If I had to make a list of specific mental hitting tips for better pitch recognition I'd have to start with these seven.
- See Ball Hit Ball
- Let Go of Outcome
- Space Out
- Redefine Success at The Plate
- Visualize Past Success
- Rehearse Future Success
- Make fun priority #1
We say it all the time. The mental side of hitting and pitch recognition are key components to being an elite hitter. Here's why.
You can have a textbook swing modeled after Ken Griffey and Cody Bellinger and have the confidence levels of Mike Trout and Alex Bregman combined but if you don't have the right approach, and if you're not seeing the ball well, you'll lose your confidence and your swing will break down.
This is where hitting funks and swing viruses come from. Poor pitch recognition and low confidence because are approach is wrong and seeing the ball well isn't a priority.
If you've played this game for long enough, you know how important the mental side of hitting is and if you're at this site, you're looking for advice on developing better pitch recognition.
So let's kill two birds with one stone. Here are seven solid mental hitting tips for better pitch recognition.
1. See Ball Hit Ball
Sure - hitting is arguably the hardest thing to do in all sports. It's certainly the hardest thing to do consistently.
I can't think of any other sport that you could still be considered successful at if you failed 70% of the time. Imagine scoring only 30% of the shots at the free throwline or a quarter-back failing to successfully pass 70% of the time.
Hitting is hard. There no questioning that fact.
However, at times, we make it harder than it needs to be.
First off, hitting is a kid's game.
Where trying to hit a round ball with a stick.
Pete Rose had it right when we said "as hitters, we tend to over complicate things. When I was struggling at the plate, I would ask myself one question. Am I seeing the ball?”
In order to have the best shot at making consistent contact on pitches in all locations, pitch types and zones, we need to have pitch recognition habits that support seeing the ball as best as we can.
The first step is making "seeing the ball" a priority. Then simplifying it.
Once the game starts, the mechanical adjustment and checkpoints stop.
You can’t focus on mechanics while you’re trying to hit the fastball.
You have an approach, you stick to the approach. Now you’re only job is seeing the ball as best as you can.
See ball, hit ball.
We have an entire guide on training your pitch recognition here.
2. Let Go of Outcome
One common obstacle many hitters face is their attachment to the outcome.
We put so much emphasis on whether we get a hit or not and so we play with pressure.
Which is the ultimate mind screw.
It’s really hard to play with 100% focus when your definition of success is based on something you can’t control.
If you think about it, it makes no sense putting all your focus on a goal that is based on you failing more times than you succeed.
We’ve been taught that getting hits means you’re playing well, so if we don’t get a hit, we believe we’re not playing well, and our confidence, motivation, and grit, takes another hit, and we lose our ability to compete with focus and toughness.
When you become detached from the outcome. Detached from getting a hit, now your natural talents come through.
You’re in a state of flow.
The game slows down and your pitch recognition increases.
When you can let go of the outcome, the outcome tilts in your favor.
What you need is awareness in real-time. Awareness of whether or not what your thinking is helping you perform as best to your abilities.
If it’s not, you come back to the present moment. The task at hand. This pitch and this pitch only. Detached from the outcome.
3. Space Out
You need high levels of concentration to perform well at the plate throughout the season.
Hitting a fastball is a cognitive challenge. Your cognition skills are like a muscle in that it needs consistent breaks from pitch to pitch.
When Josh Donaldson broke into the major leagues with the Oakland Athletics, one adjustment he mentioned he had made in pro ball was taking consistent breaks between pitches at third base.
The pitcher would throw a pitch, he’d take his prep step and be ready for a hard line drive hit right at him.
If the hitter didn’t swing, he would have a routine between pitches that gave his brain a break.
He’d look down at a clod of dirt for 3-4 seconds, space out and then regroup as you get ready for the next pitch.
The 3-4 second break allowed him to achieve peak concentration at the point of contact if and when the hitter swung at the pitch.
Hitting is no different...
Your goal is to be at peak concentration when the pitcher releases the ball so that you can take that information to decipher a ball or strike, pitch location, and type.
Taking micro-breaks is how you do this.
You’re in the batter's box and you take the pitch. You step out, get the sign from the coach, and now you take a moment to clear your mind.
