As a college ballplayer, you will be expected to do a lot of things while in the on-deck circle. Your coach expects you to take in the pitcher’s tendencies and movement. You have to know your job in every possible scenario that could occur when it is your turn to step up to the plate. You will be actively slowing down the game, controlling your mental processes.
One thing that sometimes gets lost while you are getting ready mentally for an at-bat, is physically preparing yourself to hit. You have plenty to think about already with the mental aspects of the game. You don’t want to have to think about the physical side as well. Use these tips to create an effective on-deck routine that will get you prepared physically for every at-bat. Early in the year, practice this routine and visualize yourself about to come up in a big situation. Work on the routine when you are “on deck” during BP or before each set off the tee. You will almost surely have intrasquad games, which are another great time to work on your routines. Practice makes perfect and the beginning of the season is an outstanding opportunity to perfect and engrain this routine.
Get your timing down. Every pitcher has a different set and motion. Is the pitcher already in the stretch? Is his windup slow? If he isn’t in the stretch already, what is his arm action like? If his arm action is fast, and his windup is fast, you know that you’ll probably need to get your load started earlier than normal so you can get your front foot down on time while he is in the stretch. Time your front foot with every pitch.
Take an at-bat before your at-bat. This is especially crucial if the hitter in front of you is the same type of hitter as you (power guy, righty, lefty, slap hitter, etc.). All pitchers have tendencies. All pitchers like to approach certain hitters in certain ways. Will he go to his off-speed in fastball counts? Does he like to bury 2-strike pitches in the dirt? Physically take your at bat while in the on-deck circle. React as if you’re swinging on pitches that look good to you. You’ll learn a lot about how to approach your own AB. You have been watching the whole game closely already, so you will have lots of information and experience before you step in the box.
Take some cuts. Make sure you take a few swings. Don’t tire yourself out, but make sure that you feel good fundamentally. This is your chance to fine-tune. If something feels a little off, give yourself a couple of seconds to focus and try to find your comfort zone. You don’t want to be thinking about your mechanics while you’re at the dish, so get that part out of the way ahead of time.
Focus on your breathing. It’s really easy to get worked up, nervous, or anxious about an at bat, especially in a big spot. It’s also really hard to hit when this anxiety is impacting you physically, like being short of breath or hyperventilating. Use your time on deck to prepare your body and mind by focusing on controlling your breath. Some simple exercises can make a huge difference in your mindset and performance. Try this one: Inhale through your nose for a 6 count, hold it for a 2 count, and exhale through your mouth slowly. Then repeat. Our friends at Jaeger Sports also have some great breathing exercises you can incorporate into your on-deck routine, so check them out. Find a short breathing exercise that works best for you and watch your in-box anxiety disappear.
To play at the next level, you need to be prepared mentally and physically for every at-bat. Get the process started in the on-deck circle and make the most of every opportunity.