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Creating (9) Identical Hitters

     Many of you believe that it is impossible to create nine identical hitters but not me. Once I understood what hitters had in common vs their individual characteristics I began to see the path to creating greater commonalities with less individuality. For the most part, I do agree with most coaches that creating 9 identical swings or swing approaches is impossible. Where I defer in principle is with hitters’ abilities to process strike information identically. This means they will take identical pitches, trigger at the same strikes but their swings will be a little different because of differences in body types. 

While talking with Tim Walton from Univ. of Florida about his experience with training his team implicitly with V-Flex he mentioned that he had (9) identical hitters for the first time in his coaching career. I ask him “what do you mean” and he replied they all take the same. He went on to say that they all had slightly different swings because of their physical differences but his teams’ ball efficiency was off the charts. Before V-Flex training, his team’s 5 year average for BB & HBP was below 200 BB & HBP per year. With V-Flex, his team’s most recent 6 year average for free passes was 395. The Gators posted an impressive 419 BB &HBP their first season using V-Flex for strike recognition training and Coach Walton continues to train his hitters with V-Flex. He jokingly told me that he didn’t fully understand how V-Flex worked but that he was fully confident it played a significant role in his team’s ball efficiency success.

How do you create (9) identical hitters?

Creating a consistent strike training “behavior” for your hitters is difficult and begins with understanding space and how a hitters’ visual system recognizes and responds to an object moving through space. The neural mechanisms utilized by the brain to recognize space is fascinating. Briefly, photons of light are received by specialized cells in the eye. These cells send electrical impulses to a variety of locations in the brain. One of those locations is a large array of specialized neurons that interpret these electrical impulses and communicate with other areas of the brain to shape the world around us. These neurons help a brain understand where all objects are in space, movement, etc., relative to the eye. Understanding the neuroscience of the visual system is not necessary to creating more consistent hitters, but it does help our understanding of how to create more effective training methods for more consistent strike recognition.

To achieve hard contact, a hitter’s visual system and its reflexive subconscious need to convert one area within “common space" into a well-defined specific space or pathway within the hitters’ visual field. This means a hitter can’t identify balls from strikes from through cognitive decision making or visual search strategies that are also a form of cognitive exercise. The brain must build the spatial parameters from (neuronal input) or impulses. For effective, consistent hitting, the visual system identifies where the moving object (baseball/softball) is in space and time. If the system determines the ball is in the “strike zone”, a threshold of electrical activity results in a signal to the locomotion centers that triggers a swing. If the hitter’s visual system accurately recognizes the ball in space and time, the hitter will have an excellent opportunity to make hard contact.

Humans have expressed cumulative limits of spatial processing for many years and they are directly linked to the conductivity or amperage capacity of spatial neurons (neurons that make space inside the brain). Most hitting coaches understand these limits have simple objectives; they want hitters to swing at strikes and take balls. Until the introduction of V-Flex in 2012 neither behavior was actually trainable because there was no "specific amplified neurological space" or (strike zone) identified within the common space for the brain to utilize as a means of obtaining a neurological reward.

Common space can only provide certain types and amounts of information for the hitter’s brain to utilize for timing and hard contact. If we are going to shatter existing human limits we must help the brain identify the impulses within the amplified space that produce the greatest neurological, physiological and subconscious reward without violating the brains' Law of diminishing returns. The Law of Diminishing Returns refers to the point at which the level of benefits gained is less than the energy invested. The brain has placed limits on itself regarding the amount of time and energy it will expend in order to initiate permanent change. We can mitigate the effects of the law by rewarding a (single) specific behavior. One that correlates to a reward being given for swinging at a strike that passes through a specific amplified space. This will in turn increase the strike pathways amperage capacity over a relative short period of time.

