The other night, a hitter came in to hit. He hasn’t been able to hit much lately due to his academic calendar. He hadn’t swung in about a week. Within his first three swings, he was going max effort. We had the HitTrax on and he was snapping his head around to check his velocity. With each swing, his intent seemed harder. And with each swing that didn’t result in the hardest hit ball of his entire life, his body language got worse.
My immediate reaction to seeing something like this was to chirp the hitter a little bit. Give him a little tough love. Call him on the body language. This isn’t the first time this hitter has fallen into the “monkey mind” pattern. (In fact, I’m pretty sure he inspired that article too.)
- “Clean up your body language, man.”
- “See if you can hit the next one harder.”
- After that didn’t work, “What’s your effort level right now?”
I hate telling hitters what to do. I will poke and prod them. Try to get to them with inception. I want them to recognize what they are doing, not tell them what they are doing. I want their brain to trigger so they can self-coach moving forward.
I think we’ve all seen, or been, the kid the swings too hard. I certainly understand the desire to hit the ball hard. But it that the intent that will translate the best?
In books like Talent Is Overrated and Talent Code, the topic of work comes up often. I forget which one, but I love when one of the authors talk about Clint Eastwood’s thousand mile stare as seen at the top of this post.
The concept behind the stare is that when elite performers face adversity, they get more determined. They focus. They bear down. And they furrow their brow.
Consider this example from a player that I absolutely respect but cannot stand – Lebron James. Throughout his career, his great ability has been tied to his antics. The flopping, the complaining, the decision… Always questions about his ability late in games. Check out his facial expression from earlier in his career.
I remember he would always be biting his finger nails during timeouts. He just has this look of concern and worry. As he’s aged, these “high eyebrows” have started coming down.
Now it is more of a dagger mentality. This looks like a guy who’s going to come take your lunch.
This attitude and non-very body language is earned with work. It is understanding your plan. It is having an appreciation for failure and why Chris recently wrote, “What makes the truly great athletes special is their incessant desire for more. There’s never a time where they are satisfied with how good they actually are.” But more here isn’t more “hard” effort. It is control. It is increased awareness, ability to block the bad noise.
(If you have a subscription to The Atlantic, there was a great article on Joey Votto today that basically lays out why Votto is my favorite hitter.)
What does it look like? It looks calm and focused. The intent required for develop this aspect of your game is internal, not external. Everything is purposeful. Check out this video of Roger Federer warming up.
As the video plays, pay attention to how the details. The effort level is clearly low, but look at the shape of his shots. There is a sequence where he’s cutting the ball really low to the net. Shots where he is creating side spin. Shots where he’s flowing through his follow through. He’s creating his rhythm and flow.
And this is the disconnect between the “feel and real” conversation that happens. When pro players talk about getting on top and hitting the ball the other way. There is real value in establishing control like this.
Yesterday, we looked at Ozzie Albies and I recently saw a video on MLB Network where him, Mike Lowell and Mark DeRosa. Ozzie talks about hitting everything at the shortstop from the left side. Lowell talks about hitting the ball oppo BECAUSE he is a pull hitter. That if he controls oppo, he can control pull side.
Harder is rarely better for hitters. As you get comfortable, then increase the speed. Develop your routines and feel your way through what works for you. It may be swing up, it may be swing down. I can’t tell you what will work best for you. That is yours to discover!