The key to success at the plate is mental toughness and mental preparation. Great hitters do not have the same batting stance, physical talent or mechanics. What they do have in common is a plan at the plate and a strong belief in their ability to carry out that plan.
One thing many hitters lack is an at-bat routine. Great hitters use at-bat routines to help them focus, establish a plan and prepare mentally to execute. At‐bat routines are the perfect time to apply several key mental strategies to help you succeed. It is a time to embrace a hitter’s mindset which includes confidence, focused, and mental preparation.
It doesn’t matter who is on the mound or what you did last at-bat because your routine is all about what you need to do in the present moment to succeed.
The purpose of an at-bat routine is to prepare you to:
(1) focus on what’s most important to help you execute (task relevant cues).
(2) keep you from having a negative approach, second guessing your decisions, or having doubts.
(3) prepare yourself consistently for each pitch, forgetting about the last pitch and focusing on the next.
(4) enhance confidence in your ability to take action (pull the trigger) and make solid contact.
(5) trust in your training and ability to succeed.
Everyone’s at-bat routine is unique. What helps one player prepare to hit may be different for another player. However, the idea remains the same. A good at-bat routine incorporates the step an individual must take in order to full embrace a hitter’s mentality or tap into “the zone”.
The following is an example of AL Rookie of the Year, Mike Trout’s at-bat routine.
While in the hole Trout prepares his equipment and begins to embrace the mindset of a hitter. He becomes aware of the situation by examining the pitcher and the umpire’s strike zone. During this time he meets with his hitting coach to discuss a strategy or converses with another player to gain another hitter’s insight.
Then he steps into the on-deck circle, stretches and takes his practice swings with a bat weight. While in the on-deck circle he gets his timing down, studies pitcher’s release and assessing the on base situation. Before leaving the on-deck circle he has a plan. This may involve seeing a pitch, looking for a first pitch fastball or where in the batter’s box he is going to set up.
Notice how much detail goes into his routine before he even makes his way towards the plate. Trout understands the need to prepare for each at-bat. He isn’t running around looking for his equipment, or focusing on the fans in the stands while on deck. He uses his routine to transfer from a position player to a hitter. Hitters like Mike understand that being prepared and having a plan for each at-bat gives them an advantage. It is what separates great hitters from good hitters.
Now that Trout has embraced a hitters mindset he is ready to put his plan into action, but his routine isn’t over. Trout then approaches the plate confident in his preparation, his equipment, and his ability to put the ball in play. Just like he prepares for each at-bat he has a routine to help him apply his preparation. Trout places one foot in the batter’s box and begins to take control of the speed of the game. He raises his hand to the umpire allowing him time to get set and comfortable as he sets up at the plate the same each time.
Consistency is key to a successful at-bat routine.
He digs each foot into the box to gain his balance and waves the bat over the plate to set his hands and tighten his grip. He visually cues in on the pitcher’s release point, takes a deep breath to clear is mind and concentrates on the zone. He feels confident at the plan and prepares to “zone in”. To calm his mind he uses a swing thought or trigger such as repeating “See the ball” or “Contact” to help initiate his swing if the pitch is in the zone. If it is out of the zone he follows the same steps to prepare for the next pitch.
Baseball is a mental game. To many baseball players today approach the plate unprepared. If you are one of these players you are only cheating yourself. When you approach the plate without a plan you are far less likely to succeed. A simple routine can make the difference between achieving your performance goals and coming up short. During your next game be aware of the steps you take before each at-bat and establish a routine that works for you. Remember, a solid at-bat routine begins in the dugout and ends with a hit.