Training The Mind To Mold Better Hitters
By: Dick Smith
Originally Published in Fastpitch Delivery, Provided by: NFCA
We coaches spend enormous time practicing all aspects of the game of softball. Hitting seems to have a great appeal to hitting coaches, and therefore, over the past decades, hitters are able to do things they were not able to do in the past - namely hit a 70 mile-per-hour fastball.
YES, HITTING has improved and coaching the fundamentals of hitting have been quite successful in developing our young ladies in this area of the game. Today, our hitters making gaining great strides in mastering the art of smacking the old pill, coming at them at speeds thought impossible to hit in the past. Our poor pitchers must have more than fast stuff to fool them now.
Some may disagree with Smitty and that's okay. Not every team plays against outstanding pitching during the season, and, when confronted by the best pitchers, often have a great deal of trouble being successful against them.
In spite of the huge successes of hitters these days, Smitty feels there is still more in the pot to stir against the pitiable 70 mph pitchers they face. Keep in mind, pitchers, there are pitches other than your revered fastballs.
Well, there are pitchers who are aware of this significant fact, and they have learned a variety of pitches, leading to a great weapon to use against these awesome creatures who wield bats as big and powerful as trees.
The dreaded off-speed, or changeup, is a frightening thing to face. One can often hear comments from the dugout to a batter working in the box: "Watch for the change!"
Of course, such a comment, if heard by the batter, can be as detrimental as a comment meant to be helpful. It might well throw off her thinking and help the opposing pitcher in unintended ways. Better just to cheer and not give coaching advice whilst one is in the box.
So, what do we do about all this? Can we overcome what outstanding pitchers have created? Have you ever heard a player say, "I can't understand why I didn't hit today. I spent two hours in the cage hitting off the machine?" We all have, more or less. Now why is this?
Smitty believes that anyone could learn to hit a ball being thrown from a machine given enough time to learn. A ball coming at a person the same speed - and with no movement - is great for training the art of hitting, but not for games - other than perhaps to loosen up before a game or for training hitting muscles.
Why is this? The brain is eventually capable of figuring out pitches coming from a machine and relaying the information to the muscles. It is being trained to hit the very seldom-pitched ball that comes into the strike zone, without movement, right over the heart of the plate. Pitchers know full well what happens when they throw such a pitch, and in most cases it is done accidentally. The exception might be when other stuff is just not getting the job done, in which case a fastball in the wheelhouse is the only option, letting the defense go to work.
The batting tee is much the same, for a pitch never lies still in the zone. Again, it is useful for certain purposes, but does little to help a batter hit moving or off-speed pitches.
So, what is to be done? We have to practice hitting sometime, somehow, no? Best is to use live pitching. If inside, coaches are reluctant to use their pitchers in a batting cage, for it can be dangerous.
IT CAN BE dangerous anywhere for a pitcher throwing batting practice, due to the number of balls that each batter will hit, many coming close to the pitcher, possibly causing an injury. No one wants than.
If pitchers use their "stuff' during practice, the batters could become very frustrated if they don't hit them well. They want the ball over the plate so they can make contact. Nice, but no cigar.
Whether doing live hitting or against a machine, it is necessary to train the brain as well as the swing. This is done by having a batter take her time getting into the "practice box" to hit, at which time she is mentally telling herself things that will assist her during the time at bat, such as "down and hard."
After the pitch, the batter needs to step out as if in a regular game, take a phantom sign from the coaching box, go through her pre-at bat rituals, if any, step in and prepare to hit. This is repeated after every pitch until the next batter is due up.
Does this take time? Of course it does, but it is essential to train the brain to understand what must be done to be successful. It is called "perfect practice," which beats saying only, "Practice makes perfect."