In junior college, my coach had a running joke that I had three different swings: a tee swing, a batting practice swing, and an in-game swing. He would say so in jest, but all good jokes contain truth, and the truth was that my practice swings weren't translating into the game.
Day in and day out I was the first person to practice and the last one to leave. My hands were impervious to blisters, having calloused over a plethora of times. I took more swings than anybody else, but my work never seemed to find its way into game situations.
Something wasn't right.
Hitting With an Empty Mind
At first, I thought that working hard was all an athlete needed to have success in baseball. I worked my butt off, but to no avail. I kept making the same mistakes I had prior to stepping up my work ethic.
I would practice a movement in my swing or a different timing mechanism, hoping it would show in the game the following day, but it never did. It wasn't until I began not only working harder, but working smarter, that I found out the true path to improvement.
Hitting With a FOCUSED Mind
An empty mind is begging to latch itself onto something - anything. There's no telling what will come up in our heads.
A focused mind is latched onto ONE thing. This one thing - whatever it may be - is predetermined, detailed, and useful. It's something that can help us compete, even when our swing or our arm slot isn't feeling great. Put simply, it is a plan of attack.
We like to call this plan a mental cue.
When we do our cage work, we should not only be working our physical skillset, but we should be working our mental skills as well. This includes paying attention to things like how our swing feels, what words we use to tell ourselves to swing a certain way, and using those thoughts to see if we can manipulate swing and arm paths. When we achieve this thought process, we are now able to repeat the movement more easily because it now has a phrase attached to it.
One of the first experiences I had with mental cues was the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. I had been working hard on developing my swing, but not hard enough on simplifying my mind. Instead of coming out of a cage session with one simplified thought, I had many competing thoughts swirling around in my head, causing the game to seemingly speed up around me.
Finally, I decided to tell myself "knob to the ball".
Yes, I know. This is an extremely old-school way of trying to hit a baseball. It's also not really what happens. After all, you can't physically hit the baseball with your knob. However, once I started having this one thought in my mind every pitch, something crazy happened - I started barreling up everything. Every pitch speed, every location, and every arm angle was hit hard.
The only change was simplification - organization.
A mental cue can give an empty-headed player a tangible goal to more accurately direct them and it can give a headcase a simpler solution than trying to repeat a step-by-step informational guide every time they step into the box.
When you practice mental cues, work to organize. An empty mind is inconsistent. A crowded mind is slow. But a focus