Hitting a softball is one of the most challenging skills in all sport. It involves a lot of fine-tuned mechanics, repetitions—as well as a mental awareness that failing is a part of the game.
Here's a step-by-step routine hitters can follow to sharpen their focus and perform their best at the plate.
Why Routines Matter
Part of becoming a mentally-aware hitter is creating an offensive routine. The offensive routine can help any hitter relax, focus, tune out a noisy crowd and most importantly be a constant in a game that changes pitch to pitch.
No matter what field you play on, what uniform you wear or if it is the championship game, the offensive routine should stay the same.
An offensive routine is more than simply taking a few practice swings on deck. It starts with a conscious effort in the dugout to prepare and ends with having that swagger in the batter's box.
Step No.1: The Dugout
You are in "The Hole"; time to start getting your helmet, batting gloves and bat ready. At this point you can start to check out the other pitcher, pick up on any tendencies or go over your own hitting adjustments.
Don't be the player scrambling to find a helmet when it's your turn to be on deck. Take the time to prepare in the dugout.
Step No.2: On-Deck Circle
The physical routine starts to take place here. Each person has different physical routine, but once again make your routine a habit in the on deck circle.
The on-deck routine can consist of a few loose warm-up swings, followed by some swings being timed on the pitcher and end with a few more dry swings at game speed. Each swing or exercise should have a purpose on deck.
Don't be the player asking your mom to get you a Gatorade on deck. Take your mental routine from the dugout, prepare your physical swing on deck and be ready to approach the batter's box.
Step No.3: Breathe
Now that you're in the batter's box it's really time to hanker down and focus. One of the most effective exercises to slowing the game down and relaxing is a nice deep breath.
Suck in a nice big breath of air, pick those shoulders up and let it all out. This can prepare you to relax, something that every hitter wants to achieve in each at-bat.
Step No.4: Focal Point
During that nice deep breath you can pick out a focal point. This can help to block out the noise, both around you and in your own head. A focal point can be a letter on your bat, the black part around the plate or maybe the right field foul pole.
Whatever it is, make sure you have your focal point at each and every field you play at, and that will give you an opportunity to focus your mind and energy before each at bat
Step No.5: Self-Talk
Positive self talk is something we cannot do enough of. Be confident, have some swagger and if all else fails: fake it 'til you make it.
Positive self-talk can occur throughout every phase of your offensive routine. Remind yourself of all the BP you have taken throughout the week or before a big game. Review some key trigger words like: hands inside, see the ball down or drive it up the middle. Whether it's a 3-0 count or a 0-2 count, keep the self-talk positive and believe in you.
An offensive routine is not perfected over night or made in one softball game. The most important aspect is to stay consistent and create a routine that will help you find the most positive and productive way to get it done on offense.
Ashley Herrera was a former softball player at D-I National Champion UCLA, an NFCA Academic All-American, and three-time selection to the Pac-10 All-Academic Team. She is currently the head coach at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, CA and is director of softball marketing at XPROTEX Sport Group.