Planning is usually where we start. Athletes must layout what they are trying to accomplish in detail and prepare for all possible outcomes.
Anyone who plays baseball and wants to achieve as much of their potential as possible should be looking for every possible way to get an edge on the competition. While most baseball players focus on boosting their strength, hand eye coordination and speed, a few have adopted alternative and unconventional techniques. One of these techniques is meditation.
When was the last time you truly saw a baseball player or team actually practice under massive amounts of pressure? In general, I can tell you they spend very little time performing under pressure. Honestly, just try and think back to this past season, whether you were practicing as a player, coach or observing as a parent. Can you candidly say that most practices were carried out with pressure, intent and conviction? In a majority of these instances I would venture to say little or no emphasis was actually put on performing under pressure, but instead the emphasis was technical or mechanically based.
What are we potentially doing to our players by practicing this way? I think it is pretty evident...when a critical moment arrives in a game, such as a sacrifice bunt or 3-2 count with bases loaded, either as a hitter or pitcher, due to the lack of exposure to these pressures it could perhaps be not so surprising that performance can vary or falter (As Sports Psychologist Dr. Rick Jensen suggests, pressure will always find your game's weakest link so find it and work on it). In short, do baseball skills learned in non-pressure situations, with nothing on the line transfer to pressure situations? Not necessarily! So, for that reason, maybe it is time to review the way in which practice tactics, mechanics and philosophy is delivered?
Awareness, being aware, self awareness...just what does this mean? In life it can mean a vast number of points, items and details. Well, guess what players? In baseball terms it actually means the exact same thing...points, items and details. Check out what Webster’s dictionary says the word "aware" means:
Knowing that something (such as a situation, condition or problem) exist
Feeling, experiencing, or noticing something (such as sound, sensation or emotion)
Knowing and understanding a lot about what is happening in the world or around you
Now just how does being aware correspond to baseball? It’s simple, yet many players don’t grasp really how simple being aware can be. For example and for simplistic terms, let’s look at something as simple as the number of out in the inning. How many times have you seen a baserunner on first base with two out and not running hard on a fly ball hit to the right centerfield gap because they thought there was only one out? Well, that is a simple example of not being aware prior to the pitch or worse yet, being temporarily aware (first base coach gave verbal reminder and the third base coach flashed the number of out) but actually not being aware once the play happens. Sometimes these are also called brain cramps...the train of thought was momentarily lost at a crucial time in the game and, in this case, the ball fell in and the baserunner was only able to secure one base, instead of two. This type of thing will happen in all levels of baseball and many times does cost a team a run, or in some instances, the game.
Being aware can be as simple as what was just noted. But, can players become better equipped to be aware of situations, conditions and problems? Yes they can, however, many players very much struggle with clearly understanding when these occurrences are placed right in front of them.
Let’s take another certain part of the game. For example, hitters, when practicing or working on their swings, how many players are genuinely aware that their back side rotates well or doesn’t rotate well? We have all seen and worked with hitters that struggle to rotate when hitting. But, when working with them and asking if they are aware, most say they are not. It can be a frustrating venture when working with any hitter on rotation (or other parts of the swing), if they are not fully engaged and aware of what they are doing or not doing.
During the course of working with a hitter (in this instance) one of the things I try and do is ask him (or her) is to be more conscious or aware of the feeling or sensation they get when working on a certain part of their swing. Asking questions, clear explanation and quality demonstration, to go along with whatever drills are being used, can all assist the hitter in becoming more aware of what needs to be accomplished.
Being aware stretches well beyond mechanical breakdowns in whatever one is working on. Being aware means being aware...have a look at this short yet simple list of points to be aware of and in spite of all the coaching, teaching and constant reminders players still struggle to become aware of many, many situations in a game:
Score, Inning and Number of Out
Hitter and Baserunner
Sun and Wind
Sign or no Sign
Positive or Negative Count (ahead or behind, hitter and defence)
Turf field or Dirt and Grass Field
Long Hop, Short Hop or In Between Hop
Low Line Drive or High Line Drive
Forehand, Backhand or Routine Ground Ball
Catch (the ball) or Pick (the ball)
Block (the ball) or Catch (the ball)
Sacrifice Bunt or Bunt for a Base Hit
Suicide Squeeze or Safety Squeeze
Curveball or Slider
Two Seam or Four Seam
Base Stealing Lead or Hit and Run Lead
These are simple items that affect player awareness. As a result, coaches can never assume that players will be aware of the vast number of bits and pieces necessary to play this game. Those players that are keen and attention-to-detail type will excel at awareness and especially excel at in-game awareness and become much more detail oriented in their own development, but they are the exception more than the rule. The assumption has to be that player awareness is quite minimal (compared to a coach's awareness) thus it has to be coached on an ongoing basis.
Players need to take a much more active role in their own development...in other words, players, if you want to get better, then be proactive rather than reactive. Coaches, the same can be said. You must take a more active role o being proactive with your players rather than reactive. Reactive is actually undemanding, while being proactive means higher demands are placed on you and in turn these demands need to be translated to your players. Most players want this or they would not be playing. Most coaches want this or they would not coach.
So players, start becoming more aware of the fact that there are numerous conditions in and around a game that you need to start being more aware of. And coaches, start becoming more aware that your players' awareness can be accelerated greatly by sharing, coaching and being more proactive towards fostering their awareness.
Yep, that’s right; we are destined to fail at this game. I can’t think of any other sport where failure is actually as good as it can be in baseball. As hypercritical as that last sentence is, it is also the truth. As long as you play this game, you will FAIL! That’s right, I will say it again, YOU. WILL. FAIL!
Well then why do we play it? That is a question only the eyes of the beholder can answer. Not sure if this makes sense…we do something knowing full well that if we are successful 30 per cent of the time (i.e. as a hitter), we can be happy! Wow, how captivating baseball must be to enjoy failing like we do.