This time of year, batting practice and instructional time at Elite Diamond Performance is centered around mechanical changes in the swing. We are still a few months away from stepping on the field and it is the perfect time to attack any mechanical flaws that may be present in a player's swing. However, the way in which we approach a session mentally can have a profound impact on the way that those mechanical changes take hold. There are 3 main things that a hitter must keep in mind when working in the cage.
1. Focusing on 1 thing at a time
One of the hardest things for a hitter to do is to focus on 1 mechanical change at a time. Every hitter, tee ball through my pro guys all have more than 1 mechanical flaw in their swing they need to address. However, a swing happens so fast that trying to change more than 1 things at a time seldom works. For example, if a hitter needs to work on avoiding lunging, focusing on the weight shift in addition to focusing on the bat path will often result in neither getting fixed. Focus on the most important flaw then proceed.
2. Trusting the process
Mechanical changes take time. Muscle memory is a powerful tool that is often times not easily manipulated. The body remembers patterns and swinging a bat is a complex pattern that needs time to mold.
Perhaps the biggest attribute that my most successful hitters possess is patience. When I introduce something new, they trust that it will take time for it to feel comfortable but they know in the end it will benefit their swing. The players who take a few swings with something new and feel uncomfortable and ditch the new pattern will struggle with seeing improvement. I always tell my hitters that swinging a baseball bat is not a natural pattern that we were born with. It is something that has to be learned. However, that doesn't mean that the way our body does it right now is the best way. Often times what feels comfortable now is not the best and most efficient way to do it. Allowing the body to feel uncomfortable in the beginning is how we make ourselves better.
3. Have a plan
Perhaps the biggest lesson that I learned in my short professional career was to always have a plan in batting practice. Always be working on something. In professional baseball, most hitters can routinely hit the ball over the fence. However, not every round consisted of HR Derby swings. They took rounds where they drove line drives the other way, treated BP like 2 strike counts, and so on.
I tell all my hitters to always have a plan. I often times see hitters just get in and swing at everything. Besides the obvious aspect of this approach translating to the game, this swing at anything approach can impact our ability to see mechanical changes. If we are working on trying to drive the ball to the outfield, swinging at low outside pitches may not be the best pitches to swing at. There are countless examples of this, but unless we are working specifically on 2 strike approach or driving the ball the other way, I will tell my hitters to treat batting practice like a no strike count. This will force them to focus on getting their best pitch and allowing them to put their best swing on it.
When working on mechanics, the way that we approach batting practice is vital. We need to only focus on 1 issue at a time. Choose the most important flaw and attack that. Focusing on more than that often leads to nothing getting fixed. When attacking the flaw, trust the process and understand that changes take time and that your first few swings may not be the most comfortable. Finally, always have a plan when it comes to pitch selection so that more quality swings can be taken in a session.