Confidence Lost At the Plate?
At a loss, because your child is struggling at the plate? Have they lost confidence and are just not the hitter they once were, at least in games? You notice they’re worrying about things out of their control like being consumed with getting hits, making the travel team next year, or in one parent’s case, concerned about college commits.
You are not alone.
Perspective and tips to keep in mind:
1. It only takes 1!!
One perspective that players tend to have and it may be an aspect of what your son is battling is they feel like they have to impress EVERYONE. The reality is your son can do everything perfectly fine in the game and yet still 9 coaches may not like something about what he does but 1 coach likes him and it's all he needs to get an offer.
Your child will only play for 1 program anyway. I say this with a smile on my face because while it's probably obvious to you, it gets lost within the psyche of players because of the anxiety and perception they carry that they have to impress everyone. That's impossible to do so reminding him that it only takes 1 may relieve some anxiety.
2. Help him settle himself on the worst-case scenario and what he's going to do about it.
This is a strategy that can be used to also relieve stress. What's the worst that can happen? Is it that he doesn't get an offer? Is it that he doesn't go to the school of his choice?
Whatever it is, ask him what he plans to do about it. Maybe the next step for him will be that as long as he is healthy, he can always try out. I was not recruited to play college ball at Princeton, but I was considered a recruited walk-on. Still, I didn't get a whole lot of opportunities as a freshman but the ones I did get, I capitalized on, and found myself in the Ivy League Championship and got the game-winning hit.
He may not get exactly what he wants but if he gets an opportunity, that can be more than enough.
Help him settle himself and his emotions on the worst-case and ask him what he'll do about it. This may put his performance in perspective.
3. One performance does not define his playing destiny.
I had the worst camp ever when I went to the Stanford Baseball Camp. When I was 12 years old my goal was to play ball at Stanford. I went between sophomore and junior year, went 0-8 with 5 strikeouts, 3 throwing errors in one inning, and didn't hit a ball past the pitcher’s mound. And yet, I went on to play college ball, was drafted, and am very grateful for my career.
What's ironic is that Princeton coaches attended that Stanford baseball camp and yet I still wound up at Princeton and had a great career there. One performance does not define his destiny!
4. Acknowledge the anxieties and embrace them.
One of the best and healthiest things he can do is simply acknowledge the fact that games matter more. At-bats matter more and that's totally fine. Many players try to minimize the pressure because they think that's the only way they can play well but it backfires on them. There's research on this topic, specifically on how people perform under pressure, and one of the discoveries is that when people try to tell themselves to relax it actually heightens anxiety.
Instead, reframing his nerves by telling himself, "I'm nervous, I'm excited, I'm ready."
Research also shows that when people reframe their nerves as excitement, they actually use those emotions much better to their advantage. Ceci Clark, the mental performance coach for the Cleveland Indians incorporates this strategy with their players.
So, giving your child the OK that his nerves and anxieties are normal and in fact, an indicator that he cares AND his body is ready for action, may help him.
To hear more about this research, you can check out this podcast here: https://thelearnerlab.com/being-better-when-youre-nervous/ - it's about how to play/perform under pressure
5. Focus on what's controllable
When your child is focusing only on hits - Hits are completely out of his control, so he wants to lock in those things that are in his control, like HOW he practices and his preparation. He can control what pitches he swings at, he can control his approach, his plan, etc. This should be his focus.
6. Have a Mental Game Plan.... here's something I'd recommend
While on deck, have your son acknowledge, embrace, and verbalize how he's feeling. Allow himself to become aware of it, be ok with it.
Now it's time to tune into what his mind needs to focus on, which is he needs to make PAC with himself.
P - needs to have a PLAN for the at-bat. His plan should be controllable like putting a good swing on the ball. If he does that, it's a good at-bat. It's not about hits but about whether he executed his plan.
A - needs to have an APPROACH for the at-bat. The approach would be what he's looking for, where he's looking for it. In other words, what pitch is he wanting to hit and where is he looking for it. You can probably notice that his approach may adjust pitch-by-pitch which is fine and good... If he has an approach, that's what he wants to focus on.
C - needs to be 100% COMMITTED to his PLAN and his APPROACH.
Every at-bat on deck or between pitches, his sole focus is to make this PAC with himself. He needs to have a plan, an approach, and commit to it. After every game, he's not evaluating how many hits he got but did he keep or break the PAC he made with himself?
7. Identify a Non-Negotiable Attitude at the plate
This alone could be the key that unlocks your son's potential. He must be at the plate with an attitude that he's going to HUNT FASTBALLs, for example. This is clearly tied to the PAC he makes for himself. The PAC he makes for himself will feed nicely into the attitude he hits with.
Gary Sheffield, a former MLB player of 22 seasons, explains his attitude and the PAC he made with himself so nicely around minute 5:36 as he discusses how he handled breaking balls. He said he was looking for one pitch, he would NOT let himself get beat on a fastball but would be ok if he got fooled on a breaking ball.
Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qmXDYZtZBLA
8. He can show greatness through his attitude, his plan, and other traits that don't show up on a scoreboard
One of the most impactful revelations I got was my senior year in college. I was playing within a very narrow window of trying and wanting to play well for MLB scouts and I knew my time was short. One game early in the season I was facing a top pitching process from the U. of Richmond. I worked the count to 3-2, struck out, ended up going 0-4 in the game with literally 15-20 scouts in the stands.
When we got back to campus after the weekend series, my coach said, "Hey Stevie, the Arizona Diamondbacks scout was talking to me about you." I thought, oh boy, this can't be good... In my mind, I struck out and went 0-4... no way anything positive could've come from that. Then my coach said this:
"Yeah, he was really impressed with you. He said that out of all the hitters in the lineup, you were the only one that looked like he had a plan at the plate, stayed balanced, and had an idea of what you were trying to do."
I was like, "huhh?? He was impressed with that???"
At that moment, I realized I could show my strengths even through failures. That's how powerful a PAC can be, attitude can be... While these things don't show up on a scoreboard, they can and do show up. And even if coaches aren't at games to see it, these are the traits and habits that will lead to hits. Even though that top prospect struck me out, I also hit a triple off of Justin Verlander in front of just as many if not more scouts that year too.
The hits will come but not by focusing on them.
All the best to you and your Athlete!
If this was helpful to you, please share this with someone that you think could benefit from at least one idea or perspective in this article.
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