Last year our guys were great in the cage. They looked good, lacing line drives every where. We purchased Driveline Baseball’s Axe Bats and Plyo Balls. When our guys were squaring those up, I thought we’d be set. Then we played some games.
Our guys struggled. They really struggled catching up to any fastballs. We could sit fastball against velocity and still have it blown by us. What was I missing? They looked good in the cages and we worked extensively on mechanics with different constraints, etc. However, something was missing. When I went to 108 Performance’s Bridge the Gap event in August of 2018, the common theme was data collection and making the environment difficult. The reason for this is because we aren’t trying to create ‘cage monsters’. We want and must create hitters.
This last weekend I had the opportunity to go to ABCA’s National Convention in Dallas, where that theme was reiterated. I had not, as a coach, created an environment that breaded competitiveness. Instead we were doing a ton of ‘feel good’ BP that in turn, made them feel bad during the game.
I learned that we must create an environment that feeds the competitive side and causes failure, because if we aren’t failing in practice, we will fail in the game. After taking some time to think about it, here are 3 things I think about competition
1.) Data Creates Competition
Guys love numbers. They love to see how they stack up against each other. They want to see how they’ve improved and how they can improve. Data helps with this. Yes we must be smart and apply it correctly, but the right data can give us insights into our hitters, while allowing them to compete against themselves and their teammates. I’m not just talking about Blast Sensors, Rapsodo’s, and Hit-Trax either. If you can’t afford any of those for your program, figure out what’s important to you and track it for your players. Then post it for them so they can see it. If you think QAB’s are important, track your players at-bats in scrimmages and games and have a QAB Leaderboard. If barrels are important to you, come up with what constitutes a barrel and then track it in scrimmages and games. You can track anything and everything, but the most important thing is to apply whatever you track and let your players know who’s winning. You will build competitors.
2.) We can’t just blow our guys up
Jeff Albert, The St. Louis Cardinals Hitting Coach, recently said on the ABCA Podcast that 4% more difficult is the number that the author of “The Rise of Superman” says we should be striving for when challenging people. We can’t just turn the pitching machine up to 100 and ask a guy who can hit 80 MPH to adapt right away. A better approach may be to take the guy who hits 80 mph pitching and up it to 85 with a machine. Then have a BP session where you’re at a distance that mimics 85 and mix pitches. We want to challenge our guys, we want to push them and have them fail/struggle. However, we must make sure that the struggle is temporary and something they can handle. If we make it too difficult and the challenge too daunting, we may see the opposite and have athletes quit. Make it challenging, but make it a challenge they can eventually beat. Then challenge them again.
3.) Practice is where we want to fail
If we are failing in games consistently, we need to look at our practice habits. I had to take a hard look at how I conducted practice this last year. It was way too easy. Sure our guys felt like they were having success, but it didn’t play in game, and that’s all that matters. Darin Everson, hitting instructor in the Colorado Rockies organization, said that he wants his guys success rate to be around 40–50% in practice. I’m not sure how close that is to the 4% more challenging above, but it shows that failure needs to happen in a practice setting. If we aren’t failing in practice then we aren’t challenging our players enough. They need to go through the grind at practice to figure out how to compete. They also won’t know if there swing plays in a game setting, if they are never in a game setting in practice. If all they’re doing is T-work, flips, and feel good BP, they’re going to be behind the 8 ball on the weekend.
Competition is going to drive our program forward this year. It needs to drive each and every program out there. Ask yourself, how can I create an environment for my athlete that will closely mimic the game and will give them the best opportunity to succeed when the time comes? It’s time to teach our guys to compete.