Softball Coaching: Mental Training For Hitters
The great Ty Cobb once said
90% of sports is mental, the other half is physical
While good ol’ Ty’s math might have been a few percentage points off, his idea rings truer than ever today. Hitting especially, is very much a mental game. Without adequate preparation, even minor errors or changes in routine can severely affect a batter and their ability to deliver a hit.
Over the years, I’ve identified 5 key steps to developing a mentally tough hitter. Check ‘em out below, and be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think!
The most important mental preparation a player can undertake is learning patience. Patience comes into every part of batting. It is required to know which pitches are the best ones to hit. It is required to know at what moment the bat should swing, and it should teach the body to wait until that moment arrives. Patience is also necessary to wear the pitcher down by letting them know that the batter is exactly where they want to be and that they are willing to wait until they get the perfect pitch.
Mental resilience is another essential quality. Players can get out of their rhythm easily and need a way to regain their focus and calm while in the batter’s box. Encourage players to develop a routine that helps them block out everything but their focus on the ball. Any of these strategies work when helping players develop mental toughness:
• Stepping out of the batter’s box
• Deep breathing
• Repeating a positive word or phrase
• Visualizing the perfect hit
• Creating tunnel vision on the pitcher
Regardless of what they choose, all players should have a routine that helps them get back in the game. Give players adequate time to decide what works for them. If you see your batters over-thinking their batting or otherwise losing concentration, encourage them to dive into their routine.
Mental preparation is a very private and personal thing and should be developed independently. However, you can help players by creating game-like situations in practice to test players’ resilience during tough situations. Set expectations in practice that players are to take it as seriously as a game, and work with them through various scenarios that may arise.
Scope out the Other Team
Mental preparation includes cataloging everything a player can think about the team they are about to face. As the other team warms up, the smart batter will notice:
• Right-handedness or left-handedness of the pitcher and infielders
• Who has a strong arm
• What weaknesses or tendencies the pitcher has
• The quickness of the defense
• The communication between the pitcher and the catcher
• The conditions on the field, including the type of backstop and how it will affect a ball that hits it
All these tendencies of the other team seem small when viewed individually, but together, they provide a valuable picture about the rhythm and function of the team. By gathering all this information, batters can identify weaknesses, find out where is best to aim the ball based on the strengths of the defense, and use their advantages, whether that is speed, ability to read the pitch, or power-hitting.
As a coach, you should teach your team to look for these qualities and any others you can identify in the other team. Mark them yourself and share them with the team as appropriate to help them prepare a mental game against the opponent. Together, you can develop a comprehensive view of the team and how to beat them.
Develop a Plan
Every batter should walk up to the plate with a plan for how they are going to achieve their goal. The goal should be defined before the batter gets up to bat, and it should depend on the situation on the field.
For example, just because a batter can hit with lots of power does not mean that such a hit will be most helpful. If there is a runner on third and less than 2 outs, a fly ball might be helpful. If the player simply needs to get on base, a grounder or other well-placed line drive may be best. This, of course, depends on the situation your team faces and the specific talents of the player coming up to bat.
Once you and your batter have determined what their goal will be in hitting, they should develop a plan for achieving that goal. If a batter walks to the box with no idea of how they need to hit or what type of hit they want, the results can be opposite of what your team needs. To best prepare your players mentally, you should arm them with as much information as possible.
Developing a plan also helps players build confidence, which is the next and final section of preparing mentally. By helping players get a clear vision of their hit, you arm them with the confidence to achieve that goal. Simply having that knowledge of what needs to be done and how to do it will give your players a belief that they can achieve it. Positive thinking, as we will see, goes a long way to successful batting.
To be successful, batters need to walk up to the plate believing that they will be successful. However, this belief begins long before the batter ever sees the batter’s box. It starts in practice, continues in the warm-up, and is fully realized in the game.
Confidence is the belief that a player can achieve what they set out to achieve. To help your players develop the necessary confidence to hit only those pitches worth hitting, teach them to follow their instincts in practice and in games. Avoid second-guessing them or cutting them down when an experiment fails.
Also during practice, make an effort to use positive reinforcement and as much positive language as possible. Players need to know that you support them and believe in them, because your opinion as a coach is very important to them. If you show them that you believe in them, their ability to believe in themselves will be greatly increased.
Confidence continues in the warm-up for a game. Part of building confidence is knowing as much about your opponent as possible, so that when a player steps up to bat, they know something about the team and what to expect. While your team will never know its opponent as well as you would like, you can help them learn what to look for and how it affects the other team so that they have an idea of how the team will play.
Also during the warm-up should come more positive language. Help your team think positively, talk positively, and increase their confidence by leading by example. Let every player know that you are counting on them and that you are certain they can deliver, and they will believe it themselves.
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll really like my latest softball coaching video: “The #1 Drill Every Softball Coach Should Know.” Just click on that link now to watch it (it’s totally free).