After a long winter of training, many youth players are getting outside for the first time to start their games. Players and parents alike are excited to see how off-season training will benefit them in the start of the year. More than just getting mechanics correct,
I remind the hitters of a potential problem that many face when they first go outside.Hitters tend to be out in front of the pitcher in their first games of the year for three reasons. First is the distance of the mound being longer than what they trained with in BP. The last two I classify as the “Two A’s”: Anxiety and Adrenaline. Here is how to combat all three.First, the mound distance being greater than most batting cage and BP distances makes it seem like the ball is being pitched from second base. This causes hitters to jump out on their front foot while the ball seemingly never gets to home plate. My advice for this in the first few games is to think about driving the ball to the opposite field gap. Although for most hitters, the general approach is to use the middle of the field, gap to gap, I tell hitters in their first few games, think the opposite field gap to let the ball travel deeper in the zone, combating the tendency to jump out in front early in the season. Now, the hitter may not hit the ball the other way. It is just a mind set to let them see the ball longer and stay centered in their stride. Once the hitter feels like his timing is down, start using the whole field as the approach.The next two dreaded reasons, anxiety and adrenaline can lead to a disease that baseball people recognize as “White Line Fever.” This causes a hitter’s swing in a game to not resemble anything they did in the cage. Anxiety is a normal feeling for any athlete competing in any sport. The butterflies in the stomach must be and can be controlled. First explain that the nervous feeling before a game or during an at bat is normal; even the big leaguers feel it. That feeling should be expected and just means that you are ready to compete and want to do well. But, this feeling can be unusual for young hitters if the butterflies come suddenly and are unexpected. Then, anxiety can lead to something that resembles more of a panic attack and take a hitter out of his comfort zone and out of his swing.
Adrenaline works the same way. It’s the body’s way of heightening the central nervous system. But when the blood starts pumping, the hitter’s breathing becomes more rapid, and the tempo of everything the hitter does is increased. While adrenaline is usually good an any other sport, as a hitter it can ruin tempo, speeding the hitter up and making him jump at the baseball.
Once in a game, getting ready for an at bat, there are a few more ways to control the “Two A’s.” First, have the at bat before you have the at bat. (That wasn’t a typo) This starts when you get in the hole or on deck. Concentrate on the pitcher, his timing, and release point. Then, as a hitter try to get your timing set on his and visualize the pitch coming to you as you swing. See the contact point and the ball leaving the bat, hitting it where its pitched. You will have several chances to do this before its your turn to hit. Next, control your breathing on deck and during your at bat by taking deep breaths before you step in the box. This will temporarily slow the heart rate and breathing so adrenaline doesn’t take you out of your comfort zone. Third, you’d be surprised how many big league guys talk to themselves on deck or at the plate by just giving themselves little reminders. These reminders keep the hitter focused and helps control anxiety by giving them something to concentrate on. These need to be VERY simple reminders like, “See the ball” or “Slow and Smooth”, and not a dissertation on mechanics. Finally, all the work in the off-season has prepared you for this moment! Have fun with it! The people who should be nervous are the one’s who haven’t put in all the time to get ready. The game is the test. If you’ve done the homework, then you are prepared and will do well.
These three factors are likely reasons for why youth hitters can get off to a poor start. Once a hitter starts slowly, they tend to pressure themselves more, and do worse. Techniques to control the “Two A’s” and thinking the opposite field gap early in the year until timing is set, is a good way to ensure that your preparation gets you off to a good start!