Theory on why it’s so hard to move from the cage to the field

Every fastpitch player and coach knows this experience. You’ve been working hard in the batting cage all season. You’ve hit thousands of balls off the tee, and thousands more off a machine, front toss or even full-out pitching. You’ve been ripping the ball every time. Then you get into a game and it’s nothing but pop-ups, weak dribblers to the pitcher, and whiffs.

Yes, it’s certainly frustrating, especially because you were expecting to do so well. But somehow the swing you had in the cage didn’t quite translate to the field.

There can be a lot of contributing factors, many of which have been discussed before. Certainly there’s an element of nervousness in a game situation that you don’t have in practice. You have lots of chances to hit in practice situations, and if you mess one up you just take another. But in a game if you mess up, that’s it. Your time at bat is over.

There’s also worrying about consequences instead of focusing on the process. There’s the pressure of parents, friends, coaches, teammates. In fact, there are all kinds of things that might be the cause.
Fastpitch batting cage
Yet it even happens to otherwise mentally tough players for reasons no one has ever been able to explain. But I have a theory.

Think about the environment in a batting cage. It’s very closed and very tight. You can see the top/ceiling, sides, and usually even a back wall. If the cage is 70 feet long and eight feet wide, it’s still a pretty narrow space, as shown in the first photo.

Now think about what you see when you stand at home plate. The world is a lot bigger on the field. Instead of a 12 foot ceiling you have infinite space above — the sky. Instead of a back wall you have 180 feet or more to the end — way too far to be of concern. There is a ton of space, plus a ton of distractions. The second photo shows an empty field, but in a real game you’ll have eight players from the other team in front of you, plus a couple of coaches. And baserunners if you’re lucky. You have an opponent and an umpire behind you. And the always “helpful” fans in the stands.
Fastpitch view from home plate
With all that going on, the ball looks pretty small — certainly a lot smaller than it does in a closed cage. It’s the same phenomenon that makes the moon look bigger when it’s low in the sky. When you see the moon near trees or buildings your mind gets the idea of proportion. When it’s overhead, there is no reference point to measure it against so it gets lost against the background of the night sky. In the case of a softball, your reference points to the ball in a cage are a lot closer so it seems bigger, or more important in the space. On the field, the ball takes up a very tiny portion of your field of vision and thus is much tougher to pick out.

Think about how you hit in a cage too. Because it’s a long tunnel, hitters tend to try to hit the ball up the middle. After all, if you hit a screaming line drive down the first or third base line in a cage, it goes about 10 feet, hits a side net and dies. That isn’t much fun. But if you drive it to center, the ball goes the length of the cage. That feels good, so you focus on driving it down the center. On a field, though, there’s a lot of space ot hit the ball, so it tends to go all over.

Anyway, that’s my theory about the problem. So what’s the cure? You have to visualize the cage on the field, as shown in the third photo. Essentially you have to create a small space in your mind where the ball is bigger relative to the backgCreating the cage in your mind on a fastpitch softball fieldround so you can see it better, and you can stay focused on driving it into a gap.

If you can “see” the cage in your mind, it should help you look where you ought to be looking, and see better than if you’re taking in the entire field plus sidelines.

Give it a try, and give me your feedback on how it worked. If you’re a coach, feel free to copy the photos and show them to your team. I’ll be interested in hearing if this theory proves itself to be true.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on April 15, 2010, in Hitting, Mental game. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think you are right on with the idea of getting too big of a view when hitting. I coach a 10U team and my girls will crush a ball in a cage but watch a ball right down the middle in a game. We have gone to changing their focus from everything around them to the pitcher’s hip. Every pitch has to come from this area so why pay attention to anything else. We have just started this experiment so not sure if it will help or not.

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  2. Going to the batting cage helped a ton with my overall form but at the same time I got used to the consistency of the machine. That’s a good idea about imagining a cage on the field. Never thought about that.

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  3. Reminds me a little of the movie “Bull Durham.” Crash couldn’t focus on his swing when his mind was wandering to the ever-so-beautiful Annie. I also like the idea about seeing the cage in your mind. It helps when your mind does NOT wander to anything else but the ball, the bat, and the field. Thank you for the article…great ideas!

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