When you hear the phrase “Don’t Think” or when your coach says “Stop Thinking”, it doesn’t mean to let your mind go blank, or that you eliminate positive feelings about your hitting.   “Don’t think” simply means getting rid of all distractions so you’re able to ACCESS a “State of Certainty” by rehearsing your moves until you’re able to FEEL yourself in the zone and then focus on that.

I see a good hitter like I see a good fighter.  They both train and prepare for a fight, where anything can happen.  You study the pitcher to learn his tendencies, but you never know exactly what the attack is going to look like until you’re in the fight, in the batters box.

Now you young hitters out there who haven’t been professionally trained, have a choice to hit every day and take your lumps and try to improve through trial and error, or you can get some professional training and learn how to fight like a professional.

For a fighter, sparring every day without working on form, is like a hitter taking batting practice all day without doing drills and w/o a plan.  As a hitter, you gotta dig deeper and get into your technique to see if there’s something that needs to be polished.  If you’re a fighter getting your butt kicked every day w/o training to improve your technique, is like a hitter beating balls into the ground 10 times in a row to the short stop, thinking that’s ok w/o making an adjustment. You should never stop knocking off your rough edges, because to excel as a hitter you should never stop striving to improve your mechanics and heightening your sense of timing by deliberately rehearsing and drilling your movement models with proper technique, taught to you by an expert who’s able to demonstrate what the movements are supposed to look like, by modeling it smoothly, efficiently, while stressing that you need to be making adjustments pitch to pitch.

It’s true, being tough has value, but being smart and training smart is better.  Some might think it’s admirable to pick yourself, dust yourself off after getting your butt kicked every day, heck I’d even call it brave, but if you really want to be a better hitter, then you have to become a better hitter by training more effectively like better hitters do.

One thing I know through experience is that good hitters adapt, and they adapt by training with a purpose, understanding what they’re doing in their approach.  This is how it works…any job is easy if you have the right tools, and when you know how to use them.

As a hitter your tools are your drills and your drills break down your hitting technique into smaller more manageable pieces called movements (movement models).  Once you learn your drills, each drill polishes up the flaws in your technique, so it’s paramount tha you know what they’re supposed to look like when done correctly, it’s mandatory for being able to self diagnose and self correct so you can become that better hitter.

Every serious athlete rehearses religiously, and on his own time, so he doesn’t slow down the tempo of the person helping him train.  To learn how to dance you rehearse the steps, to become an actor you rehearse your lines.  This rehearsal point is relevant because sometimes hitters get stuck and worry about over thinking, over processing, for fear they’ll get in their own way and fall into to the dreaded “vapor lock” syndrome, where “they freeze”, “their knees buckle”.  They fear that if they think they’ll miss their pitch from self imposed distractions.  I’m here to tell you that’s a myth, and I’ll help you sort it out.  If you put your name and email in the comment section below, I’ll send you some free information that covers this subject.

So let’s cut through the confusion.  I’m not saying you think in a distracting way when you hit, the key concept that will clarify all this thinking talk is the word “rehearse”.  When thinking is exercised and turned into rehearsing, it’s an express lane to programming your unconscious/automatic mind, where you fill the database with all the information you don’t want your conscious mind cluttered up with, especially when you’re hitting live.  What we’re talking about is muscle memory or movement memory.  The essence of movement memory is the brain’s ability to learn what a movement feels like and to coordinate muscles to execute it at will, but you have to use your mind in the learning stages to burn the movements into your automatic mind (some call it muscle memory), but it’s actually just writing or burning a copy of the correct movements into a motor program in your brain.

You ever wonder how a gymnast can change a tumbling run on the fly, subtracting moves (3 back hand springs instead of 4), turning a double back pike dismount into a double layout with a full twist.  Where’s the conscious mind in all this?  The gymnast (which happens to be one of my twin daughters Hillary who competed in the world games twice), explains it that she simply sees the whole tumbling run on a feel level, as “One Performance”, and then she says she’s simply knows where she is at as she’s experiencing it.  Athletes can do amazing feats of complex movements when the actions are already programmed into their automatic minds. 

Our automatic mind processes information a million times faster than our conscious mind, which is how we play music on a keyboard, play guitar, ski, or ride a bike…or as you see in this video below, a gymnast performing a tumbling run.  Most of what our body does on a daily basis is automatic, our heart beats, we breath, cells regenerate, even our daily routines are more about deep seeded habits, likes and dislikes, which are ways we’ve created automatic programmed sub routines in our minds which in effect represents that we’ve already made up our minds for recurring events, so even some of the choices we think we’re making consciously, have already been programmed one way or the other so we can respond effortlessly and automatically.  When it comes to the correct movement models in our swing, we drill and train so our techniques become perfected through repetition and are accessed when needed through our subconscious mind.  Our swing movements are entered into our automatic database so we’re able to cope confidently and automatically at reflex speed when we’re fighting back against the pitchers attack.

