WHEN BASEBALL IS YOUR IDENTITY

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When baseball is your identity

March 15, 2013 by   
Filed under CoachingMental Side

 

For many young kids who play the game from an early age, their lives look like the following graphic.  We’ll call this kid Player A.

A balanced life

Player A

Even though setbacks occur for them in the game (0 for 4, 3k’s, 2 errors, .240 batting average, cut from the team, etc.) other parts of their life help to make up for any difficulties.  Although baseball may be very important to them, it doesn’t define who they are as a person.  Basically, the game of baseball doesn’t become their identity.  Baseball is just one of many things going on in the kid’s life.  Should this type of player get cut from a team, they have other things to fall back on to quickly fill the void.  Family outings, friends not connected to baseball, other sports, other school activities, and other hobbies all can help a player move on.  Even though they face the same adversity in the game as others do, these kids tend to get over it pretty quickly.

For other players – we’ll call this kid Player B – their life looks more like this …

An unbalanced life

Player B

Baseball and life are one.  There are no separate parts to their life.  Everything they do is flavored in baseball.  Their passion for the game is second to none.  They are the first on the field and the last to leave.  They play tons of games and are always looking for ways to improve.  They eat, sleep, and breathe baseball. They tend to be the best players and the players we as coaches love. 

But parents and coaches beware.  There is a negative side to this type of kid. 

When things go bad, things get REALLY bad for this type of player.  This is because baseball has become his identity.  His only hobby is baseball.  His only friends are his baseball teammates.  His family outings are “vacations” to tournaments and showcases.  His only school activity is baseball.  His downtime entertainment is watching or learning more baseball.  When things start to go bad for him, his whole life spirals downward.  At least until he has another good game.  In short, his entire self-worth and self-esteem depends on how he plays. 

When Player A fails on a bunt attempt he may say “My bunt failed.”  When Player B fails on a bunt attempt, he’s more likely to think “I am a failure.”  Player A’s failures are situational and temporary.  Player B’s failures are personal and persistent.  Player B often has major mood swings that coincide with good and bad games.  That is because it isn’t just his performance that goes up and down.  In his mind, it’s he as a person that fluctuates.  If his success as a person is connected to his performance on the field, you can see why he takes the game so seriously.  If he doesn’t succeed in the game, what else does he

No it's not.

No, it’s not.

have?

The pressure these kids put on themselves is obviously enormous which usually leads to high levels of anxiety.  Anxiety and baseball don’t tend to be a good mix.  This extreme anxiety caused by so much riding on every at-bat, pitch, or win can sap the fun out of the game rather quickly.  For some, quitting isn’t an option because they and their parents have invested so much time, energy, and money in their development.  They don’t want to let anyone down and therefore feel stuck with no way out.  For others, quitting the game (to the surprise of everyone) is the only option to escape the emotional rollercoaster they put themselves through.

There is a fine line between passion and obsession.  Passion is not only good, it is needed if you want to keep playing the game at a higher level.  Obsession, however, needs to be identified and addressed if the player wants to keep playing.  

For parents and coaches, it can be a difficult problem to deal with.  Sometimes a player will start out with a genuine passion.  Coaches and parents see this as a positive thing and naturally support that passion.  In the mind of the player, if this eventually turns into an obsession, the coaching and parental support may appear to the player as additional pressure that starts to be resented.

If this sounds familiar, an upcoming post will include some tips for players, coaches, and parents who would like to identify all this sooner and deal with it in a positive way.

RECLAIM YOUR DOWNTIME

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One of the biggest challenges for student-athletes at any level is managing their time.  Juggling the time commitments needed to be the best student and best athlete you can be is no easy task.  Ironically, when I was a student in high school and in college, my grades tended to go up during the baseball season.  I’ve heard other current and former student-athletes say the same thing so I was not unique.  I think what causes this to happen is the fact that the student-athlete knows he/she does not have as much time to mess around during the season and makes adjustments to manage their time better.  This better management of studying, sleeping, eating. and free time usually turn into better performance in the classroom.  At least it did for me.  On the flip side, the off-season is when procrastination tended to set in for me because I falsely thought that I had all the time in the world.  This led to more laziness and other habits that tended to waste more time during the day.
If you are a player or coach and are falling into this same off-season mode, then reclaim your downtime!  By far, the best advice I can give on how to do this is to get an iPod or MP3 player.  If you have one already, start using it.  I have an iPod so I’m not too sure how it works with other MP3 players but iTunes, in my opinion, is one of the best resources that currently exists.  There are thousands of free podcasts and iTunesU presentations that can be downloaded to your iPod to make your downtime more productive.  Podcasts on everything imaginable exist.  Start looking around for some that interest you.  I tend to focus on the ones that deal with baseball and coaching.  I’ve even purchased audiobooks and listen to them on my iPod as well.
Whenever you are doing a somewhat brainless activity (bike riding, jogging, shoveling snow, etc.), put in those ear buds and start turning your downtime into productive time to learn something new. 
Take better control of your downtime and “brainless time.”  You will learn much more and will become a better informed player or coach as a result.

