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Shout out to the Volunteer Parent-Coaches!

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It’s that time of the year! In my opinion, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, sorry Christmas! Recreation baseball and softball leagues are swinging into gear all over the place! Kids are trying out their new gear, ready to swing for the fences! … and parents are praying that someone else is going to volunteer to coach the team! Ha! This post is a shout out to you parents who stepped up and volunteered to coach the team.img_7376-2 This post is for all those parent-coaches who aren’t sure where to start and may be wondering what in the world they got themselves into. Let me start by saying, we appreciate you stepping up and “taking one for the team” so all of our kiddos have a place to play and fall in love with the game!  I know how hard the position of coach can be, especially if you have little to no experience with the game.

A family friend of ours is in your shoes. He stepped up to coach his sons baseball team this season and baseball isn’t his number one sport; he’s more of a football guy. He asked me for help with practice plans and basic mechanics. I wrote out a few practice plans for him and I thought some of you could benefit from them as well! They tend to just throw you guys into the fire without any guidance and I’m not down with that! Here’s a few practice plans to help you get your season started! (They are written for kids around 8 years old with little to no baseball/softball experience)

Stay tuned… there’s more to come!

Practice 1: Setting the Tone

Practice 2: Intro to Hitting

Practice 3: Infield/Outfield

Practice 4: Eye on the ball

Practice 5: Intro to Game Situations

 

 

But He Didn’t Get a Hit…

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I wanted to write a follow up article to my original “My kid is in a slump, what I do do” post. If you haven’t checked out that post yet, you can read it here: My kid is in a slump, what can I do?

I had a parent come back to me after reading this blog and discussing it with me. She described her son’s latest plate performance. ” He got two at bats. He was hit by a pitch and walked. He didn’t swing one time! He’s so timid up there and lacking confidence!”

I went to the checklist:

Did he have a positive mindset? No. She reported that her son was worried about getting a hit. Did he have strong body language? A little yes and a little no. Did he swing at the correct pitches? He didn’t swing at any of them! My next question was, how many of those pitches were strikes? The mom explained that the pitcher was young and just learning so the umpire gave him a very large strike zone. The strikes that were called against her son weren’t technically strikes. Did he swing well? N/A.photo-1490326149782-dd42fa59bd9f.jpeg

I took into account that her son is 7 and gave her a different perspective.

Her son did exactly what he was supposed to do at the plate. He was patient and demonstrated self control. He didn’t swing at pitches that were balls and got on base because of it! He reached first twice! That’s productive for his team! (As this athlete progresses, yes, they must learn to adjust their strike zone a little bit to match the umpires) At 7 years old, this at bat was a total success!

This is an at bat that can be used to boost his confidence. He helped out his team by demonstrating self control at the plate and having a good eye. He was productive! He added two base runners to the game! Using this out look consistently will naturally help him to have a more positive mindset and stronger body language because he will feel successful more often.

I decided to not address his lack of mental and physical confidence at the plate because he is currently feeling very defeated in his baseball performances. This wasn’t the right time to “coach him up” so to speak. At this stage in the game, I suggested that she simply work with him to have a positive mindset and a strong presence at the plate in their next practice session. Reflecting on this past performance and making him aware that he didn’t have either of those things won’t be helpful in this moment.

Being successful at the plate doesn’t always translate into getting a hit. The younger the athlete is the harder it is for them to understand this. Keep using this checklist with them and watch their confidence grow as they begin to realize how tangible success is!

My kid is in a slump, what can I do?

Slumps are tough for kids. They begin to feel like no matter what they do they are never going to get a hit.IMG_3948 It tends to snowball into more of a mental hang up than a physical one. As parents and coaches we know dips and peaks in performance are normal, especially for our young athletes. So what can you do to help them get out of their funk before the negative mindset tarnishes their confidence? In order to help them regain confidence in their athletic abilities it is helpful if you reframe their definition of success at the plate by focusing on what they can control.

The goal shouldn’t be to get a hit because technically you aren’t in control of that. There are too many factors at play – umpires, pitchers, fielders, score keepers etc. The goal should be to have a good or productive at bat.

What does having a good at bat look like?

