Hitters & Pitchers: Breathing to Relax & Succeed

Do you remember that one at bat in your youth  you’d like to have back? That one at bat that you had a chance to knock in the tying or winning run. The pitcher was pretty darn good, too. Unfortunately, you didn’t get the job done.  And, it’s not because you were robbed on a line drive, or the umpire punched you out on a close one.  It was because you weren’t focused and relaxed enough to succeed.

So, many players (I don’t care what age) are remarkably tense in the batter’s box or on the rubber.  This nervousness is an automatic advantage for the opponent. My own seven year old son is dealing with it right now. He’s facing real kids pitching to him, not a parent or the tee. He is now facing kids he knows from PE class and around town. Kids that age are already measuring themselves athletically.  They know who throws hard, who’s wild, and who’s meat. I’m glad to say, that my son finally relaxed last week and got his first hit. It took 5 games though. In the previous 4 games, the mechanics were there, the head was not.

The same issues persist with the 10 and 11 year old girls we coach.  It can be worse, because they look at the season schedule. They know whose pitching for those other teams.  They’re heads start spinning days before a game is even played.

It’s even worse with high school players.  They not only look at the schedule, they memorize it.  They even predict the schedule before it comes out.  Over the last off season, I heard girls of the high school team where I’m currently an assistant, already talking about a pitcher from a rival high school. They knew that they wouold see her a number of times. A pitcher that was already going Div. 1. A pitcher that they had seen repeatedly in summer traveling teams (ASA). Ususally, the tone in their voices was not one of confidence, more like uncertanty.  I’m pleased to say our girls beat her two out of three times this year. Most recently in the regional championship. Go Lady Bulldogs!!!

Sow how does a player get relaxed? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Teach your players how & when to breathe. Yes, breathe!!! A true deep breath will get more oxygen into the blood stream and lower an elevated heart rate. During a good deep breath a player should take air in through nose.  If they expand their chest they’re not breathing deep enough. A “chest breath” doesn’t allow as much air into the lungs. During a true deep breath, the stomach should expand more than the chest. Finally, exhale completely through the mouth. Try it yourself. Do it 5-6 times and see if you’re more relaxed. 
  2. Have your hitters start to do this when they’re in the hole. Then continue, while on deck, in between timing pitches. Next, don’t be afraid to call an offensive conference during an at bat, just to have a kid take a deep breath.
  3. Pitchers are no different, especially, when they’re struggling. How about after a tight call from the umpire. Teach your pitchers to go to the rear of the mound and breath, but not too long or the umpire may think that he/she is being shown up. But a deep breath during times of pitching frustration goes a lot farther with old “blue” than do facial expressions and pouting body language. You can also teach your catcher to recognize when the pitcher needs to relax. Have them go out, thus saving your trips.
  4. Lastly, for hitters, teach controlled aggression. Mentally, baseball and softball need  to be played with the volume turned up to 7, not like football where the volume needs to at 10 (or 11 if you’re a Spinal Tap fan).  Tell them to get into the box with an attitude. Dehumanize the pitcher, and talk to them about finding the ball early and what they’re going to do to a good pitch. And assume every next pitch may be the one.
  5. Oops, forgot one. Prior to that conversation you have with your spouse, on the importance of upgrading your 27″ tube TV to a 50″ flatscreen HDTV, the breathing seems to help. Can’t hurt.

By the way, think back to the at bat I asked you to remember from your youth. Think about the pitcher. He’s probably not as scary today. If you were in little league with Josh Beckett, I apologize, and disregard the entire post. 🙂