(Hillary Nokes)

When you hear the phrase stop thinking, it doesn’t mean your mind is blank and void, it simply means to rehearse your moves and allow the FEEL for the moves come through and focus on that.  Hitters hold themselves back when they close their minds to learning new things and entertaining new ideas, especially when they’re common sense.
We need our thoughts to:

  • Organize and study the pitcher
  • Eliminate pitches
  • Decide on our “One Feel” approach
  • Filter the pitchers motion
  • Sync up release to see the ball out of the hand
  • Feel the speed of the pitch
  • Transfer to the speed of the pitch
  • Rehearse the feel for contact
  • Meet the ball where we rehearsed when it get into the hitting bubble

The irony is, all the time and energy we put into avoiding the idea of thinking too much, makes us feel more unprepared,  confident, and often leads to the dreaded “Vapor Lock”.  The very act of avoiding the thoughts that bring out our feel for hitting, is what feeds our anxiety, makes us jumpy and not trust our timing.  We’re at risk of holding onto our conscious swing thoughts too tight, not able to let them go because without a plan, we lack the organization to rehearse effectively and therefore we make weak connections to our automatic movement model programs.

The ability to hit a 90mph fastball, a jump shot from the baseline, a 40 foot putt, an intricate gymnastics routine, a long field goal, are all examples of movement memory in action.  The ability to consistently and reliably repeat these movements are what separates the elite professional hitter from every other hitter.  So we use our minds to organize, create training routines, study pitchers, rehearse movements, learn the whole dance, learn the whole swing, so we can sum it all up into ‘One Feeling” of hitting the ball hard, I wonder what we were thinking, telling ourselves to not think, because our conscious minds direct us to build our routines that ultimately become automatic?

4 replies
  1. Andrew says:

    Coach I loved the article. I completely agree that you must take your batting practice like you are in a game situation. Situational batting practice trains our muscles to remember how you put a ground ball to the right side with a runner on third base with no outs. I completely agree with all of the points you made about studying pitchers and the different ways they deliver the pitch. I agree and personally do all of these things myself. But as soon as I step in the batters box I my mind goes blank and I’m only focused on the ball. I trust that my Bp has helped me prepare for any pitch that may be thrown at me and that I have studied the pitcher and many others with similar arm slots and motions that my muscle memory can adjust to in any. Just like your daughter adjusting while performing a gymnastics routine, i try to see the ball where it is placed and adjust to wherever it may be.

    It would be awesome to hear your opinion on my approach and receive some more advice on approach to the plate.


    • mattnokes says:

      Andrew, thanks for your comment and keep them coming. You covered a large landscape there …though I love a challenge, it’s much easier if I simply make a video to answer your question; Nevertheless, I’m going to take a quick stab at this in writing, and I’ll add a video to dig deeper in a future post.
      To answer you question, we need to dig into timing on several levels.
      1. Coping with the pitcher
      2. Syncing release
      3. Feeling the speed
      4. Letting it travel
      5. Rehearsing contact so we know where we’re letting it travel to…this is important because by rehearsing the contact point, not only are we feeling mechanical adjustments but by locking in a spot, we’re creating a distance for the ball to travel to.
      6. Travel distance is timing…w/o a definitive distance you don’t have timing.
      7. Feel how long it takes you to get to the ball and it has to be able to be fine tuned.

      One of the many common obstacles we are all navigating are the the myths and half truths we’ve been taught all our lives.
      1. We need to know the truth… deciphering fact from fiction.
      2. Trusting our experience through feel, trial and error.
      In other words, it’s easy to keep your old rehearsal thoughts while adding what I’m teaching you to the myths you’re trying to follow at the same time and they don’t work together.

      Here’s an abstract analogy…
      If we were at the beach throwing the frisbee and having a good day and I said
      “lets walk on our hands…”
      Simple: We’d both stand on our hands upside down and walk on our hands and arms upside down…fairly straight forward!

      On the flip side, here’s what happens when we put a bat in our hands:
      When asked to “walk on our hands” (make an adjustment) while hitting, “…we’d continue walking right side up in the way we normally do, then instead of walking upside down, we try and make a million dollar nugget conform to our old ways. So to extend the metaphor, by “walking on our hands” we’d misinterpret the concept (the pull to do what we already know is so strong), and we’d “walk right side up with our hands wrapped under our feet squishing out hands.”

      Another problem you’ll face is trying to clear your mind…unfortunately that’s a recipe for disaster. Think about it like this…when hitting soft toss, is your mind blank? or do you unconsciously formulate and picture the little arch or trajectory you’ve been getting over and over and you’d attack it because you’re approaching something you’re visualizing and that gives you the urge to hit as well as the ability to freeze if it’s not on that line (for instance if the tosser threw the ball 10 ft to the left or right you’d quit immediately because it’s not what you were looking for) that’s what I mean by “you can’t go blank, you mind has to be filled with all the subconscious thoughts and feelings that go into anticipating, seeing and hitting a ball in soft toss. It’s really easier than it sounds in writing and I could demonstrate in video much quicker, so I’ll do my best to get a post out in the near future to further demonstrate answers to your questions. Sincerely, Matt Nokes

      We do this because it’s hard to let go of our comfort zone, hitting with our old techniques even when they’re holding your back. Also, as I stated at the beginning, this would be easier to convey in a video and would certainly take less time.

    • mattnokes says:

      Jorge, rehearsing is as simple as reinforcing the feel of contact by placing your bat out front at the point of contact (pre-pitch), and it performs many other functions with dozens of ways you need to rehearse to keep your swing and mechanics smooth and in sequence. I’ll be teaching an online class soon call “Hitting Tai Chi” and it’s all about the hundreds of ways big league hitters rehearse automatically without being aware of it, you make it a form of play and it becomes automatic. I’ll put you on the list when it comes out.

      Thanks for your question.
      -matt nokes


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