1. Productive mindset. This is a HUGE idea with so many ways to instill it but I’ll try to keep it simple. Explain that their thoughts need to help them succeed. They can’t just have random thoughts that wonder through their mind at the plate, nor can they have negative thoughts that hinder their performance at the plate. They need to have thoughts that will help them produce the outcome they want. Think of three things they can say to themselves in the on deck circle and in the box that will lead them to success. Have a mix of confidence boosters and mechanical cues. (Examples – 1. I’m a powerful hitter. 2. keep my hands high 3. Keep my weight back. Or 1. Step early. 2. I’m a great baseball player 3. See it and crush it.) Make sure these statements are phrased in an outcome focused manner. Have them say things they want to accomplish as opposed to things they want to avoid. (Example – Keep my hands high vs. Don’t drop my hands).

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2. Strong Body language. Strong body language is a much more tangible expectation than simply saying “Make sure you look confident at the plate”. Have your athlete practice showing strong body language and weak body language so they understand the expectation.

3. Swinging at the right pitches. Batters never get to choose which pitches they are thrown but they can choose which ones they swing at. Swinging at good pitches is imperative to having a productive at bat.

4. Swinging well at those selected pitches. They’ve chosen which pitches to swing at, now they must also swing well at those pitches. Did they use the proper hitting mechanics that their hitting coaches have been instilling in them?

Use these things as a checklist after every at bat.

Did you have a productive mindset?

Did you have strong body language?

Did you swing at the right pitches?

Did you swing well at those pitches?

You can do this with them in the backyard or at the cages to instill the habit and begin to switch their perspective on success. Practice “real” at bats with them. Before the at bat make sure to give them time to do their 3 mental statements. It may help if you do it out loud with them. Then have them step in the “box” with strong body language. After each at bat go through the checklist with thimg_3949.pngem. Use the no answers as moments to coach and improve. Use the yes answers to deliver well deserved praise!

Focusing solely on the things they can control makes success feel more tangible. When hitters, especially kids, are in a slump (on a side note, don’t use that word when speaking to them about their performance) getting a hit feels like something that happens by chance. Like all these factors have to magically align and then they can finally get a hit. They relate it more to luck than talent. By focusing on the controllable things they’ll feel more confident because they will begin to realize that they play the biggest role in their success at the plate.

WARNING. This isn’t an over night fix. Switching their definition of success takes consistency and time. I urge you to try and always use this language when talking about hitting with them. Your language will dictate the language they use in their head with themselves. By speaking this way about hitting they can use their hitless at bats as learning opportunities because there are specific things they can change/ fix. When they do get a hit (which they will because they are focusing on the process which is how hits happen) they will well up with confidence because they will know it wasn’t chance or luck. It was their deliberate hard work.

Can Vision Training Improve Batting Performance?

Batting in baseball is a skill that requires exceptional hand-eye coordination. Due to this common concept, there is a general consensus that vision training is beneficial to hitting performance. However, there is little to no valid assessment to prove this belief in literature. The study, “High Performance Vision Training Improves Batting Statistics For University of Cincinnati Baseball Players”, set out to prove that traditional vision training can improve batting and hitting performances.The Study was done at the University of Cincinnati on the 2011 baseball team. Six weeks prior to their 2011 season, the team was introduced to vision training which consisted of 20-30 minute sessions 3 times a week. Within these sessions the athletes experienced 8 different types of vision training.

Dynavision

Dynavision involves a large board with various lights scattered throughout it. The lights light up, and the athlete must hit the light that illuminates. This was done in two series of one minute sessions. The device was able to record the number of hits per minute, and the reaction time of each player

Brock string

Brock string is simple eye exercise to condition the eye and lens muscles. Athletes are given a string with three balls spaced out along it. They must hold the end of the string to their nose, and have a team mate hold the other end away from them parallel to the ground. For one minute the participant must focus on the first ball, the second ball, and so on, and then work their way back to the first ball.

Eyeport

Eyeport is the digital version of the Brock String exercise. It is used as a warm up for extra ocular eye muscles.

 Tachistoscope

A tachistoscope is a device that displays an image for a certain amount of time. Projection tachistoscopes use a slide equipped with the mechanical shutter system just like a camera. For the training, a shutter speed was selected, and the shutter was tripped normally. the participant then must call out when they recognize the specified image. This was used to improve object recognition in the visual field, like the ball out of a pitchers hand.

Rotary

Rotary is a set of letters and numbers placed on a spiral rotating poster. This poster rotates at different speeds and directions. The players must call out and point a laser at the correct letter or number. This is done in one minute sessions.

Strobe Glasses

Strobe glasses are glasses with LEDs in the lens that flash at varying speeds. These lens’s blind the batter for split seconds at a time, making life look like it is happen through a strobe light. The slower the flashes the harder it is to take in visual information. Players wore these during batting practice, as they got more advanced the strobe speed would slow down. This helps athletes to predict movement, and to take in as much visual information as possible.