BREAKING IN A NEW GLOVE

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I’m sure many players will receive a new glove (CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE NEW GLOVE)  for the holidays and will be itching to get outside and try it out.  Here are some tips for breaking in your new glove correctly and how to care for it afterwards.

Put away the oil.  Remember smearing glove oil all over your brand new glove to help it break in?  Or taking it out of your closet after the winter months and doing the same?  I bet you can close your eyes and remember the smell!  However, there is a downside to using oil on a glove, especially if you are a middle infielder.  Oil stays in your glove and makes the glove heavier the more times you use it.  With quickness becoming more important as you get older, a heavy glove is not your friend.  Put away the oil and pick up some other products that don’t add weight but keep leather in tip top shape.  Products like mink oil or other leather conditioners are better suited.  Use sparingly though because a glove that is too broken-in becomes flimsy.  You want some stiffness in your glove for it to keep its shape.

Figure 1



Don’t sleep on it.  I’m willing to bet most players have done this at some point in their lives.  They take their brand new glove, put a baseball in it, tie it shut with string, put it under their pillow or mattress, and after a few nights they wake up with a broken-in glove.  I’ll admit.  I did it.  The problem with this is that the glove usually breaks in different from the form of your hand and how you catch the ball.  The best way to break in a glove is to just play catch with it over and over.  This will allow the glove to break in around the size of your hand and also will break it in according to how the glove closes when you actually catch a ball.  If you don’t have someone to play catch with, just continually toss a ball into your glove yourself.  Whether you are playing catch or tossing the ball yourself, it’s important to remember to close your glove by trying to make your pinky finger and thumb meet.

Keep it open.  This involves one of the biggest mistakes players make with their gloves, especially those who play middle infield.  Whenever they store their glove or lay it down on the ground they lay it flat like in Figure 1.  Unfortunately, gravity pulls the glove and trains it to stay in the closed position.  This can be dangerous for little kids just learning to catch because it becomes harder for them to open their glove in order to catch the ball.  A glove that is trained to stay open gives the player the entire pocket to catch the ball.  When laying a glove down, place it face-down like Figure 2 shows.  This will keep it in the open position.  When storing a glove (like in an equipment bag) stuff a t-shirt, towel, or softball in the pocket so the glove is always stored away in the open position.

Figure 2

Clean as needed.  After each practice or game, take a dry rag or towel and wipe the dust and dirt off your glove.  A damp cloth can work better as long as you don’t get the leather overly wet.  This dust and dirt is what causes the leather to dry out and crack.  For tougher stains and cleaning, use saddle soap or other leather cleaners which can usually be found in the shoe polish section of any department store.  Occasionally finish with a little bit of leather conditioner in the pocket where most of the wear-and-tear occurs.

As the old saying goes … take care of your glove and your glove will take care of you!

TRAIN FOR SHORT BURSTS OF SPEED

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Players at a variety of levels are beginning to wind down their fall seasons and will soon begin to think about their off-season training.  Usually (at least for the older kids) there is a combination of strength training and running to get ready for the following season.  I’ve written a number of posts concerning Off-Season Training so if you are looking for details, go to the Categories drop-down section on the right side and click Off-Season to get to all the articles related to that.

Today’s post is a reminder that just about all running within the game of baseball involves short bursts of speed.  Distance running never plays a role during a game.  Players have to take this into account as they plan for off-season running.  Distance running is great to build stamina, endurance, and overall health but if you want to be better on the field, you’ll need to practice these short bursts of speed.  Below is a chart that will show scenarios during the game coupled with a running distance to train.

bursts

Off-season running programs should be a combination of distance running for overall health and short-burst training to improve more practical areas of the game.

GO MINIMALIST!

topper1

Go minimalist!

November 20, 2013 by 
Filed under Off-Season

In the last few years there has been a growing trend towards minimalist and even barefoot running.  This is due to research involving the effectiveness of the technology that goes into the shoes that we wear.  Unfortunately, the results are not good.

