Having Control vs Being Controlled

        My first spring not coaching baseball has allowed for a different opportunity.  I've been able to just watch baseball.  There is something about seeing a game through the lens of an observer that allows opportunities you don't have when you are coaching.  Although I have been invested in some of the teams I've watched, it isn't the same as when you spend countless hours with a group on a daily basis.  I'm able to be a little more impartial in my observations.  This isn't necessarily better, just different.  Over the last three weeks or so I have been able to watch a couple of high school games and a couple of college games in person.  I've also watched some college baseball on TV and bits and pieces of a few spring training games.  Several things have stood out to me.  Today, I've chosen to write about what I see as the difference between having control and being controlled.

         I love to watch how a player moves around.  A player's actions can give hints about how they feel about a situation or themselves. As I've watched games, I've found myself drawn to how a player changes, or doesn't change, on a pitch by pitch basis.  A hitter, for example, falls behind in the count 0-2.  Many hitters go through a noticeable change in the pace of the at-bat.  It's like everything is in fast forward (being controlled).  The hitter has lost control of himself and the at-bat, and it ends poorly.  On the flip side, a couple of pitchers I have seen have really impressed me with their consistent approach to every pitch.  A pitcher is responsible for how the ball comes out of their hand.  The pitchers I'm talking about have let it fly each pitch and have appeared in control of themselves regardless of situational influences.  I felt at ease watching them throw.  They were effective in what they did and in the way they went about their business.  Neither pitched with a lot of visible emotion.  They didn't pump their fists a lot or glare at hitters.  Before you accuse me of a "Goose Gossage," I say that not to imply that you can't be successful  pitching with emotion but to make sure you understand you can be successful without it being visible.  Be YOU.  Be in control.

        Part of having control can be a routine of sorts for your performance.  Routines can be part of your preparation before a game and your reflection after, but in-game routines garner the most interest by far.  Watching college baseball (and it's even seeped down into some high school baseball) makes me nauseous when I watch hitter after hitter take a "deep" breath and stare at their bat before every single pitch.  There are a couple of reasons for my queasiness.  First, the idea that every hitter has to have the same routine is incorrect.  In fact, I'd say forcing them to do anything just contributes to more thinking and less control.  Second, many of these deep breaths are just big, shallow breaths that do more to hurt oxygen flow than they do good.  When I see them, I can't help but think of coming up gasping for air after being thrown under water for a long period of time.  That isn't how I'd like to breathe before I hit.  Why is it that you can watch a college game and upwards of 80% of hitters may bat stare while in the MLB innings I've watched over the last week only 5 out of 47 hitters (10%) did?  It's not because college players have greater access to a sport psychology professional of some kind.  Having control or being controlled?

        In watching Major League and amateur hitters I see a noticeable difference in an appearance of control.  Lots of high school and college hitters have routines, but many look like robots doing them.  They are visibly tight, with actions and pace dictated by environmental factors (1st Inning AB vs 7th Inning AB for example).  The Major League hitters had some sort of routine for the most part, but it looked very natural.  My worry is the forced nature routines are being taught at lower levels is being is counterproductive to one of the main purposes of a routine: Create comfort.  I'm not sure the reason why this is the case (I do have a theory I'm happy to talk about), but I do think it is a cause for concern.  I'm reminded of something Geoff Miller's says in reference to his purpose in Intangibles.  "I don't just want people to take a deep breath.  I want them to know why they need to take a deep breath, get to the heart of where the tension comes from, and figure out how to let it go.  I want them to 'get it.'"  This is how I feel as well.  It's not enough to just tell players they need a routine, take deep breaths, etc.  They need to "get it," or we risk it all just becoming more to think about (the opposite of what we want).

        Those are just some of my thoughts from games I've watched.  I look forward to more as the spring progresses.  All the best to you as you continue throughout the spring.  I hope you do so with a free flowing control seen in the boxes of big league hitters.

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