Next up in our mental game series is the idea of routines. Routines are consistent habits that players use to get themselves in a frame of mind where they’re physically and mentally ready to compete. These include what you do before, during, and after competition. Some routines change and evolve over time, while others remain consistent. However, it’s impossible to modify your routines if you don’t have any to begin with.
Below are some ways to introduce routines into your training sessions. Some ideas are more flexible or specific, but all of them are ways to purposely prepare players for training and competition. Routines are something we can control at all times and are going to be there for us in any kind of situation. When (stuff) hits the fan – and I assure you, it will – we need something to go back on and help us re-set. This is where routines come into play.
One of the first things we do with our hitters is address their current routines. Training sessions are not a race to see who can speed through the bucket the quickest and get the most reps. Every single rep we take must be done with a purpose, and many times that requires the athlete to simply slow down. We’re going to get plenty of swings in within a half hour session, so the focus must then turn to the quality of reps we’re taking.
To start, teach your hitters how to step into the box by escorting their feet with their eyes. If the tee is set up at the front part of the plate, we teach our athletes to line their front foot up with the break in the plate (where the plate starts to angle into a point). This gives hitters the ability to work behind the tee since we know the average hitter moves forward when they stride.
We then teach our hitters to tap a part of the plate. We do this so they consistently know how far away they are from the plate whenever they step into the box. After they tap the plate, we teach kids to create rhythm by taking their hands towards the pitcher and back. We then encourage athletes to keep this rhythm by moving their barrel and keeping their body in a relaxed, constant state of motion.
Some guys do things a little differently, but what we want to prevent is hitters who turn into statues when they step into the box. We are governed by the laws of physics, and the law of inertia states that a body in motion stays in motion (vice versa). We want to match the pitcher’s rhythm, tempo, and timing, and that starts by keeping some sort of movement as we anticipate the pitch about to come to us.
From here, we encourage hitters to use their eyes and pick up an area where they want to hit the ball. On the tee, we set up the baseball so two seams of the ball are facing the hitter and tell hitters to hunt the inside seam. When we advance to a moving object, we encourage kids to stretch their eyes and pick up where they want to hit the ball. This could be the screen, back part of the cage, top part of the cage, or something outside like the outfield fence.
Once a routine is established, it is crucial to reinforce the routine on a consistent basis. Have the athlete practice stepping out of the box and stepping back in, touching the plate, creating rhythm, and stretching their eyes. After a bad swing or two, have the athlete step out and re-set by going through their routine. If you let kids get away with it in practice, they’ll never have something to go to in competition when the game starts to speed up.
In your average nine-inning baseball game, a fielder will see anywhere between 120-150 pitches. Of those pitches, as little as 2-5 of them will decide the game. Since we can’t predict when these pitches will take place, it is absolutely crucial all nine positions are completely locked into each and every single pitch. You may be locked into 119 of those 120 pitches, but the one you take off could decide whether your team wins or loses that night.
To maintain focus, concentration, and improve reaction time off the bat, we teach our infielders and outfielders to get into a pre-pitch ready position by stepping into the circle. This can be done by stepping forward with both feet, one foot, or even adding a hop after both feet land. It is to be done as the ball is about to enter the hitting zone (around when the ball enters the dirt circle). Following the rules of inertia, we want players to be moving before the ball is put in play so they can get a better first-step read off the bat.
While everyone is different, we highly encourage kids to take a hop step after stepping into their circle. This move is seen a lot throughout professional tennis (see examples from Andy Murray and Roger Federer) Considering they see serves upwards of 140 mph, I think their pre-serve actions are incredibly useful to baseball players.
Here is a video I took of Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres. Notice how his actions mirror the ones from Murray and Federer.
If you ever get a chance to attend a baseball game, pay close attention to the pre-pitch actions of all seven fielders. You might pick up a thing or two from them.
As a coach, be deliberate in how you teach this to kids. Draw a circle in the dirt and have kids step in and out of it. Stepping into the circle is where they lock in and take their focus to the plate, while stepping out is when they can relax and prepare for the next pitch. Preach it when it’s done, point it out when it’s not done. It’ll seem tedious, but it will build good habits that will really help kids out when the game starts to speed up.
Other Notes on Routines
- Learn how to utilize the breath when performing your routines! Breathing helps create clarity, calmness, and focus by slowing your heart rate down and getting oxygen to your brain. For more benefits on the breath, see our recent blog post “Just Breathe!”
- Teach kids good pre and post training/competition routines. This includes a proper warm-up, recovery, nutrition, hydration, and journaling. We’ll get more into these topics in the future, but start with something and be consistent with it. It’s all about building good habits.
- Some routines are built into the game, such as warm-ups in between innings. Every position should treat these like game-reps. If you play shortstop for 24 innings in a tournament and get 3 ground balls every inning, that’s 72 opportunities for you to improve your craft.
- Mental routines are every bit as important as physical ones. Visualization, simulating at-bats, self-talk, re-set buttons, and other actions to fuel the mind are critical to game performance.
- Try different routines, experiment, and figure out what works best for you. As a coach, give kids freedom to do so – but make sure they are actually developing some sort of consistency.
These are only a few ideas, so feel free to come up with anything on your own as it relates to routines. If it can be done consistently and help a kid perform to the best of their ability, use it!
Please reach out to us with any questions or concerns. We love to hear what you’re doing!
Keep learning and growing.