How to Improve Seeing the Ball
How to Improve Seeing the Ball
The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
Baseball and Fast Pitch Softball
Seeing the ball is typically the first skill kids are taught. Then, it is the first thing they forget as soon as the game begins. The young hitter will look up early, before contact, to see where the ball will go.
For more experienced hitters, seeing the ball often gets pushed to the back burner. Hitters become focused on all sorts of things. Many times the experienced hitter doesn’t even consider seeing the ball anymore. It is too basic.
And, there are times all hitters feel like they are just not seeing the ball well. But can’t put their finger on why. Then, they get caught in the loop of experimenting with various mechanics.
For sure, there are some players with a fundamentally sound swing, but aren’t very good hitters. Conversely, there are hitters that don’t look fluid or powerful, but they can flat out hit. Long story short, how well you see the ball separates the good hitters from the great hitters.
In this article, Building Rome Series points to how to get both youth and experienced hitters on the most productive track. That is, seeing the ball well
Seeing the Ball Defined
Seeing the ball well is the ability to see clearly. To recognize what you’re seeing. To track what you’re seeing. Then to relay information to the brain, which signals the body how to react to the pitch.
The hitter must identify three facets of ball flight. The hitter first determines the location of the pitch, then the speed of the pitch, and finally the rotation/spin of the ball.
To do this, the hitter must see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. And then, turn their head slightly (nose to ball) to track the ball all the way to contact.
Benefits of Seeing the Ball
The why of see the ball:
- Picking up the ball, at the earliest possible moment, is a huge advantage. The location, spin, and type of pitch can be detected much earlier.
- Early tracking translates to greater consistency. The earlier the hitter picks up the ball, the more time they have to determine if they are going to swing.
- Often you hear great hitters remark they are “really seeing the ball well right now.” Or, “the ball just looks big to me right now.” Seeing the ball has a direct correlation to confidence, slowing the game down, and performance at the plate.
A Matter of Milli-Seconds
Improving ability to see the ball is multifaceted and intricate (see the 12 Step Checklist below).
Especially for more experienced hitters, making improvements to seeing the ball is often a matter of small adjustments. It is helpful to be aware, vision improvements are typically measured in milliseconds.
Vision Check First
If the hitter reports they are really struggling to see the ball clearly, the first thing to check is their eyesight. If the hitter hasn’t had their eyes checked in a few years it might be a good idea to do so.
Keep in mind, 81% of professional baseball players see 20/15 or better. Good eyesight is critical.
12 Step Checklist
for Seeing the Ball Better
Are you ready to get started seeing the ball better?
Start tracking your percentage of hard hit balls (HHB%) and watch the rate go up!
Here is Building Rome Series step by step list, from simple to more advanced, to improve seeing the ball:
Step1 for Seeing the Ball – “See the Ball, Hit the Ball”
Of all the terminology thrown around baseball and softball, one verbal que stands out as especially effective. Come game time, Pete Rose’s hitting philosophy of “see the ball, hit the ball” can work well.
Once the hitter steps into the batter box, they should strive to think about nothing else except seeing the ball, and hitting the ball.
Step2 for Seeing the Ball – Follow the Ball to Contact
If the young hitter’s head is not turning to watch the ball into the contact area, they are not seeing the ball the last ten feet. Correcting this fault is an effective next step.
Step3 for Seeing the Ball – Eyes Level
A tilted head negatively affects vision.
Many hitters will correctly level their eyes in their stance. But, as they load, stride, and swing, their head will tilt inward. Fix this for immediate improvements in vision!
Step4 for Seeing the Ball – Both Eyes on Release and Ball Flight
Hitters are often surprised when they realize they are only using one eye. They are unaware they are seeing the pitcher’s release of the ball and ball travel with only their front eye.
Crucially, not seeing the ball with the rear eye affects depth perception. Try playing catch with one eye. It is not easy.
Hitters don’t see the ball with both eyes simply because their head is turned too much toward the plate.
To correct, the hitter must build habit for turning their head so the rear eye can see release and ball travel just as well as the front eye.
Note: One reason players will open up their stance slightly is to make it easier to get both eyes on the pitcher. If you are in a even (square) stance and you find it difficult to turn your head far enough to get both eyes on the pitcher, then opening up your stance just enough to solve that problem may be right for you.
Step5 for Seeing the Ball – Athletic in Stance
Most youth hitters, as well as many experienced hitters, should set up in their stance with an athletic posture. Not too tall!
This enables the hitter to maintain the same athletic posture in stance and swing execution.
The benefit, eyesight remains more stable.
Another benefit of hitting athletically is the hitter’s head and shoulders are lower. The result is eyes are closer to the ball thus improving vision.
Step6 for Seeing the Ball – Maintain Posture During Approach
Just as a camera blurs when it is moving, to retain the clearest vision the head and eyes should remain as still as possible.
Hitting mechanics must facilitate maintaining good vision. This means the hitter’s head and eyes remain at the same horizontal level, from stance through swing execution.
To begin, the hitter should set up athletically in their stance. Then, they must load back and make their forward approach without head and eyes dropping or rising up. In other words, posture (spine angle) should remain static throughout the swing.
Yes, all hitters head and eyes should go toward pitcher during their approach. But, head and eyes should remain on the same horizontal plane as this occurs.
Step7 for Seeing the Ball – No Head Movement During Rotation
After the torso comes up against the firm front side, approach ends and core rotation begins, there should be literally no head movement. No lunging forward.
A steady head during rotation is essential for seeing the ball well.
In addition, once the hitter arrives in hitting position, spine angle must continue to remain static as the swing executes.
Inexperienced hitters commonly “pull” their head, where the hitter moves into a more upright posture (reduced spine angle) during rotation. Since the head moves with the upper body, ability to see the ball clearly at it approaches the hitting zone is reduced.
