In today’s blog post, we are talking about softball conditioning and mental hitting, and how to conquer the mental stress and pressure that comes with the game!
Hitters who love to hit make the mental game part of their game plan every single day. They enjoy it and have fun with it because this helps with relieving stress and pressure.
Softball Conditioning: Combating Pressure
Pressure is real. It is a distressing situation that makes one feel uncomfortable. Every hitter feels pressure during competition, but the great hitters deal with it by using their mental game to stay in control. Pressure causes the heart rate to increase, breath to quicken, and it may cause a player to perspire. The pace quickens as though the game situation is going too fast for the hitter to control as he becomes tense.
To combat pressure and recognize the symptoms, a hitter mentally checks in with himself before and during at-bats. If he feels distress building, he tries to relax himself. The universal deep breath, reducing the stress by reminding himself that he has practiced for this situation many times before, plus visualizing a successful swing can reduce the pressure. Players have been known to visualize a place that brings pleasant thoughts — the ocean or their family cabin — to assist in calming them. Others thrive on it and want it. They immerse themselves into the at-bat using their hitting routine. They view it as an opportunity for success and get back to the basics: see the ball, hit the ball.
Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, actually slowed himself down in between pitches and began talking to himself in pressure situations. He had control of himself. More than one catcher said that when Reggie started talking to himself, “We were in big trouble.” A hitter with the ability to check in and assess his state of mind can gain control by using his hitting routine while playing one pitch at a time.
The end result of a hitter’s game plan is having quality at-bats, which is defined as getting your pitch and hitting the ball solidly. Hitters need to get away from statistics such as batting average and switch to concentrating on the number of quality at-bats they have. The hits will be produced if the hitter has a high percentage of quality at-bats. Quality at-bats require, one, staying in control; two, trusting your swing; three, knowing your strength and weaknesses and being disciplined; four, knowing the strike zone; five, proper practice and preparation; six, using your hitting routine; seven, the ability to avoid distractions; eight, an aggressive approach — think hit, hit, hit.
Softball Conditioning: Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
A major part of a hitter’s game plan is to know his strengths and weaknesses, and the strike zone. Successful hitters are patiently aggressive. By that I mean they are looking for a certain pitch in a specific area of the strike zone, but they are expecting that pitch every time they step into the batter’s box. The hitter is thinking hit, hit, hit. Then if the pitch is out of the strike zone or not where he wanted it, he’s going to hold up his swing. If a hitter is ready to swing every pitch, when he gets the one he wants he will swing at it. A hitter without this preparedness will find himself letting pitches go by that are in the most productive hitting zones, and later in the at-bat possibly having to hit pitches he does not handle well.
Ted Williams used a picture of his strike zone which was seven balls wide and 11 balls high to help him to visually understand his strike zone and identify the productive and unproductive hitting areas inside that zone. He drew balls in the strike zone rectangle and put his batting average for each pitch location. Therefore, he identified his most successful areas, somewhat successful areas, and the most difficult areas for him as a hitter. His hitting approach was to look for a pitch in the highly successful area initially, and leave pitches alone in his weakest area until he had two strikes.
Softball Conditioning: Know Your Strike Zone
All hitters must be aware of his strike zone. It is 17″ wide, which is the width of the plate, and extends from the armpits to the top of the knees. I always suggest that players draw their zone life-size and put it up in their bedroom or tape it to a full-length mirror. They can then stand beside it to get a feel for the actual measurements and the area they must cover with a bat. Drawing on the zone with balls as Williams did is also a great idea.
A hitter has to know his strengths and weaknesses, and part of that is understanding what pitches and in what areas of the strike zone he hits well. It is then equally important for him to know those pitches and areas in which he is a fair hitter and, of course, the same applies for the least effective areas.
Williams also makes the point in his book, The Science of Hitting, that a hitter who offers at pitches two-inches out of the strike zone increases the strike zone by 37%. If an experienced pitcher knows a hitter will swing at those types of pitches, the hitter will not likely see any pitches in his effective hitting area. Therefore, the hitter gains an advantage if he knows the strike zone and his hitting zones. He is moving in the right direction to get a good pitch to hit.
Like Williams, a hitter with no strikes wants to look for a ball in his most productive area. With one strike, look in his most productive and include the area in which he is an above average to average hitter. And finally, with two strikes, cover the entire strike zone.
Ted Williams’ no-strike zone was 5 ½ balls wide by 3 ½ balls high. He did not offer at pitches that were outside of that zone until he got one or two strikes on him.
Some hitters achieve success by splitting the width of the strike zone in half, with no strikes, because they are successful against inside or outside pitches. In this case, a left-hand hitter would be working on the 8 ½” on the inside part of the plate. The advantage being the hitter only looks for pitches in an 8 ½”-wide area as opposed to covering all 17″ of the plate.
Softball Conditioning: Adhering to Your Plan…. Consistently!
The plan that a hitter has success with must be adhered to in a consistent manner. Constantly changing one’s hitting plan can be counterproductive. It brings in too much thinking and can cause paralysis by analysis. A player in this category out-thinks himself and makes hitting more difficult, which affects his physical performance. A simple hitting plan that is adhered to consistently is often the best plan. There are times, however, when a hitter changes his plan to fit a game situation. The coach wants the hitter to take a strike because the pitcher is tiring or is losing his control. A hit-and-run play or the infield is playing back with a runner on third base and less than two outs. Both of these situations require the hitter to hit a ground ball. These and other situations may cause a variance in a hitter’s plan, but do not affect every at-bat in the game.
Coaches, for hitters to become proficient in situational hitting and making it a part of their game plan, it must be a part of your practice plan and softball conditioning. How often depends upon the abilities of your hitters and the frequency in which your game plan calls for the hitting techniques required by the situations.
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