Sasscades

Sasscades is a voluntary rapid movement of both eyes in the same direction from one object to another. Charts of random letters are placed on a wall, both horizontally and vertically. Players stand at varying distances and focus from one chart to another, similar to a general eye test. This is also done for one minute

Near Far Training

Near and Far training has the same concept as sasscades except the charts are put at two separate distances. The players eyes have to adjust to depth as well as left to right.

After the 2011 season was completed the teams statistics were compared to the remaining teams in the conference, as well as their previous 2010 season statistics. The data were analyzed using a simple t-test statistic to compare the difference in change for Cincinnati compared to the other Big East conference teams. An underlying normal distribution for the baseball statistics, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage was assumed.

Results showed that the Cincinnati team batting average increased from 0.251 in 2010 to 0.285 in 2011. This change in batting average was statistically significant with a p-value of 0.02. The slugging percentage of University of Cincinnati increased by 0.033 while Big East’s conference slugging percentage fell over that same time frame by 0.082.This produces a difference of 0.115 which is also Statistically significant (P=.02).  Also, on base percentage increased for Cincinnati, rising by 0.034 points. Where as the Big East Conference on base percentage fell by 0.034. This difference of 0.068 was, again, statistically significant p<0.01.

In conclusion, vision training can combine traditional and technological methodologies to train the athletes’ eyes and improve batting. Vision training as part of conditioning may improve batting performance in college baseball players.

As for my own experiences with visual training, as a youth player, my coaches used to toss tennis balls to us with various letters printed on them. Our task was to yell out the correct letter while making contact with the ball. I also did this as a high school athlete on a more advanced level. I was introduced to this machine that shot out tennis balls with minimal rotation. This allowed players to read the letters while taking batting practice off game speed pitching. Both were extremely beneficial to me in my self-efficacy perception in hitting.

Other drills you can try with your players to increase hand eye coordination are:

  1. Soft tossing golf sized whiffle balls. You can make this more advanced by requiring your players to swing with a wooden dowel.
  2. Numbering and lettering tennis balls in soft toss as mentioned above.
  3. Drop toss- have a player stand on a slightly elevated surface and drop a ball into the strike zone of a hitter. The hitter must try and hit the ball as it drops to the ground.
  4. Back toss- have a player front toss to a batter from behind her. The batter must track the ball as it comes in from the opposite direction as normal, and time her swing to hit it square.
  5. Frisbee drill- Have the pitcher throw the batter a Frisbee instead of a real ball. The Frisbee tends to move and switch direction, this will help the batter predict movement of the object and react quickly.

Quote of the day: 

Practice is putting brains in your muscles”

References:

  • Clark, J. F., Ellis, J. K., Bench, J., Khoury, J., & Graman, P. (2012). High-Performance Vision Training Improves Batting Statistics for University of Cincinnati Baseball Players. Plos ONE, 7(1), 1-6. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029109

Is hitting actually contagious?

In the world of baseball and softball the belief that “Hitting is contagious” is pretty common. It is the belief that once one player gets a hit, it trickles down the line up, and soon enough you have a rally going. But can one hit from one player truly have an effect on the next batter? I found a study entitled, “Hitting is Contagious” and it investigates just that!

Past studies have been completed that insinuate this contagious phenomenon as definitely possibly, but never proven.  Research has shown that we as humans experience “action inductions”. The tendency to perform an action related to one that we have just been observed.  The best example of this is yawning; when you see someone yawn it’s almost inevitable that you are going to yawn yourself. Other  studies that have confirmed the theory of action induction were only studied on a bivariate degree, with simple motor movements. For example, subjects would watch a finger point up or down, and the subject had to replicate the motion. They only consisted of one direction in the prompt, and one possible successful outcome to be performed.

However, there has never been a study done with multiple prompt directions and multiple possible successful outcomes.  In other words: Does action induction occur if the stimulus is only one example of a successful outcome? It is also unknown if a delay between observing the prompt and performing it compromise action induction? And lastly, Does skill level have an affect on action induction?

The purpose of this particular study was to investigate the multiple aspects of action induction in baseball players of varying skill levels.

The participants of this study consisted of 24 baseball players. 12 were considered more experienced, and 12 were considered less experienced. The more experienced players were from U.S. JCs and had a mean age of 20, and 10 years of playing experience. The less experienced players were from recreational travel leagues and had a mean age 22, and 5.9 years of playing experience.

