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Are You Prepared for the “Game of Your Life”

Are You Prepared for the Big Moment?

It is rare that we can enjoy the magnitude of a game 7 in the World Series. As we anticipate watching a big game like this as a young player, we often miss an opportunity to improve our ability to handle the pressure of the “game of your life”.

  • Every young player should ask themselves the following “What if” questions while watching the game tonight:
  • What if I were preparing to play in Game 7 of the World Series?
  • What would I do the day of the game?
  • What would the crowd sound like during the game?
  • How would I be able to communicate with my teammates during a play with all of the crowd noise? Reference Game 6, 1st inning in the Indians outfield.
  • What if I had to pitch to Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant? What pitches would I throw? Imagine yourself making great pitches and getting them out.
  • How would I be able to control my emotions and excitement during the game?
  • How would I be able to keep my focus in the moment rather than the importance of the game?
  • What if I were up to the plate in the 8th inning of this game, down by one and Aroldis Chapman is pitching? How could I control my breathing and feel confortable in the batters box? What strategies could I use to catch up to a 100 MPH fastball?

Answering these questions, among many others you could ask yourself, is a great way to prepare yourself for a big game environment. In these games on a big stage, the hardest part is not the game itself, but how to manage the environment surrounding the game. The pre-game excitement is very different; the crowd noise is vastly different. Each moment in the game takes on an importance that is invigorating and exhausting at the same time.

The key to handling these situations is simply having the ability to stay calm and play the game without distraction. If you are prepared for the environment, and you can eliminate the environmental surprises during a big game, you can focus on the competition of the game itself.

This is what great players do. They are able to weed out the distractions and focus on why they are there, to compete on the field against other great players and teams. Simulating these situations in your head, putting yourself in World Series, game 7- while watching the game, taking batting practice, throwing a bullpen, or playing wiffle ball in the backyard are all ways to help you prepare for the big sports moments in your life.

Great players do not wait for someone to get them prepared….they prepare themselves over and over again…until it actually happens.

Challenge yourself to watch the game tonight differently…and prepare yourself for the big games that are coming up in your career.

— Brad Woodall
Owner, Woodall Baseball Academy and Silver Sluggers Baseball

Training for One Play: Deliberate Practice

TRAINING FOR 1 PLAY:  DELIBERATE PRACTICE

In training for sports skills, there is productive practice and there is non-productive practice.  The right practice strategy could take a player from good to great.  If you were to watch a high-level tennis or basketball player train for competition, you will notice that they work in “blocks” or “sets”.  This means they will work progressively, from simple to complex movement, on the same shot until the footwork and mechanics of that specific shot become natural.

Performing the same simple movement in a controlled setting, thousands of times, creates instinctual movement patterns that can go on “autopilot” in the fast pace of competition.  Starting slow, performing a simple movement with the correct form, then progressing to a more complex, faster version of the movement allows the mind and body to truly learn the movement pattern.

A great example is the process of fielding a back hand ground ball. The movement and positioning of fielding a backhand is not a natural movement. Through tons of simple to complex repetition, players can find the correct positioning and make this unnatural movement pattern easier to manage. Below is a simple 5-Step progression that sheds light on the learning phase of fielding a backhand correctly.

Step 1: Fielder sets up on both knees, sideways (backhand side) to a partner. Partner rolls ground balls and the fielder focuses solely on getting the glove in the correct position to field, with fingers down.

Step 2: Fielder is on one knee in the backhand position. Partner rolls easy ground balls in the same fashion as step 1. Fielder focuses on glove position, adding a focus on keeping a stable lower half through the fielding movement.

Step 3: Fielder starts in backhand position fielding position (similar to a sideways lunge), while partner rolls easy ground balls to the players glove. Fielder focuses on glove position, proper footwork, staying stable through the backhand position, keeping the back knee close to the ground in a low athletic position. This promotes strength and stability through the backhand positioning, which is something that many players must acquire over time through repetition.

Step 4: Fielder starts in standard fielding position, square to the partner. Partner rolls easy ground balls 2-3 steps to the backhand side of the fielder. Fielder works to find the correct footwork and backhand fielding position through a more dynamic movement.

Step 5: Fielder starts in standard fielding position, taking numerous backhand ground balls off of the bat. Focus is on finding the correct glove and body positioning for a backhand while also “reading the hop” in a more game-like simulation.

The real value in a progression like the one above is that each step graduates to the next. A player or coach that struggles with one particular step could move back and forth between the steps to find the correct positioning or movement pattern. Younger players may need to spend more time working in the earlier steps, while a more experienced player may work through the progression fairly quickly during work sessions.

This type of deliberate practice is the best way to teach the body what coaches and scouts call “baseball or softball actions”. We can apply this practice strategy to just about any skill in baseball or softball. A similar hitting progression would be a specific focus on “driving” the ball to the opposite field. Start with tee work, progress to soft toss, and then live hitting practice.   Every swing is focused on staying inside the ball, letting the ball travel farther into the hitting zone, and finding consistency with the correct contact position to hit the ball to the opposite field.   The progression from tee to batting practice with a specific focus on what it takes to hit the ball to the opposite field, every swing, is the key to improving that particular sub-skill of hitting mechanics.

In pitching, an example of this dedicated practice strategy is throwing what we call an 80% bullpen. An 80% bullpen is simply when 8 of 10 pitches are one pitch type to one location. This focused approach provides the structure for repeatable mechanics and release point necessary for proper command of the strike zone in game competition.

As we all know, the proper practice strategy and preparation leads to better performance on the field. Players who embrace the process of improvement are better able to find the right position at the right time, more often. These players can then go on auto-pilot in the game to make outstanding, instinctual plays in competition.

Brad Woodall
Owner, Woodall Baseball Academy
www.woodallbaseball.com