Hitting. Do You Really Need a Plan?
Most elite level softball players will tell you, having a plan at the plate is crucial to having success. It is important to know what the pitcher has, what she throws and when she throws it, what she does it certain counts, and if she is giving any of her pitches away. Information in sport is powerful. I love the technological advances that baseball and softball are making with data analytics, video analysis, and other things. The problem with all this information is that we can take it as set in stone, shut off our flexibility to adapt, and feel trapped by a certain thought process instead of experiencing instinctual freedom. It leads to overthinking and higher levels of stress, which often result in poor at-bats. As a hitter, I try to not have plans because I feel it forces me into a certain thought process and cripples my instincts as an athlete, I prefer to simply be prepared. Let me explain.
According to Merriam-Webster's, a plan is a "detailed proposal for doing or achieving something." A plan always implies some sort of mental formulation. It is both well-thought out and extremely detailed. On the other hand, prepared is defined as "subjected to a special process or treatment." It implies readiness for a given event, with a coupled sense of flexibility. For example, my plan at the plate could be that I am sitting on a drop ball on the inside corner, or sitting on the changeup. Whereas my preparation would lead me into knowing that the pitcher is a drop ball pitcher, and to see the ball up in the zone. The plan being much more specific, but the prepared approach is more broad and adaptable. I do believe that both plan and preparedness have some benefit when it comes to an approach in the box, but it is important to know which approach suits you best.
Cerebral "plan" hitters: These hitters tend to be more analytical. They think more, but are very successful when they get the pitches that they are expecting. They are very good at picking pitches, picking up on patterns, and analyzing the little details of the game. Mechanically, their swings are virtually flawless and they spend a lot of time on technique and how to manipulate their swings to certain pitches. However, they run into trouble when the pitcher throws something at them when they don't expect it, and tend to not be flexible in their approaches.
Reactionary "prepared" hitters: I am 100% a reactionary hitter. Reactionary hitters tend to be more successful with more freedom in the box, and benefit from being prepared rather than having a set in stone plan. They tend to look more at location and if they like a pitch, they are not afraid to attack it. Instinctually, they are aware of what pitch is likely coming next and are aggressive within their approach. The problem with reactionary hitters is that if they guess or react wrong, they have a tendency to get themselves out by chasing a pitch outside the strike-zone and not getting off their best swing.
Spend some time getting to know yourself. Identifying what type of hitter you are is crucial for your development as a player and it is something that a coach cannot do for you. One of the biggest benefits in my game has been becoming more self-aware of my identity as a hitter. I know my skill-set and I will continue to develop making my strengths stronger instead of freaking out about my weaknesses. I will never be a cerebral hitter, but I can make sure I am prepared and my instincts are where they need to be come game time.
I hear often of players that get frustrated with coaches trying to put them in a box of approaches, implying every hitter has the same game plan against a certain pitcher. I believe hitting is extremely individualized and you have to put together a plan of what works for you. The younger that you are, the more willing to experiment with different approaches you should be. Think about and be aware of what makes you perform at your best and the communicate that to those that are there to help you.
What I have found over the course of my career is that communication is key to growing mentally as a hitter. There comes a certain point where mechanics, although important, simply don't matter as much as what is going on in your brain when you're in the box. It is important to communicate with your teammates about what you see, what pitches are being thrown, and what your approach was. It is also crucial to have open communication with coaches about what type of approach makes you feel the most confident and determine the amount of information that you can handle. The less you are thinking in the box, the better off you are going to be. Be prepared, but never lock yourself in to one set in stone mindset.
Whatever your approach is, whatever works for you, own it and continue improving it. There is no point in wasting time trying to turn yourself into a hitter to fit a certain style. Be you, be honest with yourself and your coaches, and get in the box knowing that you can succeed.