To ensure validity and reliable, the study was performed in a lab using a simulation baseball machine. The apparatus they used to simulate a baseball at bat has been used in multiple studies previous to this one. It accurately simulates an actual baseball at bat, except every pitch is thrown in the strike zone of each particular batter.

This is how the at-bats were done.

Before each at bat, the batter would see one of four visual stimuli; action outcome, verbal, or no stimulus.

  1. The Action stimulus displayed a video of a ball traveling from home plate to right, center, or left field.
  2. The Outcome stimulus showed a ball sitting in right, center, or left field.
  3. The Verbal stimulus projected one of three words on the screen; “right” “center” or “left”
  4. None- batters viewed an empty field before the pitch.

Each stimuli was show for 10 seconds.

After the pitch was thrown, a verbal message would play telling the batter what the outcome of the pitch was; strike, single, homerun or out. The batters first got to practice on 25 pitches, and then they participated in 30 at bats each off the machine

They recorded data by placing sensors on the bat, the pitch location, and the front foot of the hitter. This allowed researchers to plot the coordinates in an x,y, z plane to confirm contact with the pitch. They also kept track of numbers of pitchers per at bat required to achieve a hit, and number of hits in total.

The data was then analyzed using fancy statistical analysis equations like, 2×4 mixed factor analysis of variance using ANOVA. What this basically means, its they took both experience level and the 4 prompt types and cross analyzed them against each other to determine how many pitches it took batters to achieve a hit after observing the various prompts. They also used the Azimuth angle equation to calculate the direction of the ball for a successful hit. They then used more ANOVA analysis to to determine how the hits corresponded to the direction of the ball shown in the prompt.

The results of the study show:

  1. more experienced and less experienced players both required fewer pitches to achieve a hit after observing the action stimulus. Which again was the stimulus where the batters watch a video of a ball being hit into the field.
  2. More experienced players showed a significant relationship between stimulus direction and hit direction for both the action and outcome prompts. Meaning that for experienced players, if they watched a ball be hit to left field, or saw a ball laying in left field, they tended to hit the ball to left field.
  3. Less experienced players only showed a significant relationship between hit direction and prompt direction after viewing the action prompt.  In other words, for less experienced players the only prompt that dictated the direction of the batters hit was the video prompt. Although, the effect was significantly smaller than the effect on more experienced players.
  4. The effect of the stimulus decreased as delay increased. With experienced players the effect was completely eliminated after 4 pitches, the equivalent to about 80s. For less experienced players the effect was eliminated after 2 pitches, roughly 40s. Meaning:  the stimuli’s effect on the direction of the hit was lowered as each pitch was thrown. 

This article didn’t discuss too many cautions; however they were worried that players might have seen the direction of the prompt as an instruction on where to hit the ball. They actually recreated this study, only using experienced players and the same prompts, but asked the batters to try and hit the ball over second base every time. Despite the change in direction, the results of this second study were significant and consistent with the results of the first study, so they were able to eliminate this caution.    

In conclusion: Hitting IS contagious! The results of the study show that action induction does occur in a baseball setting, and is more significant, and decays slower in experienced players.

I loved this study because it directly relates to my future profession and current job as a softball coach, and past experiences as a player. It’s more knowledge I have for my own personal coaching tool kit, and more knowledge to give to my players. It provides me with more evidence to strategies I already stress as a coach. Like looking to hit the first pitch, and with my new knowledge, especially after a successful at bat! Also calling time out to take a second to breathe when errors are being made, can eliminate the action induction affect and hopefully help my players positively.

On the other hand, there is one concern I have with this study. In the discussion section of the article they mentioned hurrying players between at bats to induce action induction after successful at bats. But in my mind: if you look at a real time baseball game, as an on deck batter. You see the hit, watch the defense field it, throw it in, then you have to walk to the plate, take a sign from the third base coach, and wait for the pitch delivery. That itself usually takes close to 80s, and in the article they stated that the effect of action induction is eliminated after that amount of time. This makes it seem hard to generalize these results to a real life baseball game, which they did in their discussion section.

With that said, I can still definitely utilize this information for teaching techniques, using more video, or demonstrations to promote successful performances. It also provides support to using imagery through out games and practice, which is one of my favorite strategies to use with my players.  

This was a little more technical, but I hope you enjoyed it!

Quote of the day:

“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game” – Babe Ruth 

 

Baring it all

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Coaching perspectives and life lessons of a Sports Psychology M.A.

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Some things you can't complain about at work

M I Initiatives

Belief in Human Potential

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