How to Change a Batting Habit
The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
Baseball and Fastpitch Softball
In this “mental approach” article, Building Rome Series describes three different approaches to change a bad batting habit to a more productive one.
How to Change a Batting Habit article is excerpted from our new drills book, The Ultimate Hitting Training Guide (click the link to learn more).
For most athletes, regardless of the sport, changing an old habit is a gradual, step-by-step process; this is also true for baseball and fastpitch softball hitters.
The best scenario is the new hitting habit increases in occurrence while the old habit gradually decreases. Rarely are new habits instantly formed.
But with patience and persistence, the hitter eventually completely replaces the old habit with the new.
The developing player can become a dominant hitter by changing one bad batting habit at a time – don’t take on too much at one time!
This article aims to provide ideas for shaping the process of change to be as effective and efficient as possible.
The Obstacles to Change a Batting Habit
Trying to break old habits can raise the frustration level of any athlete. However, coaches and parents can help the developing hitter stay patient and trust the training process.
The hitter must be first conscious of the obstacles they face. Here is what they are up against:
- Our bodies actively resist something which has become a habit, and we have seen work. But that doesn’t mean it is the most productive way to hit a baseball or softball.
“Habits are hard to break. Myelin cannot be un-insulated. So the only way to change them is to build new habits by repeating new behaviors — by myelinating new circuits.” (The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, by Daniel Coyle.)
- What the hitter thinks they do is often not what they actually do. Use slow-motion video to demonstrate.
Feel is not always real.
- An unproductive intention or concept may need to be replaced by different thinking.
The intention of the athlete is the driving force that regulates all movement.
The Goals for Changing a Batting Habit
When a hitter is trying to improve, they could either:
- Completely change what they do.
- Change what they do to make it a little better.
- Take what they currently do and make it more consistent.
To be a high average hitter requires the ability to make quality changes and, at the same time, produce consistent performances.
First Approach to Change a Batting Habit – Internal Focus
Baseball and fastpitch softball hitters can use an internal focus to change their habitual movements (click the link for our free article on the various ways an athlete can focus their attention). Then repeat the change until it is ingrained and automatic.
Changes to physical habits require constructing new myelin circuits (click for how to train your brain to automate swing mechanics).
Utilize an internal focus to:
Break the skill into small pieces and start slow (see “A Precise System” below).
Break the swing or new technique into small parts (e.g., stance, rear weight shift, stride, separate hands, lead with hips, …) and practice each part slowly and accurately. The athlete must be able to do it slow before they can do it fast. It’s not how fast you can do it; it’s how slow you can do it correctly. Crucially, continuing to practice at full speed reinforces the same old habits.
Link the pieces together in progressively larger groups (see “A Precise System” below).
As hitters begin linking pieces together to complete their new swing habit, they feel good about their progress. The process of linking pieces helps hitters realize that while setbacks may occur as pieces are added, constant progress is being made toward the goal. In addition, as each new piece is added, the hitter gains an improved understanding and feeling of how energy transfers up the kinetic links.
Take away the result.
The hitter is striving to improve specific movements. Nothing else matters!
Focus is key during this stage of training. Unfortunately, most hitters make technical changes inefficiently. Their attention focus is split between the desire to make a technique change and a good result (solid hit). These two focuses, internal body movements, and external results, usually do not mix well.
First, take away the result. Then, gradually bring it back as the new movement becomes increasingly ingrained.
A Precise System to Change a Batting Habit
The process of internalizing hitting fundamentals, or any sports-related movement, is quite like learning a musical instrument. So here is a precise system that works well for musicians faced with learning a new song:
Step1 – Divide the song (or swing) into smaller pieces.
Step2 – Practice the first small piece slowly.
Step3 – Practice the second small piece slowly.
Step4 – Practice the first and second small pieces together slowly.
Step5 – Practice the first and second small pieces together at speed until it flows smoothly and is performed correctly.
Step6 – Practice the third small piece slowly.
Step7 – Practice the second and third small pieces together slowly.
Step8 – Practice the second and third small pieces together at speed.