Keep in mind that hard contact isn't the primary objective when conditioning the brain to swing at strikes. Rather, the primary objective is simply to generate a swing at a pitch within the neurologically enhanced space. Since we can only condition one space at a time it is only logical to condition the "swing response” since the swing produces the greater release of neurotransmitters when compared to a taken pitch. Creating nine identical hitters require giving up on the idea that hitters can be trained to take a ball. A hitters visual system “triggers” locomotion (active process) when a ball is perceived to be in the strike zone. Alternatively, a hitters’ visual system does not trigger (passive process) if the ball is perceived to be outside of the strike zone. The active process can be trained. The passive process is a result of proper active process training.

It is neurologically impossible to train a hitter to “take a ball” for several reasons but mainly because of the lack of neuronal stimuli and reward. I approach a take as an indirect effect related to the absence of a swing and a by-product of a weak common space stimulus and nothing more, if there is an amplified neuronal space for the brain to use as a contrast between the two different type spaces. The lack of (neuronal reward) for the take helps the brain solidify the contrast between the swing and the take. Hard contact at home plate helps to reinforce the reward process related to the swing. It is merely an outcome of a well-engineered space. If hard contact isn't achieved by the hitter the swing at the strike alone will be a sufficient reward for the intent of identifying the strike space. Hard contacts may become the norm but aren't expected or required during training due to the firm speed of the pitches recommended.

Understanding the Role of Space

Two types of space (atmospheric & neuronal) must be considered when addressing representative design for batting practice / strike recognition conditioning. Atmospheric Space is the invisible space that is made of elements and surrounds us at all times while neuronal space is the brain’s functional firing of electrical impulses that make an identical copy of the "invisible atmospheric space". This internal brain generated copy is a multi-layered neuronal construct called common space. It is expressed neurologically as low resolution, evenly distributed spatial neurons spread across the hitter’s entire neuronal receptive visual field. Any attempts to create variations within the field (common space) likened to the “strike zone”, must be prompted by (1) negatively charged, (2) pre-visual and (3) pre-cognitive input. V-Flex meets all of these requirements.

Several popular training methods for strike training fail to meet the three criteria. They include cones, pvc swing path trainers, explicit swing analysis from bat & body sensors, stand-in verbal ball & strike drills, pitch occlusion drills, hard take drills, pitch count drills, tee drills, strings, visual constraint screens, life sized projection screens, TV or iPads. Coaches also attempt to communicate the strike zone through superior language skills acquired through years of experience and they include terms like soft focus, hard focus, tunnels, lanes, boxes, mental focusing, and or breathing & visualization drills. Unfortunately, all of these drills, approaches and concepts are fundamentally flawed and fail to meet the standards required by the brain for hacking into its spatial window. It is fiercely guarded by the Law of diminishing returns which is directly linked to the bonding between atmospheric and neuronal space.

Modern Theory on Pitch Recognition Skill Acquisition

Modern theory regarding pitch recognition and faster swing decisions imply that a hitter has time, space and mental incentive to compare pictorial images and possibly neuronal patterns built from previous pitches to assist the hitter in determining what the next pitch will be. It’s as if coaches want to teach hitters how to predict the future by uploading the past into the present visual window. Conditioning the hitter’s brain to swing at strikes is very different from teaching the hitter what pitch to cognitively expect. Those cognitive overtones are supposed to help the hitter use specific pitch counts and experience to increase their swing decision speeds and efficiency. The problem with this is the brain has to rely on an imaginary strike zone since it doesn't have a conditioned neuronal one. It isn't possible to cognitively hit an observed pitch traveling 90 mph due to the biological time limitations associated with cognition. Cognition requires 150 milliseconds and the hitter has approximately 350-450 milliseconds total time to process the visual impulses being rendered within the hitter’s visual receptive field related to the contact point of a particular pitch. It is likely possible to train a reflex/trigger to a stimulus over time but its difficult at best.

