My summer travel team was at our first tournament of the year and we arrived at the diamond for our pre-game. After our dynamic warm up we were the first team in the cage and I realized that about half the team had earphones on and were listening to music. A couple guys were trying their best to hide the fact they had headphones in and a couple of players had the big Diddy Beats on and weren't being discrete at all. My first instinct was to tell them all to lose the headphones, cell phones, and iPods and prepare for the task at hand. After all, when I played I was way too focused on the game to be distracted by electronics.
My next thought was "what harm could the music really do?". After all, when I am in the weight room there is nothing that gets me prepared for and pushes me through a tough lift than a great playlist. It is clear that portable electronics have made music so accessible at any time that it has become an integral part of most players days.
This off-season I have taken this concept one step further and actually scheduled "Headphone Hitting" days each Friday with my high school Academy groups. It has been incredibly well received by the players and has had some benefits that I didn't even consider last spring when I allowed it for our pre-game hitting. Here is an overview of some things to consider when implementing the use of headphones for hitting sessions (pre-game or training sessions):
-If you use a cell phone for music it is only used for music (no calls, no text, no Twitter, etc.)
-Set and choose your playlist so that you are not distracted by skipping songs every 30 seconds
-Music is silent and earbuds/headphones are off while coaches are addressing the group
-For safety reasons, be aware of your surroundings
Coaches: be very clear on the plan for the hitting sessions so players are working in their own areas and know where they are rotating
-If you are in your pre-game hitting, headphones and all electronics are put away after we are done hitting in the cage
-Get all equipment set up in the proper location prior to the start of the session
-Players are always able to communicate with coaches if they have questions
Benefits of Using Music
-Players tend to focus more internally and gain a better feel for their swing.
-We focus a lot on each hitter establishing a consistent hitting tempo (I describe it as their internal hitting metronome) and music can certainly aid this. If players think that the music is disrupting their tempo, have them try a different playlist or genre.
-We are constantly encouraging our players to be an active part of the learning process and develop their knowledge to a point where they can be their own best teachers. Coaches then contradict this approach by providing a consistent stream of feedback during training sessions that makes players reliant on external feedback to make adjustments. When players have music in their ears (and not their coach) they develop these tools that lead to greater self-sufficiency.
-One benefit that I did not anticipate was the positive effect that music would have on players moving past poor swings. As I watched our players during the session they took some poor swings but didn't dwell on them. They realized it was not their best swing, learned from it, and moved on to the next pitch.
Potential Drawbacks of Music
Of course, there are a couple of drawbacks to players listening to music during our hitting sessions, but I think they are minor in comparison to the benefits:
-Safety is a critical factor and needs to be considered by the coaching staff more than with standard hitting sessions. The fact that players can not hear each other means that some extra precations need to be taken:
1. During our off-season training sessions I have players rotate when I blow a whistle. When players hear the whistle they stop swinging. No exceptions.
2. All equipment needs to be in the proper location before the session starts. Hitters can not be moving back and forth between the equipment boxes for things they forgot.
3. Each player has their own area that is clearly defined. I do not have players hit in partners during these sessions.
-Music may reduce casual communication between players. But let's be honest, teenagers generally have very little issue with casual chatter. The rest of our warm up (if hitting pre-game) or the rest of the week (if it's an off-season session) provides plenty of time for conversation.
-Coach communication is reduced during these hitting session. Although some coaches might not agree, I think this is actually a benefit. Sessions where coach feedback is reduced is critical to developing independent athletes that can gain a greater understanding of their own swings.
Please see the document below that I had all my players fill out prior to our Headphones Hitting session. To ensure they were completely prepared and understood how they would move around the facility I created this drill planner on a map of our indoor facility.
I would love to hear your feedback and all the best in elevating your players to new heights.