The Mental Side of Hitting & Finding YOUR Special Purpose
From Geek to Freak: Evan Longoria & The Mental Side of Hitting
What if I told you Evan Longoria remained undrafted out of high school, no Division I school wanted to even sniff him, and was barely recruited by Division III Universities, which do NOT award scholarships by the way?
Compare this with his post-High School mental side of hitting transformation (Freak)...
He would later settle with a local Juco where he ended up hitting .430, transfered the next year to Long Beach State (he would play there for 2 years), in 2005 he won the MVP of the Cape Cod League (semi-pro league where the best amateurs all over the country get invited to play during the summer), then went 3rd overall in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft.
(This section is 2,768 words with an average read time of about 11 minutes)
Enter Ken Ravizza...and his work on the mental side of hitting. A professor of kinesiology and author of several books on sports psychology. With Ken as his mentor, Evan Longoria developed his mental game plan as a ball player and the rest was and is history. He has amassed both an above average OBP and SLUG% in only his third year playing in the Major Leagues. Most of his veteran teammates say, even during his first season, he looks like he's been in the Big Leagues for 10-15 years, it's how he carries himself.
His case struck my curiosity because of the dramatic change taking place from High School to the summer he spent in the Cape Cod. What "did it for me" was Longoria was known as a hard worker even in High School, looked a little string-beanie (which he added muscle weight at LBS), and from what I understand his swing mechanics were decent back before his explosion onto the professional scene.
So, what was the catalyst?
The big difference was the mentor-ship he received from Ravizza on his mental side of hitting approach at the plate in addition to on the field, but we'll look specifically at his unique plan at the plate.
The following mental side of hitting information will be difficult initially to engage, most will not be comfortable committing to the Swing Smarter Zen Hitting System, but rest assured, this is the secret sauce to success and consistency for the top percentage of ball players in the world.
The "System" was developed by Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson, and can be read in more depth, in the reknown baseball book Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time.
In this Mental Side of Hitting article, we'll be presenting a plug and play Swing Smarter mental side of hitting system where you'll learn the secrets of Evan Longoria's rise to stardom. We'll learn how to control the controlling aspects of the game, and make the uncomfortable comfortable, as Ravizza says :P
Ted Williams said 50% of hitting is proper thinking, so we're going to reveal what it is separating the men from the boys of summer...I also have a FREE action packed bonus pdf at the end of it all!
It all starts with controlling the controllable. We need to understand, as a hitter, we can only control a limited amount of things, our mental side of hitting approach will dictate how well we can adapt physically. A partial list of what we cannot control:
- What the pitcher throws us,
- Umpire calls,
- People in the stands,
- The weather,
- A blinding backdrop,
- Hitting the ball at a fielder
- Horrible field conditions, etc.
Of special note: hitting is a game built around failure. We're going to fail a majority of the time, and a hitter must be able to forgive himself for that. Some games we may go 0-4 with 3 line drive outs, the box score sucks, but we accomplished what we could control, hitting line drives, it just happened the ball ran into a fielder.
This is why the mental side of hitting is so vital.
The game is hard enough hitting a spherical ball with a cylindrical bat, in addition to a pitcher using 3-5 different pitches to upset our timing. We have to learn how to control the controllable and be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Can we control getting hits? OR, can we control having better quality AB's?
As Ken Ravizza says, control means having the ability to have great plate discipline, keeping our weight back, being relaxed, hitting within oneself...you can't control what happens around you, but you can control how you choose to respond. You can do everything right and still fail! Also, you must be in control of yourself before you can be in control of your performance.
We have to have a clearly defined mental side of hitting mission, "Why do you hit, and what do you like about hitting?" Common answers include: It's fun, OR I love the challenge. Yours may be different, but it's important to have an answer because if not, then why are you still playing? When the garbage inevitably hits the fan, then your answer to these questions will keep you going when the going gets tough.
In other words, keep your love and sense of enjoyment for hitting by keeping in mind your own personal "Mission Possible" statement.
"I Found Out What My Special Purpose Was!"
Not the same special purpose Steve Martin found in the movie The Jerk, but to own a "key" to batting we can always come back to and stay consistent at the plate. The big thing to keep in mind when we choose a mental side of hitting key is to KISS, Keep It Simple Sally. Some include (particular focuses of past baseball Hall of Famers):
- Hit the ball up the middle,
- Be quick with the bat,
- Short to the ball, and long through it,
- Barrel above the hands until contact, or
- Let the ball get to me.