In a nutshell, here is the theory …

Human beings are born with all the padding, support, and strength in our feet, ankles, and legs we need to run.  For millions of years, humans walked and ran without shoes.  Today, shoe companies tell us that to avoid injury, we should buy expensive shoes that provide support, stability, and padding built in.  The problem is that if shoes are providing all those things for us then the muscles, ligaments, and tendons our feet naturally have to do this stuff start to atrophy.  This is why many doctors say that our advanced technology with regards to shoes is leading to MORE injuries and not less.  They also cause us to run differently as you will see.

To correct this, many athletes are training with this in mind.  They are training barefoot or with minimalist shoes to regain the natural strength they are born with.  Currently, I have three pairs of shoes that fit this description.  Here are pictures of all three.

minimalist copy

If I were still training as a player, I would most definately be doing most of my training in these shoes.  Of course, I’m beyond that stage.  However, if it weren’t for my need to wear dress shoes to school I would never take these shoes off.  They are so incredibly comfortable because my feet are able to move more naturally.  (Actually, when I wear the ones that are on the upper left – Vibram Five Fingers – my kids don’t want to be near me but that’s a whole other issue.)

When I cover the concept of culture in my sociology classes, I show the YouTube video below about a very primative culture in Mexico.  I hope you watch it.  You won’t believe what they do on a regular basis.  It will make you think about what we are capable of when it comes to strength and fitness if we give the body a chance to do its natural thing.  In fact, you may never look at running the same way again.  If you have more of an interest in this, check out the book Born to run by Christopher McDougall.  He makes a cameo  in the video as well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnwIKZhrdt4

Warning!  If your feet are accustomed to shoes/sneakers with cushioning, support, and stability, do not go barefoot or minimalist cold turkey.  It will take your feet and ankles time to adjust to the rigors of having to work on their own.  Ease into it and don’t let your enthusiasm hurt you!

CATCHER’S GEAR SIZE CHART

CATCHER’S GEAR

Catcher’s Gear Size Chart

Measure correctly and ensure a great fit with your catcher’s protective gear.Different size catchers need different sized gear to protect them properly. Check out the chart below to help you measure in the correct places to ensure you’ll find the best gear for your size.

baseball, bat, glove, ramapage, store, ball, batting, player, equipment
Once you have made measurements according to the diagram, look for products that are the closest to the size you measured.
baseball, bat, glove, ramapage, store, ball, batting, player, equipment
Age Recommendations for Catcher’s Gear*
  • Youth: age 9-12
  • Intermediate: age 12-15
  • Adult: age 15+
* These are only recommendations, and measuring the player is the best way to ensure a perfect fit.

HOW TO BUY A BASEBALL GLOVE

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Baseball Glove Buying Guide 

How Do You Buy the Right Baseball Glove?

When it comes to choosing a baseball glove it is important to understand the differences that make a certain glove appropriate for a certain position. There are many options, but with a bit of guidance, you can get the perfect gloves for your needs.

Glove Length

Catcher

If you play catcher your choice of mitt is a bit simpler. You need a catcher’s mitt!

First Base

Like catcher’s, first basemen use a special mitt that helps them scoop balls out of the dirt, and also lessons the impact of the ball on the hand since they catch so many throws.

Second Base/Shortstop

When playing at a higher level, the middle infielders will be using a glove with a length of 10″ – 11 1/2″. The shorter the glove is the less likely the fielder will fumble the ball in the webbing. When using a short glove, the ball pops out of the glove, which is important to the middle infielders for double plays and smooth transfers of the ball to first.

Third Base

A third baseman will use a glove that is slightly longer, being anywhere from 11 1/4″ – 11 3/4″. A third baseman uses a slightly larger glove because third base is closest to the batter and is known for having hard hit ground balls and line drives. The extra length is there to snag line drives and hard grounders.

Pitcher

A pitcher will want to use a closed web glove that is anywhere from 11 1/2″ – 12″ that is one solid color. The closed web will conceal the pitchers grip on the baseball to hide which pitch is being thrown, and the single color is a rule in baseball.

Outfield

When it comes to the outfield the more length the better. The more material that can stretch the reach of a fielder tracking down a fly ball is a plus. When choosing a pocket for a glove, it comes down to a matter of preference. Most outfielders use a “trap-eze” style or an “I-Bar” or “T-Bar”. These web styles allow the player to shield the sun on sunny days to catch fly balls.

