The summer baseball season is now available for players of all ages. Here are five keys to success for summer ball from Matt Manning of the Recruiting Cycle.
Approach it seriously - There is a natural tendency to take the summer baseball season less seriously than the spring season, but during this day and age this is a huge mistake. There are a whole variety of reasons why this happens, but the first step towards being successful during the summer is to drop this type of attitude. The summer can be a great opportunity to improve your skills, showcase your game to coaches and scouts, and get great experience playing against competition you normally wouldn’t face. It is a waste of the coaches’, parents’, and team’s time, as well as their own, if the player shows up to the games ready to goof off. Even worse, this attitude often leads to players injuring themselves, which is the last thing anyone wants to happen. Many times players won’t warm up or stretch as well when they aren’t taking the game as seriously, and will try to do things they normally wouldn’t do like play unfamiliar positions, and they end up getting hurt. The classic example is someone just going out and pitching and injuring their arm. While it probably is rare, there is no reason to take the risk because you are just too lazy to get loose properly. Summer baseball can be an awesome experience so you should do whatever it takes to get the most out of it.
Remember to have fun - Even while approaching the game seriously, it is important to have fun while playing summer baseball. Especially for older players who are playing in front of college coaches and scouts, it is possible to take baseball too seriously by putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. Baseball is a game of failure and it is impossible to be successful if you are constantly pressing. Travelling around playing in tournaments can be some of the best baseball memories you will have, whether it’s from the actual games or from hanging around at the hotel afterwards. Having fun on the field comes from just being out there playing the game the right way with your teammates, and maybe an occasional dugout prank- just make sure to maintain the respect for the game. Along the same lines, some of the most irritating things being said by parents and players during summer baseball is that they have to skip tournaments or practices because they “need time to be a kid”, “don’t want to burn out of baseball”, or just plain “need a break”. These are especially discouraging to hear when you are dealing with high school players who claim to be aspiring college or professional players. Seems to me that going around to different cool places staying in hotels with your only worry being playing a baseball tournament is pretty representative of “being a kid”, and something that you wouldn’t think you would ever want a break from. Obviously family vacations are a different story, but just taking time off to sit around and play XBOX or go to the beach is not a recipe for success. The hard truth is that if you are a sophomore or junior in high school and you aren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices, you very well may get a permanent break from baseball once your high school career ends. Every player we played with in college would eat, sleep, and drink baseball and it paid off. Going and hitting in the cage for three hours is what those guys consider ‘fun’. If you want to play XBOX, bring it to your tournaments and play in the hotel. There is no excuse why summer baseball shouldn’t be fun all the time, you may just have to get a little creative.
Continue to improve - One of the most common knocks on summer baseball from high school coaches is that the players just play games and they never work on their skills. This could not be farther from the truth. The only thing stopping players from working on their skills while playing summer ball is the lack of desire to do so. Coaches are usually glad to hit extra groundballs or throw extra batting practice before or after games. If a coach can’t do it, then a parent or a teammate would likely be glad to help you out. If your double play turns need work, then stay 15 minutes after the game doing flips to a partner. You can even do them into a fence or wall if you have to. Improving your skills is about putting in quality work, not quantity, and then not letting excuses get in your way. You don’t need to take 100 extra swings and 50 ground balls to get better. If you focus on exactly what you need to work on and do quality reps, doing 20-30 minutes of work is plenty. It is always important to take ownership of your own development as a player and take it upon yourself to get better everyday. Skipping out on summer ball so you can go to high school practices for the sake of honing your skills to that coach’s desire just sounds like a bad use of time. While there are no doubt some awesome high school coaches out there where this could be beneficial, it is also beneficial to play in front of some different eyes and get help from elsewhere. Making this determination is obviously on a case to case basis, but too many young players out there think they have to always do what their high school coach says in order to impress him and stay on good standing with the team. Most quality coaches will be impressed by players who show up in the fall as better players. Also, something has to be said for going out and getting game experience. It seems nowadays there are just too many players worried about their “skills”- they’ve got hitting instructors, pitching coaches, fielding coaches, and personal trainers. While these are no doubt important and useful, at the end of the day you have to be a “baseball player”, and that is something you can’t learn in a batting cage or a gym. How often do you see a kid with a great swing who just can’t seem to get it done it a game, or a pitcher who is great in the bullpen but once a hitter gets in there he looks like a completely different pitcher? For becoming baseball players and learning the game, there is no substitute for good, old fashioned game experience.
Take care physically - No one wants to get injured, that is a fact. There are some misconceptions out there on how to avoid this though. Sometimes the more you are going to be playing, the more work you will have to do in order to prevent injury. This may seem against the grain but it’s the truth. For example, if you are a pitcher you may actually have to throw MORE to keep your arm health. This sounds ridiculous, but to keep your arm in shape you need to constantly throw. This by no means going out and pitching everyday, but simply showing up and pitching once a week is also not a good idea, as you should at least do some type of throwing at least a few times a week. Also, you may have to do extra conditioning and arm care workouts to make sure the rest of your body stays in shape. Obviously things like stretching and ice also are things that constantly need to be used. Often times you will hear that someone is sore from playing in a tournament so they go and sit on the couch until the next tournament to ‘rest’, but doing this actually increases your chances of injury rather than helping. While it seems to go against common sense, if you are going to increase the work you are doing on the field you will also have to increase the work you do off of the field to make sure your body stays strong and in shape. The key is being smart and making sure you are doing the right things. Use common sense- if you are going to lift weights, make sure you do it after a game or on an off day, not a few hours before you are scheduled to pitch. Doing the small things correctly will go a long way into staying healthy, and you can’t be a successful player if you are constantly injured.
Keep your level of play consistent - This is simple, just learn to play at one level consistently. Don’t let the highs get too high or the lows get you down and stuck in a slump. Don’t slack off and then try to turn it up a notch if you think coaches and scouts are there watching. Consistency is crucial to being successful at baseball and the summer is a good time to practice learning this.