“Admitting your faults isn’t a weakness – it’s a strength. Having your weaknesses pointed out isn’t a slur on your character – it’s an opportunity to improve your life.”
– James A. Owen
No individual wants to hear that they are making mistakes; whether it’s in sports, in their family life, at work, or in school. We always want to believe that we are doing things the right way. When told of our flaws, we may feel embarrassed; or take a stance of denial, thinking that the individual pointing out our mistakes doesn’t know what they’re talking about or may have some ulterior motive for what they brought to our attention.
When working with young ballplayers, it’s hard for them to understand what they’re doing wrong. Video is a great way to point out the areas that are causing them to struggle. They get to see what they are doing wrong, and hear why what they are doing is causing them issues. However, what they are doing that needs to be corrected is likely a habit for them. So breaking the bad habit, and introducing a good habit will take time.
The first step that I introduce to players is to understand, and get a feel for what they need to do. This is a critical step in their development; but one that usually falls on deaf ears. Why? Well, I’ll get to that in a second. But let’s first take a look at what I normally see on the ballfields when coaches are trying to correct issues.
“Johnny” is taking batting practice and isn’t keeping his hands in on inside pitches. This has been a problem for him for quite some time. Since his hands get around inside pitches, he usually hits the ball off the handle; or yanks them foul. One day at practice his coach yells from behind the L-screen that he needs to keep his hands in on the inside pitch. Ok, the coach is right; but “Johnny” doesn’t know what that means. He doesn’t have a feel for staying inside the ball. So, the coach throws the next pitch and whack, “Johnny” slams one over the left-fielders head. Coach yells out “See, I told you.” Unfortunately, the ball the coach threw was right down the middle of the plate, not inside. Now “Johnny” thinks he’s got it.
When initially working with a player to correct a bad habit, the first thing that needs to happen is to get them away from live skill work. What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re trying to teach Johnny to stay inside the ball, get him away from batting practice, or under-hand front toss; or even side toss. After showing them what the proper technique should be; it’s too hard for them to simply try executing something they’ve never done before while trying to hit a moving ball. Initially, they have to have 100% focus on the technique. They can’t do that if they’re trying to hit a ball that’s flying at them.
Take them away from hitting a ball and have them work simply on the technique. Have them slow down their swing, performing the proper action in slow motion so they can understand what they need to do. Having them do it in slow motion where they’re not focused on hitting a ball allows them to place their full attention on what the correction should be. Then repeat…and repeat again…and repeat again. This is the first step in them getting on the right track. Constant repetitions of the proper technique develops the feel that they need. They need to have that feel so they know when they do it right versus when they do it wrong when they do start hitting off the tee, or batting practice.
Following every workout I have with a player, they are always given homework. And usually that homework includes getting in front of a mirror. Perform the skill you are working on in front of a mirror. Why? Because mirrors never lie! In the example above, Johnny’s coach praises him for staying inside the inside pitch. Unfortunately, the pitch wasn’t inside. His coach may not have seen the location; or may have just wanted to make Johnny feel good. Either way, the coach is not helping. In fact, he is making Johnny believe that he adjusted correctly to the inside pitch. When Johnny gets in front of a mirror (for dry swings), he gets to see what his hands are doing. If they “cast” away from his body, the mirror will show him. It NEVER lies.
My goals for every session with a player are simple: 1) Make sure they understand what they are doing wrong; 2) What they need to do to fix it; and 3) Why they need to fix it. They’ve been using a bad habit for a long time; so I can’t possibly expect them to do the correct habit by the end of the session. But, I can expect them to know what they need to do to fix it. And that’s where the mirror comes into play. I show them how they should use a mirror to their advantage. Get yourself in front of a mirror and perform the proper technique, nice and slow so that you can control every aspect of the movement.
Mirror work achieves two key aspects of creating a good habit. It allows you to see that you are doing it the right way; which then leads you to develop a feel for the right technique. Once you have the feel, then you can work on the proper technique off a tee, side toss, front toss, and BP. The feel allows you to know when you execute the technique properly or if you fail.
So, why does mirror work fall on deaf ears. Simple. It’s boring. Getting in front of a mirror and working S-L-O-W-L-Y on the proper technique is not fun. Ask a 13, 14, 15 year old kid to do something each day for 20 minutes that isn’t fun. Well, odds are it won’t last long. And unfortunately, developing that feel takes some time. But, you have to encourage them to stick with it. If they can stick with it long enough to develop that feel, then you’ll have them hooked. It will be a tool that you’ll never have to remind them to use. It will be their go-to whenever they’re trying to incorporate a good habit.
Push the kids to slow down when trying to correct a bad habit. It’s tough as kids usually want to go a mile a minute; but the corrections will come quicker. Constantly remind them of why slowing down is the key, and hopefully the results will be more positive than negative.