Youth Baseball Gloves

When buying a glove for a younger player, the most important factor is comfort. You want the player to be comfortable. Most gloves from 11 1/4″ – 11 3/4″ are perfect for youth players. Follow the same rules above in regards to the web style.

STRIKE ZONE

2900 SOUTH 110TH STREET  OMAHA, NE  68144  (402) 398-1238

http://www.StrikeZoneOmaha.com

 

HOW TO CHOOSE A BASEBALL BAT

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How to Choose Your Bat

How Do You Buy the Right Baseball Bat?

Choosing the right baseball bat can be a very confusing process. Today with all of the different options and technologies being offered what seems like an easy process can become a daunting task. With some key knowledge and a little research, buying the right bat can be an easy and rewarding experience. We have created a “bat buying guide” to help you find the bat that fits your needs.

Starting with the basics: Different Types of Baseball Bats

High School/College/Adult Bats
Otherwise known as adult, these baseball bats are designed for players age 13 and up. Specifically for high school and college players, the sizes of the bats will range from 30″ to 34″. The barrel diameter is 2 5/8” and a – 3 weight drop (for example is you have a 32” bat the weight will be 29 ounces). All of these bats will have the size and barrel diameter stamped somewhere on the bat and needs to have a BESR (Bat Exit Speed Rating) certification to be legal for most leagues.

Youth/Little League Bats
Little league bats are geared for players approximately age 7 through 12. All of these bats will have 2 1/4″ barrel diameters; the lengths will range from 27″ to 32″. Youth league bats will have the largest weight drop of any bats available, -7 to -13.5. Generally the bats will be labeled with the leagues in which they are used, Little League, Dixie Youth, Babe Ruth, Pony, and AABC.

Weight:
As a general rule, bigger, stronger players usually prefer a heavier bat for maximum power. Smaller players usually benefit from a lighter bat that allows greater bat speed. To determine the weight that’s right for you, swing a variety of bats and see how much weight you’re comfortable with.

Length:
Length and weight combine for peak performance. A longer bat gives you greater reach, allowing you to hit balls on the other side of the plate. But remember that a longer bat may be heavier, and the extra weight could slow you down. Like checking the weight, you need to swing bats of different lengths to decide what length best suits you.

Little League (8-10 yrs)
Player Height Bat Weight
48-50″ 16-17 oz.
51-54″ 17-18 oz.
55-59″ 18-19 oz.
60+” 19-20 oz.
Senior Youth League (11-12 yrs)
Player Weight Bat Weight
70-80 lbs. 18-19 oz.
81-100 lbs. 19-20 oz.
101-120 lbs. 20-21 oz.
121-140 lbs. 21-22 oz.
141+ lbs. 22-23 oz.
High School & College
Player Height Bat Weight
66-68″ 27-28 oz.
69-72″ 28-29 oz.
73-76″ 29-30 oz.
77+” 30-31 oz.

Different Bat Materials

Today almost all bats are either made of High grade aircraft alloys, or recently composite bats have emerged. This is where things start to get confusing, in the last 5 – 10 years high grade alloys have always been used in the construction of these bats, recently composite and hybrid technology have changed the way the leading manufacturers are making their bats.

The options available:

  1. 100% Alloy bats – made completely of aircraft grade alloys
  2. 100% Composite bats – made of composite fibers
  3. Half & Half bats – bats that have a composite handle, and aluminum, alloy, or hybrid barrel
  4. Hybrid Bats – Bats that have combined two different materials, such as alloy with carbon

Composite Baseball Bats
The new composite bats on the market are different from the alloy bats. A composite bat has different features, which require a “break in” period before the bat reaches its optimal performance. With composite bats a player will need to hit approximately 200-300 real leather baseballs while rotating the barrel to completely break in the surface area of the barrel. The composite bats will also sound more like you are hitting a wood bat than an alloy one. Once the composite bats are broken in they will greatly increase the sweet spot and durability, which some studies have shown surpass the ability of standard alloy bats. The composite bats will carry a higher price tag, but with the correct break in and care will be worth the price.

