Last week marked the official end of the off season for all of my professional hitters with the independent minor leaguers leaving for spring training. I have spent a good deal of time noticing differences between my amateur hitters and my professional hitters this off season. While there certainly are physical differences between them, the biggest difference I have noticed is in the mental and emotional side of the game.
One of my favorite days since opening Elite Diamond Performance was the "Night with the Pros." We invited the younger players to come hit alongside all of the pro players that train here. In addition, we had an extremely informative and valuable question and answer session. Interestingly enough, the talk of mechanics never came up. Overwhelmingly, the topic of mental approach came up much more than I was expecting. The pro guys talked about 2 very important aspects of the mental side of baseball: Trusting the process and keeping emotions in check.
1. Trusting the Process
Since it is their careers on the line, professional hitters tend to know their swings inside and out and know what they need to do within themselves to be successful. These hitters understand that in training, we may spend an entire week doing boring drills or may do some things that make them uncomfortable. They understand that every swing will not result in a great hit and they learn to take positives out of negative outcomes. They trust what they have learned about their swings and what will ultimately make them successful.
Amateur hitters often times want a quick fix in their swings. They don't understand that improvements as a hitter take lots of time and lots of repetition. They jump ship from something either because it feels uncomfortable or they don't have immediate success. This leads to them constantly chasing a quick solution when
2. Controlling the emotional side of the game
One question that was asked at the Night with the Pros was how do you handle the metal grind of playing every day for an entire 100 plus game season. The answer was that you have to take each day as a separate event. You cant dwell on the successes or failures of the previous day. If you do, it will eat you up because of the overwhelming amount of failure you experience as a hitter.
This was probably the best advice given during the night. Professional hitters have a unique ability to handle the inevitable failure that comes in hitting. This time of year I get calls, texts, and emails just about everyday from players of all ages. When everything is going well, they sound very similar. However, when things don't go well, there is a glaring difference in the way that players communicate that to me.
The typical amateur player or parent will tell me of a game or 2 where the player struggled. Lets say the player went 1-4 and 0-3 in back to back games. I will often get a panicked message about how they need to make some drastic change in their swing or how they need a new bat or some other fix. Sometimes there is something to fix but more often than not, it is just the inevitable ups and downs of being a hitter.
On the other hand, lets say a professional player has a similar stat line in back to back games. I will get a message pointing out the positives in those 0 for at bats. Many times, they will state that they are seeing the ball well, swinging at good pitches, or hitting the ball hard but right at someone. When they don't feel well at the plate, they don't panic and take a step back and try to make some small adjustment rather than over hauling everything, and this goes back to trusting the process.
In this article, I use the terms professional hitter and amateur hitter. For the most part, the terms hold true to the level that a player is playing at. However, I have many, many younger players who have a very similar mindset to the true professional players, and guess what, they are the ones who tend to be more successful over the course of the season and their careers.
I had a younger player who told me that his teammates were getting on him for taking practice swings with an uppercut. He looked at me and said, "Coach there are kids on my team who may be successful right now doing it a different way, but I know that this is what I have to do to be successful in the long run. I don't want to just be a good player at my age, I want to do things the right way so that I can go as far as I can." Even as a little leaguer, that is the mindset of a professional hitter trusting the process.