Demonstration of seeing and anticipating the ball
The example I’m providing today isn’t from fastpitch softball. It’s from soccer. But it really does a great job of showing how the eyes and the brain work together to provide athletes with important information. Softball players who understand this principle can use it to help them hit better.
So, check out this video from Sports Science, which shows Cristiano Reynaldo, arguably the greatest soccer player in the world at this time, demonstrating his prowess. Skip the first part, and advance it forward to around the 5:30 mark. That’s where it gets interesting.
The Sports Science folks set up a test to understand how his brain helps him score goals. In the test, he is set up in front of a net in an indoor facility. They have the ball off to the side. So far nothing unusual. But immediately after the ball is kicked the lights are turned off and Ronaldo has to try to knock the ball in the goal in pitch darkness.
First you see his attempts normally, which means the screen goes black. Then they show it with night vision video.
He does it every time, which is simply amazing. Then they run one more test which will blow your mind. In the last one, the lights go out right before the ball is kicked. It’s not a great kick, but he still manages to get a shoulder on the ball and knock it in the goal.
You have to see it to believe it. But in the analysis they talk about what’s going on, and how he’s able to do it.
The short version is he has a ton of experience, so he can recognize patterns. He can see where the ball is going to go before it goes by seeing the approach, the angle of the foot, where the ball is being contacted and so on.
Fastpitch hitters can learn a lot from this. Despite all the talk about watching the ball out of the pitcher’s hand, most hitters really don’t do that great a job of it. And those that do still may not be using what they see properly.
By watching more intensely, and training your brain to recognize the patterns of arm circles, hand positions, body leans, etc. you can get a better idea of where the ball is headed before it’s even thrown. It would be practically like hitting it off a tee.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But how do you do it? I will be the first to admit I don’t have all the answers. But here are a few tips:
- Make a real effort to see the ball as it’s being pitched. Pay attention to the details. If you notice certain things about certain pitchers, write them down in a notebook so you can remember those little “tells” the next time you face her.
- See as much live pitching as you can. It doesn’t have to be from an actual pitcher, although that is certainly preferable. But the more you see the ball from a pitcher’s hand, the more you’ll be building up that little pile of reference cards that will help you know where the ball is going to go by the way the pitcher’s arm, hand, etc. are going.
- Test yourself by hitting front toss with your eyes closed. You don’t want to do this with a full-on pitch, but with a slower front toss close your eyes when the ball is about half way in and see if you can hit it. If you have some success, close them sooner. This may take quite a while to do successfully. Ultimately you’re going to want to track the ball in as long as you can. But if you can tell where a basic pitch is headed by the way it’s being thrown, you’ll have a great advantage when you can watch it much longer.
Take a look at the video to see what’s humanly possible. Then start training yourself to “see” better.