Spatial neurons lack the capacity to "learn" however, they do possess the ability to "adapt". Therefore, if you want (9) hitters that swing at strikes and take balls regardless of the pitch count, I recommend conditioning specific strike zone parameters implicitly using V-Flex. V-Flex induces adaptations similar to those of muscles, meanings the gains expressed during the conditioning phase will be lost if a maintenance program isn't adopted. If you want the brain to express an acute awareness of the amplified strike zone you will need to train with V-Flex between 2-3 days per week prior to and during the season. There is nothing more valuable than 9 hitters that take balls identically. It means that pitchers must throw strikes to get hitters out and that is hard to do since hitters hit strikes hard 20% of the time and balls hard 2% of the time.

Dr. Les Anderson recorded over sixty thousand pitches over a 4 year period regarding strike and ball efficiency data on Top 50 NCAA softball teams that trained on V-Flex and the effects were pretty impressive. This chart shows a steady increase in BE (ball efficiency), the ability to take a ball. The most amazing thing was the lack of improvement by non V-Flex trained teams. Zero teams rose above the 69% BE mark. It appears that the natural best or (biological maximum) for ball efficiency within the common space is around 70%. Some V-Flex trained teams are now on their 7th season and continuing to increase their BE. Some of our top 10 NCAA softball teams are consistently around the 85-90 range regardless of the pitch count. The goal is to see more and more baseball teams experience this type of success.   

Creating (9) Identical Hitters

     Many of you believe that it is impossible to create nine identical hitters but not me. Once I understood what hitters had in common vs their individual characteristics I began to see the path to creating greater commonalities with less individuality. For the most part, I do agree with most coaches that creating 9 identical swings or swing approaches is impossible. Where I defer in principle is with hitters’ abilities to process strike information identically. This means they will take identical pitches, trigger at the same strikes but their swings will be a little different because of differences in body types. 

While talking with Tim Walton from Univ. of Florida about his experience with training his team implicitly with V-Flex he mentioned that he had (9) identical hitters for the first time in his coaching career. I ask him “what do you mean” and he replied they all take the same. He went on to say that they all had slightly different swings because of their physical differences but his teams’ ball efficiency was off the charts. Before V-Flex training, his team’s 5 year average for BB & HBP was below 200 BB & HBP per year. With V-Flex, his team’s most recent 6 year average for free passes was 395. The Gators posted an impressive 419 BB &HBP their first season using V-Flex for strike recognition training and Coach Walton continues to train his hitters with V-Flex. He jokingly told me that he didn’t fully understand how V-Flex worked but that he was fully confident it played a significant role in his team’s ball efficiency success.

How do you create (9) identical hitters?

Creating a consistent strike training “behavior” for your hitters is difficult and begins with understanding space and how a hitters’ visual system recognizes and responds to an object moving through space. The neural mechanisms utilized by the brain to recognize space is fascinating. Briefly, photons of light are received by specialized cells in the eye. These cells send electrical impulses to a variety of locations in the brain. One of those locations is a large array of specialized neurons that interpret these electrical impulses and communicate with other areas of the brain to shape the world around us. These neurons help a brain understand where all objects are in space, movement, etc., relative to the eye. Understanding the neuroscience of the visual system is not necessary to creating more consistent hitters, but it does help our understanding of how to create more effective training methods for more consistent strike recognition.

To achieve hard contact, a hitter’s visual system and its reflexive subconscious need to convert one area within “common space" into a well-defined specific space or pathway within the hitters’ visual field. This means a hitter can’t identify balls from strikes from through cognitive decision making or visual search strategies that are also a form of cognitive exercise. The brain must build the spatial parameters from (neuronal input) or impulses. For effective, consistent hitting, the visual system identifies where the moving object (baseball/softball) is in space and time. If the system determines the ball is in the “strike zone”, a threshold of electrical activity results in a signal to the locomotion centers that triggers a swing. If the hitter’s visual system accurately recognizes the ball in space and time, the hitter will have an excellent opportunity to make hard contact.