In short, the hitter must retain a stable, athletic position, as their swing executes.
Step8 for Seeing the Ball – Improve Mental Approach
One reason hitters fall out of habit for seeing the ball well can be attributed to improper focus. When the hitter has moments of internal focus they allow unwanted thoughts (swing mechanics, the game situation, fears of striking out, etc) to enter their mind. An internal focus causes millisecond lapses in vision, acting to speed the game up.
Vision is dramatically affected by the mental state of the hitter. While in the batter’s box, the hitter should stay relaxed and keep their mind clear by staying focused on a single thought, seeing the ball. Thinking about anything more than seeing the ball, is too much.
To accomplish this elusive goal athletes in many sports (tennis, golf, wide receivers) will switch their mental focus to an external object. In our case the external object is a ball flying through the air. One hundred percent external focus on seeing the ball allows no performance reducing thoughts to creep in.
Think of the times you were able to block out all distractions. You had the same one hundred percent focus on what you were doing.
While external focus on seeing the ball may sound simple in concept, training the hitter’s mind in this way can require years of dedicated effort. Even into high school, hitters sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about potential results during game at bats. This turns the player into a unproductive, tentative hitter.
Don’t think. Prepare yourself to hit aggressively and let your eyes take over!
Step9 for Seeing the Ball – Timing of Concentration
Hard focus describes staring intently at a point. This usually can only be done for a few seconds.
Soft focus is a more relaxed looking.
- A soft to hard focus is involved in focusing on the pitcher’s release.
- A hard focus too early gives the mind time to interfere with concentration.
- A hard focus too late means the eyes must race ahead to pick up the ball, giving the impression the ball is quicker.
Step10 for Seeing the Ball – Release Point
An effective dugout activity, with each new pitcher faced, is for players to observe where the hand of the pitcher is when the ball is released. This varies quite a lot with baseball pitchers. Some release over the top, ¾, or side arm.
Each hitter should know where the pitcher releases before they step into the batter’s box. This is great mental practice and helps players get focused on the upcoming at bat.
Once the release point of the pitcher is identified, various techniques can be utilized for picking up the pitcher’s release of the ball:
- Visualize a box (hard focus) around where the pitcher will release the ball.
Other movements of the pitcher are not followed, rather the hitter’s eyes remain focused on the release area. This requires the player to look through to center field as they wait for the ball to appear in the visualized box. Pick up the ball as it enters the one foot square area where the ball comes out.
- Visualize a box around where the pitcher will release the ball, but soft focus initially on a point of the pitcher’s body, near the release point. Then shift eyes to the box with a hard focus as the ball appears.
This removes the necessity of initially looking hard past the pitcher.
- If the pitcher is not hiding the ball behind their body, following the ball from the moment it separates from the pitcher’s glove can also work well.
These techniques require experimentation to find what works best for the individual hitter.
Step11 for Seeing the Ball – “Focal Point” Routine
Look at barrel, then something off in the distance, then back to barrel. Just take a second or two to do this.
The Focal Point Routine is an effective trick to get your eyes ready to see the ball coming at you. Significantly, it is used before every swing by many college and professional hitters. Give it a try!
Step12 for Seeing the Ball – “Vunnel” Vision
The hitter can visualize a tunnel between the pitcher’s release point and the strike zone. Block out everything else. Then track the ball as it travels through this tunnel. Any pitch which travels outside the tunnel should be a check swing.
Or, take this idea a step further. Vunnel the pitch. To vunnel, first know the zone you would like the pitch to enter. Now, try to see just ahead of the path of the ball to predict, as early as possible, whether the pitch will be in this zone.
Confidence will increase when practice time is regularly devoted to this type of mental practice.
Drills to Improve Seeing the Ball
- Four Way Drill.
The four goals in this drill will help the hitter create habit for focusing one hundred percent on seeing the ball.
Goal1 – After every swing and miss, the batter identifies why they missed the ball. Were they early or late or did they swing over or under the ball.
Goal2 – The hitter remains focused on the point of contact for a couple seconds after follow-through.
Goal3 – After contact, the batter puts their finger on the spot where the ball hit the bat.
Goal4 – The hitter takes pitches by watching the ball all the way to the catcher or backstop.
- Nose to Ball Drill.
“Nose to the ball” is meant to help the hitter visualize an imaginary line extending from the tip of the nose to the ball. The goal is for the hitter to keep this imaginary line moving back toward the hitting zone. The hitter’s head should turn as the ball approaches contact.
It may help to put a few objects on the ground in the path of the ball from mound to plate. Have the hitter track the ball over each object.
- Small Bat and Small Ball Toss.
Use a dowel or speed bat to hit tossed golf ball wiffles.
- Other Ball Toss Drills.
Short distance front tosses, flips from the side, tosses from behind the hitter, standing on a chair and dropping the ball straight down, two balls of different color tossed at same time, and many other similar drills will all help the hitter see the ball better.
- Stand in on pitcher warmups.
Standing in is very helpful, and also very much under utilized. Use this valuable opportunity to practice seeing release point, spins, making swing decisions, and perfect timing.
- Hit off a fast pitching machine.
Final Thoughts on Seeing the Ball
Seeing the ball is a crucial hitting fundamental which should be refined throughout a player’s career.
Furthermore, seeing the ball well should be every hitter’s primary goal.
Building Rome Series Blog: The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
Here are other videos and articles in The Mental Approach to Hitting Series:
Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing
Building the High-Level Swing, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 contains a detailed and comprehensive examination of over 100 hitting fundamentals, techniques, and options.
In the Building Rome Series of books, fundamentals are built step by step. Construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fast pitch softball players can “climb the steps of the Roman Coliseum” to becoming a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!