Tonight I was working with one of my top hitting students, a girl named Amy who always draws oohs and ahhs when people watch her swing the bat. She’s a very good hitter, better than she herself realizes, I think, and really turned some heads as a varsity starter last year when she was a freshman.
Her normal swing is a good one, but tonight while we were doing some front toss I noticed something. At one point you could just see that something had changed with her — and changed for the better.
I had to stop and ask — did your concentration level just go up? Yes, she answered. She told me that the last swing, where the ball just jumped off her bat in what looked like it would’ve been a 300 foot home run if we were at a field instead of in a cage, she just totally blocked out all other thoughts and just focused on the ball.
What a concept, eh? We often tell hitters to “see ball, hit ball,” but how often do they actually accomplish it? There’s always some nagging thought getting in the way, whether it’s an instruction, a consequence (such as I need to get a hit so we can score the runners on base), a fight with a parent or teammate, a fielding error from last inning or something else.
Yet what you really need as a hitter is that pure concentration. When you are totally focused, the ball looks bigger and gets slower. You’re right there in the moment, just you and the ball, only you have a big ol’ bat in your hands.
For younger players, that level of concentration is probably out of reach. (Don’t even bother telling me your eight year old has it, because that’s one sale you’re never going to make.) But for older players, say high school age and up, it can be done.
Like anything else it doesn’t come naturally. To focus at that level you really have to practice it. Over and over until your brain hurts. It means being right there in the moment, while the moment occurs. And then letting it go.
You see, that’s the other hard part about it. No one can maintain that level of concentration throughout a full game. Nor do they need to.
In case you hadn’t noticed, fastpitch softball has a lot of starting and stopping built into it. What players have to do is learn to turn up the concentration like the gas jets on a stove when the pitch is delivered, then turn it back down to simmer when the play is over. Repeat until the game over.
Seeing that moment of pure concentration is a thrill to behold. It’s fun when you realize something special just happened, that a player reached another level.
It was also quite a thrill for Amy herself. She just felt really good about the way she took the bat to the ball, and the result as well. Now the trick is to bottle that particular flash of lightning so it’s available anytime.
It’s not easy, but it’s well worth it. And the beauty is you don’t have to pay $300 on the Internet to get it. It’s there for the taking — if you are willing to put in the work to capture it.
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.