Sizing Information

STRIKE ZONE

2900 SOUTH 110th Street  Omaha, NE  68144  (402) 398-1238 WWW.STRIKEZONEOMAHA.COM

OFF SEASON PITCHING TIPS

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  Here are 10 tips to get the most out of an off-season pitching program:

    1. Build velocity slowly.  Many high school (and above) pitchers have been spending time lifting and possibly long-tossing since games ended in the Summer or Fall.  Some haven’t touched a ball in a while if they play other sports.  Either way, pitchers have to be careful not to overdo it too soon.  Competitive juices sometimes have to be regulated in order to prevent injury.  Jumping back on the mound and airing it out is a great way to get hurt.  Pitchers have to resist that temptation and slowly build back their arm strength.  Note: If you are still lifting, be sure to lift after you throw and never right before throwing.
    2. Throw away from the mound, pitch on the mound.  throwing is different from pitching.  If you are playing catch to get loose with a catcher who is standing up, get off the mound.  If you are working on mechanics and pitching, get on the mound and have the catcher squat down.    That’s what you would do in a game so practice that way. Pitching to a standing catcher teaches you to throw up in the strike zone.
    3. One pitch at a time.  Master command with the fastball before practicing another pitch.  When you can throw 60% strikes with a fastball, then start on a change-up.  When you get to 60% with both, then add a another pitch, and so on.  Having eight different pitches is worthless if you can’t get one over the plate consistently.

       

Throw to the center of the plate,
knee high.  Anything higher is
easier to hit.
    1. Throw to the center. Early on, aim for the center of the plate.  Stay away from the corners.  Aim for the center until you get your command back.  You will probably notice that when you do this many of your pitches will move to the corners based on your inaccuarcy and natural movement.  There is a tremendous lesson for young pitchers here - Aim for the center of the plate and let your natural movement take it to the corners.
    2. Give equal time to the stretch.  A pitcher’s ability to pitch longer into games depends on how he pitches when runners get on base.  It is essential that pitchers spend a great deal of time practicing all their pitches from the stretch position.
    3. Shoot for the knees. After getting the basic command down pat, focus on only throwing at the knees.  When practicing, any pitch that ends up above the knees should be viewed as a bad pitch.  Be a perfectionist when pitching down in the zone.  The only exception is when you purposely practice throwing up in the zone.
    4. Be smooth and balanced.  Think of pitching as a graceful activity instead of a power activity.  Work on a well timed, mechanically sound, balanced, and smooth delivery.  A “free-and-easy” motion is what coaches and scouts like to see. 
How you manage your time in here 
over the winter months could
make the difference between
good and great.
    1. Schedule time to play around.  Playing around and goofing off are not the same thing.  “Goofing off” means wasting time.  “Playing around” means scheduling time to tinker with different pitch grips on all your pitches.  This is what many major league pitchers do while playing catch.  Who knows, you might just stumble across a good sinker or a nasty new out-pitch.
 
    1. Chart your sessions.  This has a lot of value but is rarely done.  When beginning to throw in a regular routine using numerous pitches, have someone chart your balls and strikes to see how you are progressing.  It also forces pitchers to focus on what they are doing more often since they are being scored.
 
  1. Get out your running shoes.  An off-season running program certainly does not end when you start throwing again.  It actually becomes more important to get into the habit of running after you throw in order to clean out the swelling and lactic acid that builds up after throwing.

CHECK OUT OUR OFF SEASON TRAINING AT

www;StrikeZoneOmaha.com 

 

THE BATTING STANCE…THE IMPORTANCE OF A GOOD BASE

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When teaching hitting, I’m a believer in taking a ground up approach.  That is, start with the feet and gradually move up.  It really won’t matter how strong the player is or how quick his hands are unless his body is balanced in a good base.

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Here are the details of this position:
  • Feet wider than the shoulders
  • Knees slightly bent
  • Slight bend at the waist
  • Feet flat but weight is more on the front half – balls of the feet.
  • Head still and centered between the feet, eyes level.
A batting stance does not need to be any more complicated than getting into this athletic position and putting a bat in your hands.

Regardless of the sport you play, a strong base is essential.  A good, strong base enables athletes to get the best balance, power, quickness, left-right movement, up-down movement, and front-back movement.  This is why many coaches refer to the proper body position as the “athletic position.”  These pictures all show athletes of different sports in this position:

stance

here are the details of this position:
  • Feet wider than the shoulders
  • Knees slightly bent
  • Slight bend at the waist
  • Feet flat but weight is more on the front half – balls of the feet.
  • Head still and centered between the feet, eyes level.
A batting stance does not need to be any more complicated than getting into this athletic position and putting a bat in your hands.
You will see some hitters start with their feet more narrow …
… but even those hitters get their body into the athletic position before contact.
If your hitting needs work, go back to the basics and start by looking at your feet.
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