There are many other mental side of hitting cues, but we want to stick with a simple word phrase as our special purpose at the plate. My favorite one I learned from Jack Clark about Albert Pujols. When Albert hits the ball off the tee, he sets the ball up so the horseshoe seams are facing him. He then hits with the intent to take the barrel as short as possible down to the top horseshoe seam and slice diagonally through it.
In other words,
His purpose is to hit a low line drive one-hop ground ball through the infield. If he makes a mistake and hits the middle of the baseball, then the ball goes out of the ballpark. It's a WIN/WIN situation. Most try to hit the middle of the ball and when we miss hit, then we come underneath and pop it up, this is a WIN/LOSE mental side of hitting approach.
The good thing with Pujols's hitting cue is it keeps you in a consistent line drive hitting mode. If we pop the ball up, then what just happened? We missed underneath, so we need to get back to keeping the barrel above the hands until contact, in which we slice the baseball in half, like a samurai, at the top horseshoe seam.
So, knowing our Mission Possible, and having a short & sweet purpose at the plate, we're ready for the Control, Plan, & Trust part of the Swing Smarter mental side of hitting system.
How to Stay in Control at the Plate
Every good hitter will tell you, this is one of the hardest things to do because we're dealing with emotion. 6 things you can use right away to keep your Mental Side of Hitting wits about you in crunch time, from Ken Ravizza:
- Recognize when you aren't in control -- the first step for a recovering alcoholic is recognizing you are one, so we have to recognize when our emotions are spinning out of control in order to get them under control
- Deep breathing -- learning how to breathe from your belly, inhaling pushing the belly button out, then exhaling it in towards the spine...long 8 count breath (4 seconds inhaling, 4 seconds exhaling)
- Take some time -- step out of the box and complain you have something in your eye, or better yet, tie and re-tie your shoes
- Use a release: an action to signify a "release" of tension -- undoing & re-doing your batting gloves, taking off & putting back on your helmet, smoothing out the batter's box dirt, like wiping the slate clean, picking up a hand full of dirt, squeezing it real hard, then letting it go
- Pick a focal point: make it a place you can go to remind you of all the hard work you've put in to get where you are today, that you paid your dues and are ready to perform, reminds you to play one pitch at a time and to focus on your mission*
- Carry yourself to confidence: body language -- this is key, sometimes you can fake your body out of feeling sick, tired, run down, depressed, etc. by sticking your chest out, smiling more, standing up tall, walking with a strut, etc.
*Evan Longoria's mental side of hitting focal point is the top of the left field Fair Pole, he looks there when he feels the game is speeding up on him. Your spot shouldn't change at your home ballpark, but when you're visiting another team's, pick something out to be your focal spot. Don't pick something temporary and will change or move later in the game when you most need it.
Plan: Hitter Know Yourself
This is where it would be good to know which pitches you hit well and what locations. If I were to have you fill an imaginary strike-zone with baseballs and batting averages on those baseballs, which areas of the strike-zone would you be hitting .500? And .100? Nobody, not even Ted Williams, has their whole strike-zone full of .500 baseballs, so be honest with yourself.
When things are going well, where do you hit the ball the most? In the gaps? Up the middle? To the opposite field? Make your Special Purpose simple and clear.
If we frequently swing at balls out of the strike-zone, then we need to work on our plate discipline (This was one of the FREE bonuses when you signed up for our Newsletter...if you didn't receive it, then please sign up below). This is a vital concept to master because the more pitches we "go fishing" for, the less good pitches we'll see. Ted Williams's number one rule for successful hitting was "Get a good ball to hit." The better we are at plate discipline, the better pitches we'll get to hit.
And I can guarantee you that.
Trust Our Plan & Ability
According to Ken Ravizza, if a hitter is off balance or muscling up, it's an indication he's NOT trusting in his plan. Use mental imagery/visualization to set in stone what you can control and your mental side of hitting plan of action. Breath, visualize, short simple cue words/actions like stepping in the box.
Trust is huge, if you're starting to doubt in the batter's box, then step out and come back to the 6 things you can do to get back in control at the plate. Visualization and mental imagery is vital...essentially it's taking quality reps in your mind, which you can control, and cognitive studies show a direct correlation to positive results coming from properly executed mental repetitions.
