by Casey Dykes, Assistant Coach, Virginia Military Institute
Approach? Swing Plane? Mentality? Timing? Balance? Feel? Separation? Intent? If you hang around enough baseball coaches, watch a game on TV, or start searching through “#HittingTwitter,” you are bound to run across many of these terms. There is no doubt these qualities are extremely important within a hitters’ success. I talk about these all the time, I study them all, I want my players’ to understand them all to the point that they are able to master them while also being able to teach them to teammates. But I believe that there is so much more to being a successful hitter than just mastering the game in the cages and in the box. There are so many other controllable circumstances in our everyday life that affect hitters, positively or negatively, day in and day out.
What I truly hope our hitters grow to understand is this, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” It’s that simple, and I firmly believe these aspects make or break more athletes than the game itself. I like to focus on these six categories because I believe they apply to every hitter at each level.
#1 Nutrition – “You don’t put regular gas in a Ferrari.” Yes, fast food is easy, cheap and it doesn’t take time to prepare. I’ll tell you something that is not easy and it takes years of preparation… hitting a baseball! Training to compete is strenuous and exhausting, and understanding how your body moves and functions to produce the maximum output on an everyday basis requires proper nutrition and hydration. When you put loads of processed foods, simple carbs, trans fats and other foreign substances into your body, all that you are doing is making the toughest thing to do in all of sports that much harder!
#2 Sleep – Studies have shown that risk of injury increases 40% when an athlete gets an average of six hours of sleep per night, as opposed to eight. Think about how many hitters’ careers have been set back or ended by injury. Are all those injuries caused by a lack of sleep? No, but there is definitely a correlation between rest and physical output of our body over a period of time. The everyday grind athletes put their bodies through on isn’t normal. We constantly put torque and strain on our ligaments, muscles, joints and tendons every time we swing a bat. I understand completely that a lot of social and athletic events happen late at night, but it comes down to priorities and time management. You, the hitter, has to decide what is worth missing sleep for in relation to risking athletic performance.
#3 Studying – I’ve looked at a ton of transcripts over my short career in college baseball. More times than not, the guys who are willing to put forth the effort to maximize their potential in the classroom are the same guys who treat the craft of hitting similarly. Some students are smarter than others and some hitters are stronger, more explosive, more quick twitch than others. When a professor talks to me about a player who does just enough to get by in class, that player eventually gets bypassed on the depth chart. You can’t fake preparation. You can try to cheat the system, but the game of baseball will expose you and you’ll find yourself looking back and asking yourself, “what if?”
#4 Walk the Walk – Confidence and cockiness are similar but very different. Each are easily mistaken if you don’t know the background of the person portraying these qualities. A confident hitter is a prepared hitter. Confident hitters walk up to the plate with their chin up, a look of dominance in their eyes and a sense of purpose in their body language. This is the guy I want my hitters to be whether they’re walking through the mall or down the hallway at school.
Look people in the eye when you enter a room. Introduce yourself with confidence. Let others know by your body language that you’re prepared for any situation. Walk into your English class on exam day with a smile knowing that this is going to be fun, because you are prepared! That’s how hitters should enter the batter’s box. It’s time to compete, it’s time to win, and I’m ready for it because I’ve put in everything it takes to be completely ready for this moment. A confident person can speak volumes with their actions.
#5 Identity/Perspective – Baseball is life. I don’t mean this in a way that baseball is everything and the only thing because it’s definitely not. I say “baseball is life” because baseball and life have so many parallels. This is what makes baseball the purest sport ever created. Think about the different levels of life and how they compare to the game of baseball. We live our preteen years with no worries about the past or the future, just focused on the present game, the present meal, the present moment. We play tee ball and coach pitch the same way. We get into our teens and become distracted by outside influences and more independent in our decisions.
High School and college baseball are no different. We’re worried about the recruiting process, the competition, do I get extra work in or go hang out with my girlfriend, sleep or party? This is when we become torn between the “cool” thing to do and the right thing to do. Adult life comes along and we have to work harder than ever before. We have more responsibilities and less help and guidance than we did earlier in life. Ask someone who has played professional baseball before what that lifestyle reminds them of… you can’t live a confident life trying to be someone you’re not, you must understand your purpose. Failure is guaranteed in life, just as it is in the batter’s box, how do you respond? Understand that baseball is what you do, but not who you are.
#6 Weight Room – No game is more mental than baseball, but we can’t neglect the physicality of the game. Baseball will “quit you” before you’re ready to quit baseball and we have to provide our body an opportunity to handle the endurance of an entire season. There are days of rest, but there are truly no days off. If we want our minds to be strong, we have to build our bodies to be as tough as possible. Focus is lost and mistakes are made when you’re physically tired, so how do you minimize those mistakes? You become more physical and push yourself past limitations in the weight room. I’m as “stubborn” as they come, but I’ll be the first one to tell you that we have to push ourselves just as hard in our stretching routines as well. The reality is when you get in the batter’s box, you’re not always going to feel as strong or as explosive as you want to, but when the body is trained to succeed in those situations, it will naturally fall back on the previous habits it has created.
Overall, commitment is the key. To be a successful hitter, you have to commit to the Lifestyle. Hitting is about being committed in a plan on an everyday basis in everything you do. Until you commit to something, you’ll be distracted by anything. The great hitter, much like the successful human, is just your average person who is consistently focused on the right thing.
photos courtesy VMI Athletics