coaching staff “preach” self-discipline. That emphasis has resulted in players making fewer bad decisions at the plate and their averages are climbing.
“When we do get the pitches we’re looking for, we don’t miss very often,” Hornsby said. “We may take more strikes than other teams because we’ve kind of honed in on what we’re good (at).
“We know it’s a team game but if you aren’t working on your two-strike swing then come game time it’s going to make our team worse. We tell them that if you teach yourself self-discipline in high school through softball it’s going to teach you self-discipline in life. When you’re supposed to get something done at a certain time you better get it done or there’s going to be consequences like in the workplace. If you’re late to work you’re going to get fired. Self-discipline is what we preach to them that carries over more than anything that we do.”
Hitting with two strikes is one of the toughest things to do as a batter. It’s where a hitter’s mental toughness really comes into play. Players who can battle through and put their best swing on the ball will see that reflected in their average.
“Our approach when we get to two strikes is basically the mental aspect of it,” Hornsby said. “Now we’re going to try to hit every ball up the middle. It’s the mental aspect of: who’s tougher? Is the pitcher tougher than you or are you tougher than her? Can you foul off pitches on the corners until she makes a mistake and leaves one over the middle that we can hit hard? Or is she tougher than you and are you going to go outside of the zone and swing at her pitch?”
Seizing the moment
Hornsby has a unique philosophy on how players should approach the pitch count against them. While hitting is certainly about consistency, it’s also about taking advantage of opportunity.
“We’ve got to be patient but we’ve got to be ready for when that big pitch comes,” Hornsby said. “We always tell our girls we’re not sure why they came up with three strikes but the best that I can see it is: you get one for the pitcher, in case she makes a really good pitch that you didn’t think was a strike but it was pretty close. You get one strike for the umpire who may or may not widen the strike zone from time to time, and then you get one. We always say, 'Don’t miss yours.'
“In pretty much every high school at-bat, at least 80-90 percent, you’re going to get at least one pitch to hit hard and you’ve got to be on time and ready for it. Our girls have really bought into that approach.”
“We’ve always said that batting average and on-base percentage don’t lie,” Hornsby said. “If you are consistently having good at-bats at the plate your average is going to show that. I know there’s games where you hit three out of four balls hard but they go right to somebody and they catch it so you go 0-4 that day. But we’re also a big believer in some bloops are going to find a hole, some ground balls are going to squeak through for base hits.
“It all balances out if you’re putting good at-bats together.”