Sunday, December 16, 2012

Teach Your Player to Coach Himself

I had a great hitting session today with a young player who has improved his swing each week that we've worked together. This was only his third lesson with me, but he has quickly learned the swing well enough to just about coach himself. He knows what a correct swing should look and feel like, and he knows his own tendencies so well that he can usually tell me what he did wrong any time he doesn't drive the ball. If he pulls a ground ball, he may say "rolled." Or if he pops it up, he might say "chopped." We both know what he means, and he's usually right. Knowing what happened allows him to make an adjustment on his next swing.

The best thing I can do for a player is give him the knowledge necessary to coach himself. As an instructor, I can't be with him for every practice, game or tryout. But if he can
learn the correct mechanics of hitting or pitching, then I don't have to always be there. He can coach himself. Sure, there will often be little flaws here and there that need to be diagnosed with video and fixed with a cage session. But on an everyday basis, a player wanting to advance in the game needs to learn and truly understand proper mechanics - and more importantly, the effect of proper mechanics on the baseball - well enough to be able to make adjustments on the fly.

It has been said that baseball is a game of adjustments. That means that if something doesn't go well on a particular pitch, the player might need to make a minor change to his mechanics on the next one. There is something to be learned from every pitch, whether it's during a BP session, a tryout or a game. A hitter should ask himself why he hit the ball a certain way - good or bad. Why did he hit a line drive, or pop it up, or hit a weak grounder, or whiff entirely? There is a cause and effect - a mechanical reason for the result of each pitch. A pitcher can do the same. Why did his fastball go low or high? Or why did he hang his off-speed pitch? What adjustment needs to be made on the next pitch? The instruction he has been given will provide him with the knowledge to know what to do.

It should be noted - that kind of thinking should go on outside the batters box or off the rubber. The analysis takes place. The plan for an adjustment is made. And then the player can step back in with positive thoughts, ready to execute the plan, and relax and react.

A player that does not understand proper mechanics is more likely to repeat his flaws and needlessly suffer through extended slumps. He's just up there relying on his natural ability to try to whack the ball, or fire it into the catcher as hard as he can. He has no idea how he succeeds or fails, so he cannot possibly coach himself and make necessary changes.

A player that understands the science behind his swing or pitching delivery can often stop a potential slump after one pitch. If it's during a game, one poor swing may cost a hitter an out. But if he puts some thought into why it happened and he is able to diagnose his problem, he will give himself a better chance of making the needed adjustment to get a hit in his next at-bat. If it's during a tryout, that quick adjustment could be the difference in making a team or not. It could make or break his whole season.

Knowledge is power. Arm your young player with the knowledge to coach himself. Teach him proper mechanics. Schedule some lessons. Buy him (or yourself) a book on the subject. Teach him the cause and effect involved with each swing or pitch. Give him the knowledge to coach himself. It doesn't require much age or maturity. The player mentioned above is 12. There are several others that I am fortunate enough to work with each week - younger ones too... real students of the game who know something that 95% of their peers don't.

The player who relies on nothing but his natural athleticism, hand-eye coordination, or size and strength will eventually be surpassed. Don't settle for natural ability, no matter how easy the game comes at the youth level. The player who has some natural ability, but may be smaller or less experienced, is out there learning how it's done. He is training. He is building up the knowledge base to perfect his mechanics. He will go farther in the game.

1 comment:

  1. Good insight. Also yet another good reason for parents to shut the heck up and not offer mechanical corrections during a game. Hey, it's Christmas, a guy can wish can't he?