Step9 – Practice the first, second, and third small pieces together slowly.
Step10 – Practice the first, second, and third small pieces together at speed.
Continue adding one piece at a time until the entire swing or new technique can be done fluidly and at speed.
Second Approach to Change a Batting Habit – Simulate the Game Environment
Changing some bad batting habits (poor timing, poor pitch selection, etc.) can be tedious and slow. How can we help a hitter more quickly change these types of bad batting habits?
Here is one powerful training concept:
Boost the developing hitter’s rate of improvement by frequently simulating the game environment in practice.
Perception and action are coupled (click the link for training the hitter’s brain scientifically using the latest motor cognition discoveries) in live games. Therefore, make practice as close to game-like as possible. For example, incorporate the reality of a competitive pitcher trying to strike out the batter. A competitive environment stimulates the hitter’s perception of various types and locations of pitches and the action required.
Third Approach to Change a Batting Habit – Environmental Constraint
Utilizing environmental constraints (click link for using constraints to enhance skill-building) is an incredible and fascinating coaching scheme. Simply put, manipulation of the environment shifts the intention of the athlete and forces development in a specific skill area.
Here is a quick example. More experienced hitters reduce fair territory during batting practice and scrimmages by placing cones from home plate to left-center and home plate to right-center. Any ball landing in the infield or outside the restricted fair territory is a foul. Ask one outfielder to play the fair area and catch any fly they can get to.
These environmental constraints dramatically shift the intention of the hitter, requiring the ball to be driven hard on a line drive and gap to gap. With this external result focus, hitters adapt to become very good at hitting the ball hard up the middle into the outfield. Count and record the number of base hits out of 25 swings to measure progress over time. Or, divide the team and make it a hitting competition.
Effective coaching can be seen in the manipulation of the training environment. Allowing your athletes to be free, athletic, and competitive within that environment encourages positive adaptations and promotes developing a most productive style for the individual hitter.
The coach can use their imagination to add environmental constraints to any drill. For example, create drills that require bat speed, driving the ball deep, hitting to all fields, adjusting for off-speed, recognizing the off plate movement pitch, or whatever the hitter’s goal is, and challenge hitters.
Further Concepts to Change a Batting Habit
- Don’t always trust feel.
What the hitter thinks they do is often not what they actually do.
Feel is not always real.
- Delayed learning.
A patient hitter who can realize what is difficult today becomes easy tomorrow can overcome many obstacles.
- Going backward.
Sometimes there is regression. Often a hitter may feel like they go back three steps to go four forward. Players who are not willing to make that sacrifice often stagnate, never getting where they want. This is even truer the more ingrained a swing is.
Remember, the hitter can sometimes be performing their worst when they are learning the most. This is vital to understand if the hitter is to improve and reach their potential.
- It must feel different.
If the hitter is to make a change to their swing, it must feel dramatically different. Normally, if it doesn’t feel strange, vastly uncomfortable, or just wrong, the hitter is probably not changing enough.
“Initially, the new way feels very strange and awkward because you are moving against old habit. But in a short period of time, through deliberate repetition, the new way feels normal, and moving back to the old way would feel strange.” (The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, by Daniel Coyle.)
- Be patient.
The brain will try to direct the body in old, tried, and tested patterns. But each time practicing the desired new movement or result, this state gets a little weaker. Eventually, this state “snaps,” and the hitter is free of old unproductive techniques.
New habits are formed by routine practice. For the average athlete, 60 times per day, 21 days to a new habit. So enjoy the quest and the rewards!
Building Rome Series Blog: The Mental Approach to Hitting Series
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Building Rome Series Books: Building the High-Level Swing Series
Click Building the High-Level Swing Series to learn more about our new two-book hitting series containing a detailed and comprehensive description of 100 hitting fundamentals and 140 step-by-step drills that efficiently construct the batting swing from the ground up.
In the Building Rome Series of books, the construction of skills are in functional order, providing a “roadmap” to becoming a great hitter.
All baseball and fastpitch softball players can “climb the Roman Coliseum steps” to become a powerful and productive hitter.
Enjoy the quest!