Maybe you gaze into the outfield. Or you choose a small spot on your bat to stare at for a few seconds as you take a deep breath.
You step back in the batter's box and you’re ready to take a controlled aggressive swing on the next pitch.
This is a routine. This is how you practice consistency without getting hits.
A consistent routine puts you in a position to see the ball better.
4. Redefine Success at The Plate
You need to buy into this fact if you want to be mentally tough. There are more ways to help your team win besides getting a hit.
- Put pressure on the defense by putting the ball in play
- Battle with two strikes to give your teammates more looks at the pitcher
- Battle with two strikes to really make the pitcher work
- Get the bunt down
- Hit behind the runner
- Move runners over
- Play some serious defense
What this really is about is having Quality At-Bats.
When this becomes your definition of whether or not you’re successful at the plate, you’re free to focus on just seeing the ball as well as you can, as we mentioned before.
No more begging for hits.
Quality At-Bats means you don’t have to get a hit to be successful.
There are multiple ways you can do it.
If you’re 0-2 at the plate, but you made two good plays on the field and a sacrifice fly, consider yourself 3-5 in your own “inner-stat” of being a great competitor.
5. Visualize Past Successes
Something special happens when you acknowledge past successes. You reconfirm in your mind that you have what it takes to accomplish what you’ve set out to accomplish.
You’ve already done it before. There’s no reason why you can’t do it again, consistently.
If you could peek into the theatre of the mind of great ballplayers, what you would see are the positive outcomes of what these players set out to do.
In other words, they focus on the result that they want, instead of the results that they don't want.
They use past "good" performances as a foundation for how they compete in the future.
You are no different. You’ve hit a ball hard before. You’ve done it effortlessly.
You've been relaxed in the batter's box, and you’ve taken good looks at a fastball in the zone.
Reconfirm this in your mind.
Then do it again.
It’s easy to forget about our past successes right? Something about going 0-4 that makes us lose our memory really quick.
We have to take time to reacknowledge our past success or else we’ll forget and our self-esteem and confidence will take a hit when we face adversity.
Whatever type of successes we had will do. A good play, a good at-bat.
Anything that reminds us that we’ve been successful and we’ll be successful again.
Acknowledge your past success. See the ball better.
6. Rehearse Future Success
When we rehearse success, we’re put ourselves in alignment with what it is we want to achieve.
On an emotional level, if we can get to that headspace where we already feel like a champ, we’ll have done half of the work.
Hitting is about wanting to be there. Knowing you're gonna hit the ball hard, not hoping.
Being in the moment. Unattached from the outcome and anticipating success.
It’s a state of mind, and you can manufacture that feeling by rehearsing success.
Your goal is to see the ball as well as you can.
So in your mind's eye, you see the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand.
See the wrist action, the arm angles the plane of the pitch, and spin as it makes solid contact with your bat.
This is what you want. Hard hit contact on a pitch you see well.
In your mind's eyes, you have elite level pitch recognition because you control the speed, details, and outcome.
Now, when it’s time to execute, you’ve already done it, dozens of times.
This is one of many ways you can train your pitch recognition in Applied Vision Baseball.
7. Make Having Fun #1 Priority
Lastly, we all know this.
If we’re having fun, we’ll play well.
It’s when we have the fair-weathered coach or pressure from Mom and Dad who just wants us to “reach" our potential” or worse...
...when we become our own worst enemy by being a perfectionist, that the game stops being fun, and our performance takes a hit.
Steve Springer says it best when he says “baseball is the biggest self-esteem destroying sport in the world”.
It’s so true.
When you make having fun a priority by:
- Taking in your environment
- Building your teammates up
- Realizing that this game is a privilege that’s not everyone has...
...things really come into perspective. One day it will be your last day on the field.
No matter how long you play, you’ll eventually have to hang em up.
Keeping this in mind will allow you to not fall victim to short term thinking.
Every day is a new chance to be a better ballplayer.
A new chance to help the team win.
When you have fun, time slows down.
Meanwhile, time slows down the game slows down.
Then the game slows down, and you see the ball better.
I really hope you enjoyed this mental hitting tips for better pitch recognition.
Most of all, I hope you go out and do
Something with it.