In our last blog post, we discussed ways of increasing your value to the team as a bench player. This week, we turn our attention to things you can do to increase your chances of success when coming into the game off the bench.
Being a good role player off the bench (pinch hitter, pinch runner, or defensive replacement) starts first and foremost with your mentality. To succeed in any of these roles, you first need to believe you will be successful in them. Chances are that you will be asked to play a key role under difficult circumstances. In order to execute your role, you will need good situational awareness, laser focus, and a tough mentality. In this sense, your success as a role player off the bench begins long before you step between the lines.
All of the tips from part 1 of this post will help you create an environment that will give you the most chance for success. Paying attention during the game and being aware of tips, tendencies, and strengths and weaknesses of your opponent will be a huge help. Noticing things from the bench that can give your team an edge – like the fact that the pitcher squeezes his glove when adjusting to an offspeed pitch, or that the pitcher has thrown 9 out of 10 first pitch fastballs, or that the third baseman struggles coming in on bunts, etc.—can give you the keys to success.
These additional 7 tips will also help give you the best chances for success when you finally get the call off the bench:
1. Visualize the situation before it happens. Get mental reps in practice of situations you are likely to find yourself in. Put yourself in a pinch-hit mentality during a round in the cage and make an at-bat out of it. Do it as often as you can so that when you finally get a pinch-hit opportunity in the game, you have done it already dozens of times. Success off the bench starts in practice.
2. Keep your body loose and ready throughout the game. Take a jog in-between innings, stretch, warm-up the off outfielder.
3. Have everything (equipment) ready and where you can easily find it. Often times you are put into the game off the bench on very short notice. Having your stuff ready and easily accessible will save you from having to scramble to find it and allow you to focus on the situation and task at hand.
4. Exude confidence and never make excuses. As we said already, success off the bench starts with your mentality. Expect to succeed. Body language is huge. Act like you belong, even if you don’t feel like you do. It is easy to say, “Of course I wasn’t successful, I have been sitting there doing nothing for 5 innings,” but excuses won’t get you more playing time.
5. Know your assignments, team signs, etc. All this should be so well known that you don’t have to think twice about it during the game. Do your homework.
6. Be disciplined, but aggressive. If you are going to go down, go down swinging.
7. Have fun! The game is supposed to be fun. Put the work in at practice so that you don’t have to overthink anything during the game. It’s just a matter of going out and doing what you practice all week.