I had the distinct pleasure last weekend to sit down with a dear friend of mine, who just happens to be my mentor, Bruce Brown. And I have to tell you, the time just flew by. Tucked away on the end of an island over looking the Puget Sound, coach and I had settled into a fabulous conversation that encompassed our passion in coaching. The one thing that intrigued me the most was the conversation we shared on the power of non-verbal communication and how significantly it impacts our players, both in a positive and a negative manner.
Most pointedly, a story coach shared with me about a softball player playing at a very high level, and her coach. It was a typical game and the young gal was stepping into the batters box for her first at bat of the game. As the pitcher whipped in the pitch, the player took it for a called strike on the outside half of the plate; not a great pitch and clearly a questionable call by the umpire. No big deal, right? Well, let me explain the problem. The coach, not really liking the questionable call simply looked downward towards the ground shaking his head as he turned and walked back towards the coaching box. The coach was a little disappointed on a questionable call by the umpire. Turns out, the entire at-bat was miserable for this young lady as well as her next two. Following the game, the coach was walking through the dugout and noticed his young player sobbing in her mitt. He pulled her aside and asked her what was wrong. He thought she may have hurt herself or there was some sort of conflict brewing amongst teammates, and honestly had no clue as to what she was about to say. She simply replied, “you are disappointed in me and I don’t know why?” The coach was stunned. “What are you talking about, of course I’m not disappointed in you, tough day at the plate, but that happens to players all the time,” he replied.
As they shared more with each other, the coach had come to realize that his reaction during her first at bat towards the umpire was perceived as disappointment in his player-100% differently than it was intended. This single act had drastically impacted this young ladies entire mind-set and her game, yet it was completely non-verbal and unintentional.
The power of perception is so real and so incredibly powerful, that we as coaches lose site of how much we really do impact the game simply by what our body language is saying. Bruce, who happens to be an expert in this very topic was able to help create strategies for this coach and his players as a building block to the future. And I couldn’t agree more with everything he shared with me in regard to non-verbal communication. But, from my perspective I had to ask why this coach was even remotely spurned by a called strike.
Well, this was my two cents to the conversation. In my opinion, coaches fall well short when it comes to teaching strong mental approach to hitting; couple that with unrealistic expectations and you have the makings for an ambiguous playing environment.
A comment I hear far too often from coaches is that their hitting is inconsistent; and that statement alone reveals that there is an unrealistic expectation from the coach’s perspective and most likely his players. Let me explain. Baseball and fastpitch coaches love numbers and statistics, it’s a major part of the game; I get that. But, what I don’t get is their interpretation of those numbers. First of all, a player’s batting average is the least important number a coach should be looking at, yet that’s all I hear about from coaches, parents, and players, when they are evaluating the players overall performance.
If you want to look at relevant numbers in regard to a players success when it comes to hitting, I would advise you to take a close look at what Billie Beane discovered as the GM with Oakland Athletics. Through a rigorous statistical analysis they had demonstrated that on-base percentage and slugging percentage are better indicators of offensive success in a player and that statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average, typically used to gauge players, are relics of a 19th century view of the game.
So, if we change a couple of things in how we are evaluating our players and teach them to evaluate themselves, we will begin closing the gap on this concept of inconsistency at the plate.
But, even if you don’t want to change your philosophy in regard to statistical achievement, then at-least look at what it really is saying. If you take a batting average of .325, which is a very strong average in many levels and look closely at it you will realize that it represents 3.25 hits every 10 at bats. That is 6.75 at bats that were unsuccessful or 67.5% of the total at-bats. Which, ironically, is by definition, inconsistent. Take any other sport and analyze a player’s performance and inconsistent would be a perfect word choice. A field goal kicker that makes a poultry 32% of all attempts, or a volleyball player that faults on their serves 67% of the time and of course my favorite example, Shaquille O’neal at the free throw line. Shaq has a career average of .527 and is known for being inconsistent at the free throw line. But, apply those numbers to a batting average and he would be the greatest thing since the internet.
What are we really looking at and expecting from our players? and ask yourself, do you have realistic expectations when it comes to hitting and do your players know what those expectations are?
As I look back at the story of the coach, I had to bring up the point to Bruce that this is much more than a lesson in non-verbal communication. This is about teaching our players to understand what it really means to think in the box and how we go about teaching it to our players.
What does that mean? How do we teach it? How do we model it?
How it applies to the situation described above is fairly simple in the context of having a clear plan at the plate. When teaching players to be successful at the plate we have to teach our players to think and work harder mentally than the pitcher and catcher working against us. And, if we are going to play the game of average we need to live by that philosophy. Players and coaches have to give in to the notion that they are not going to hit every pitch thrown over the plate and they only need one pitch that they anticipate correctly. For example, if you have worked with your team to look for either a middle-out or middle-in pitch in any given pitch, then you will know that there is a very good chance that your player will be taking pitches they are not looking for, and yes some will be strikes. If a player and coach have a common trust in one another and the mental preparation aspect of the game has been engrained into the system,then the action of the coach may have been understood for what it really was, disappointment in a bad call, not in the player.
The reason she was confused, in my opinion, is because the mental approach to the at-bat is not an engrained philosophy. If it was she would know without hesitation that her coach would not be shaking his head and walking away simply because she took a called strike, especially if that is what she has been taught to do.
Now, I know I don’t know exactly what went down and there are many more variables that could be in play, but I have heard and seen this very interaction 100’s of times to know this is a great example for coaches to really look at two critical elements in their own coaching. One, is the philosophical approach and mental side of being a great hitter and the other is the power of non-verbal communication. Put these two complex concepts together and there you have it, the potential for a very unstable foundation.
For more on this topic you can find it in the Thinking Hitter manual on the site and for are to all of you who have not experienced what coach Bruce Brown brings to the table with his program, I strongly encourage you to visit his site. It is simply too important not to look into. You can access his material and read all about my good friend at http://www.proactivecoaching.info/proactive/