Check out this helpful article from one of my favorite performance bloggers Tim Ferris of the fourhourworkweek.com on Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner's Guide
Remember, even in Batting Practice you should prepare to hit, NOT hit to prepare. Know your mission, recognize failure as part of hitting and forgive yourself for it, have a special purpose when you hit, and work the Control, Plan, Trust Mental Side of Hitting System, so you can delight in more consistent success as a hitter.
Here are Evan Longoria's Jedi Mind Trick cues:
- Walk slow to the plate (SS: good strong body language),
- Breathing (SS: deep belly breaths),
- Stick with the approach,
- Keep the routine going,
- Get into the game,
- Don't worry about the results,
- Get rid of those negative thoughts
- Get back to the present moment, (SS: this is buko important, and what the Control, Plan, Trust system helps you do)
- Prepare to get a hit
- Controlling the control aspects of the game, and (SS: knowing your limitations as a hitter)
- Having a focal point of calm (zen) when you feel you're losing control.
Words from Ken Ravizza on staying in the present moment:
"When you put on the batting gloves, put on the batting gloves...when you step into the box, step into the box, and be where you need to be, when you need to be there."
In other words, stay in the present moment. It's real easy to worry about past AB's and pressuring ourselves to will runs home from a hit we haven't yet executed. The mental side of hitting is tough but essential to consistency and a player's longevity on the field.
One of my favorite movies is What About Bob, starring actor Bill Murray. His character suffers from a multi-phobic personality disorder, and his psychiatrist Dr. Marvin, played by Richard Dreyfuss, successfully coaches him through his new book titled Baby Steps in dealing with Bob's paralyzing disorder.
We should develop the same mentality, similar to Ravizza's quote above, with the mindset of Baby Steps.
Now, what does a winning game-day routine look like?
Here's a Swing Smarter Zen Hitting pattern for success...
The Art of NOT Letting the Game Speed Up on You
You'll fail as a hitter and get upset...it's during those tough times we come back to the mental side of hitting tools discussed above to deal with the game's high failure rate and to maintain focus.
Let's develop a routine shall we. Y'all have a routine in getting ready for your day: the three S's, breakfast, ESPN, read the paper/magazine, etc. which may not be in that order of course.
Now, let's look at some essentials when constructing a game day routine, before going to the ballpark:
- Rest/Nap -- make sure to get enough sleep, studies show we should be getting between 6-8 hours of Biz's per day, every individual's different, but no more, no less.
- Nutrition -- stick to a high protein meal 2-3 hours before game time, and load up on low Glycemic Index (GI) Fruits/Veggies an hour before,
- Hydration -- keep well hydrated throughout the day, as a general rule...half your weight and multiply that number by 20%, add that number into your halved weight and that's how many ounces of water per day you should be drinking,
- Positive Thoughts -- you shouldn't be wasting your time on negative mental energy...listen to good wholesome music, watch your fav movie, etc. to get into a positive mindset.
- Mental Imagery -- Learn how to master visualization (reference the Tim Ferris link above)
At the ballpark:
- Choose a time/action to choose "Okay, I'm a ballplayer now," this could be when you start putting your uniform on, walking into the ballpark, parking your car...you're metaphorically leaving your non-baseball life behind.
- Familiarize yourself with the ballpark (if visiting) especially around your position,
- Choose your mental side of hitting Zen Focal Point, and
- Set your "Special Purpose."
Pregame Warmup/Stretch -- you should do a self check-in, not like a breast exam :P...find out what you're feeling: anxious, nervous, tired...or ready, confident, energetic. If you're feeling the latter, then you're at a green light, but if you're feeling the prior, then we have to slow down and find out why and how to fix it.
Batting Practice & BP -- work your plan in the cage, remember plan to hit, NOT hit to plan. Hit with a purpose, use your routine if needed, and above all practice like you're going to play in the game. BP can also stand for "Baseball Practice," so when you're running the bases during batting practice, treat it like you would in a game...taking ground-balls or fly-balls, the same thing. Baseball Practice.
Lastly, Post-Game Learning/Evaluating -- how did we do with the Control, Plan, & Trust mental side of hitting system? Where did we have a breakdown? How can we fix it? There's always something we can tweak or make better, so be critical of yourself...that's how we get better. Do NOT overlook this critical part in the Zen Hitting process.
Here's the Mental Side of Hitting FREE pdf you've all been patiently waiting for, so print the worksheet out, and do your thang. The info we went over today is something, speaking from experience, that will boost a player's consistency 10-fold if, and this is a BIG "if," they're able to stick with it.
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