How to Help Struggling Hitters

Jack Perconte as a Mariner

I am so grateful for my major league baseball career. Most of you are probably thinking, “Of course, why wouldn’t he be?” The reason I am most grateful may be different than you think, though. Reflecting back on my playing days, I realize that at one time or another, I made every mistake in the “How to Play Baseball” book. Why is that reflection important? It has helped me to become a baseball and softball instructor that can relate to ballplayers, based on my experiences. I believe this is the reason that star players do not always make the best coaches. They never made the many mistakes that I made. Additionally, star players usually play with great amounts of confidence so they have a hard time relating to players who do not play with confidence.

This gets me to the point of my article. Upon reflection over the years, I realize that I made it to the major leagues and played at that level with very little self-confidence. As mentioned, the good news is that I can relate to the many young ballplayers that play baseball with little self-confidence. Nowhere is confidence more important in baseball than when batters are standing at home plate, trying to hit baseballs of varying speeds that move left, right, down and maybe even up, as it approaches home plate.

With this in mind, good coaches are constantly helping hitters to maintain confidence. Helping players keep an optimistic frame of mind, especially when players are struggling, is the key to helping kids from getting so discouraged that they do not want to play anymore. Following are some tips that I learned the hard way and that I pass on to my young baseball students.
Coaching statements to keep optimistic, confident hitters:

1. Do not get yourself out by swinging at bad pitches.
2. You are only one swing away from putting it all together.
3. The results will be there if you stay focused on the fundamentals and timing in practice, and on the ball in games.
4. Your confidence may not be high, but never give up hope.
5. There will be times when no one thinks you will get a hit, but always believe in yourself.
6. Remember the good at-bats and forget the bad ones.
7. No one will remember if you make an out with the game on the line but everyone will remember if you get the game winning hit, so you have nothing to lose.
8. Remember, the pitcher is nervous too.
9. The famous line – “It only takes one (pitch).”
10. Stay aggressive, no one walked their way to the big leagues.
11. “I believe in you,” (even if you have doubts in yourself).

Many of these are different ways of saying the same thing and words that will keep players optimistic when trying to perform one of the most difficult things in sport. Finally, coaches may have to employ a little small fib at times like these. Telling a struggling batter that, “There is no one else that I want up to bat in this situation than you,” is acceptable.

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  1. Perry Barber

    October 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Your eleven tips for maintaining confidence at the plate are excellent, Jack, and will undoubtedly prove valuable to a lot of hitters. I’d just like to add one of my own that I think will also help: Don’t get mad at the umpire when he or she calls a strike on you! Regard it as a problem to be analyzed and figured out dispassionately and objectively, not an act of deliberate provocation designed to engender hostility or a subsequent lack of focus. Any time I call a non-swinging strike on a batter, I always wish I could say to him or her: Hey, you should thank me for calling that pitch a strike – because IT MAKES YOU A BETTER HITTER. I sincerely believe this, and it’s a theory I’ve tested and have proven over and over again, spanning three decades of umpiring and paying close attention to such matters. The “unconfident” hitters will become upset and unfocused, and will either swing wildly at the next few pitches simply out of pique, or let some good pitches go by and wind up striking out looking or making out some other way. The good hitters, the ones with the confidence to NOT get upset when an umpire calls a strike they don’t necessarily agree with, will do the opposite: they’ll focus even more acutely, shorten their swing, lay off the pitches that look off the plate, move up on the bat handle, go with the pitch, do all the little things that help batters get hits. One of the most satisfying feelings I get as an umpire comes whenever this dynamic occurs – I’ll call a strike, and can sense which way the at-bat is going by the batter’s response. If he gets back in the box without sneering or otherwise making a spectacle of himself and concentrates on what HE has to do instead of what I’M doing, very often he’ll wind up getting on base. If he lets his anger or lack of confidence rule his actions, he’ll flail at bad pitches or let good ones go by, and blame me (“You took the bat out of my hands!”) The really sad thing is, they’ll learn nothing from the experience. Like I said, the good ones usually seem to be able to adjust, and baseball is, after all, a game of adjustments. Players seldom realize that entails adjusting to an umpire’s strike zone even when they may not like it. (And as you know, umpires’ strike zones can vary widely: I call pitches on the corners and as far up and down as I can get away with, while some umpires have strike zones the size of a pin head.)

    Interactions with the umpires can sometimes alter, even ruin, the entire tone of an otherwise well-played game. If hitters stopped thinking that umpires are out to get them and that we call strikes on them merely to assert our superior authority, their averages would go up like skyrockets! It’s how we as human beings conduct ourselves, and how we respond to adversity as well as success, that will determine our fates, not what someone else does. And that holds true for on the ballfield as well as off.

    • Peter Schiller

      October 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      This is one of the, if not THE, best comments (well thought out and written) we’ve had on this site.

      Thank you!

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