I’m a nerd.
So a while back, Robb Paller, Lake Erie Crushers power hitter and Rogue Pro, and I were nerding out talking about why it is hard to get your body to move continuously, smoothly, and consistently while picking up a 90-100 mph baseball coming out of a pitcher’s hand 60’ 6” away. It’s arguably the hardest thing to do as a hitter. These nerd sessions have happened often over the years as Robb and I shared many psychology classes and baseball diamonds together through college.
So we (Mainly Robb) came up with an explanation as to why hitters tend to move better in the cage off a tee or front toss than they do in the game. The concept is called Cognitive Load. Cognitive load is defined as, “The total amount of mental effort being used in working memory” (Wikipedia). This is to say that the human brain only has a finite amount, and by finite I mean very little, of cognitive resources. Cognitive psychologists describe our working memory, the part of our brain that controls real time information processing, as having the capacity to handle about 4-5 “bits” of information at a time. That’s not very much.
So what does this have to do with baseball? When were hitting on the tee or front toss, our cognitive resources are being expended mostly on the movements of our swing, whether we’re consciously thinking about mechanics or not. Certainly we have to have a level of concentration on the baseball or we wouldn’t know what to swing at. However as you move into soft toss or front toss, the visual information changes and is more complex, in turn using more cognitive resources on the baseball and less on the movements of our swing. Take another step into a coach throwing a ball from 45 feet, yep, you guessed it, more cognitive resources required to see the ball and less used on the swing. Now you get a pitcher on the mound throwing 95 with cut or sink and nasty sliders, maybe a guy who scrapes his knuckles on the dirt of the mound throwing submarine, busting righties’ thumbs all over the park, what do we have to do as hitters? That’s right, use all the cognitive resources we can to try to pick up that baseball from wherever it may be coming from and moving to. But this comes at the price of having much less cognitive resources available to get a continuous, smooth, and consistent swing off.
Ponder this, have you ever been walking with a friend and he says something so profound you immediately stop walking and go, “WHAT?!” Or say you’re walking, texting this time though, and you feel like you can’t finish the text until you stop until you hit send. Or if you’re trying to find a place you’ve never been to before so you turn down the music because somehow, if it’s quieter, you will have an easier time seeing the right address. All of this happens because of the limited amount of information our brains can process at one time. Basically, our brain struggles to multi task.
Enough of the science. Knowing this information makes it obvious that our swing needs to become so much of a habit that our minds can allocate all resources on the baseball and still get off our best swing. Our swing needs to be built under such repetition that it surpasses the need for cognitive resources and decreases the cognitive load. This comes from training, training the right way, and training to be consistent. We simply cannot afford to be at the plate with our brain using resources on anything but the baseball and expect to have a chance to hit it.
So how do we train this? Admittedly, I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I have realized that an emphasis on seeing the ball while developing a natural and habitual swing needs to be at the center of any training program. I’ve come to realize this after the last few weeks of my personal season and trying to figure out a more consistent approach. I find myself seeing the ball much better, but at times, video shows my load and swing to be less fluent and consistent. The next step is getting my swing to go into a strong habit so that I just do it every time and can concentrate on where the ball is.
Final thoughts. Stick to the process, make your swing a habit, see the baseball, smack it. Easy game.