Humans have expressed cumulative limits of spatial processing for many years and they are directly linked to the conductivity or amperage capacity of spatial neurons (neurons that make space inside the brain). Most hitting coaches understand these limits have simple objectives; they want hitters to swing at strikes and take balls. Until the introduction of V-Flex in 2012 neither behavior was actually trainable because there was no "specific amplified neurological space" or (strike zone) identified within the common space for the brain to utilize as a means of obtaining a neurological reward.

Common space can only provide certain types and amounts of information for the hitter’s brain to utilize for timing and hard contact. If we are going to shatter existing human limits we must help the brain identify the impulses within the amplified space that produce the greatest neurological, physiological and subconscious reward without violating the brains' Law of diminishing returns. The Law of Diminishing Returns refers to the point at which the level of benefits gained is less than the energy invested. The brain has placed limits on itself regarding the amount of time and energy it will expend in order to initiate permanent change. We can mitigate the effects of the law by rewarding a (single) specific behavior. One that correlates to a reward being given for swinging at a strike that passes through a specific amplified space. This will in turn increase the strike pathways amperage capacity over a relative short period of time.

Keep in mind that hard contact isn't the primary objective when conditioning the brain to swing at strikes. Rather, the primary objective is simply to generate a swing at a pitch within the neurologically enhanced space. Since we can only condition one space at a time it is only logical to condition the "swing response” since the swing produces the greater release of neurotransmitters when compared to a taken pitch. Creating nine identical hitters require giving up on the idea that hitters can be trained to take a ball. A hitters visual system “triggers” locomotion (active process) when a ball is perceived to be in the strike zone. Alternatively, a hitters’ visual system does not trigger (passive process) if the ball is perceived to be outside of the strike zone. The active process can be trained. The passive process is a result of proper active process training.

It is neurologically impossible to train a hitter to “take a ball” for several reasons but mainly because of the lack of neuronal stimuli and reward. I approach a take as an indirect effect related to the absence of a swing and a by-product of a weak common space stimulus and nothing more, if there is an amplified neuronal space for the brain to use as a contrast between the two different type spaces. The lack of (neuronal reward) for the take helps the brain solidify the contrast between the swing and the take. Hard contact at home plate helps to reinforce the reward process related to the swing. It is merely an outcome of a well-engineered space. If hard contact isn't achieved by the hitter the swing at the strike alone will be a sufficient reward for the intent of identifying the strike space. Hard contacts may become the norm but aren't expected or required during training due to the firm speed of the pitches recommended.

Understanding the Role of Space

Two types of space (atmospheric & neuronal) must be considered when addressing representative design for batting practice / strike recognition conditioning. Atmospheric Space is the invisible space that is made of elements and surrounds us at all times while neuronal space is the brain’s functional firing of electrical impulses that make an identical copy of the "invisible atmospheric space". This internal brain generated copy is a multi-layered neuronal construct called common space. It is expressed neurologically as low resolution, evenly distributed spatial neurons spread across the hitter’s entire neuronal receptive visual field. Any attempts to create variations within the field (common space) likened to the “strike zone”, must be prompted by (1) negatively charged, (2) pre-visual and (3) pre-cognitive input. V-Flex meets all of these requirements.

Several popular training methods for strike training fail to meet the three criteria. They include cones, pvc swing path trainers, explicit swing analysis from bat & body sensors, stand-in verbal ball & strike drills, pitch occlusion drills, hard take drills, pitch count drills, tee drills, strings, visual constraint screens, life sized projection screens, TV or iPads. Coaches also attempt to communicate the strike zone through superior language skills acquired through years of experience and they include terms like soft focus, hard focus, tunnels, lanes, boxes, mental focusing, and or breathing & visualization drills. Unfortunately, all of these drills, approaches and concepts are fundamentally flawed and fail to meet the standards required by the brain for hacking into its spatial window. It is fiercely guarded by the Law of diminishing returns which is directly linked to the bonding between atmospheric and neuronal space.

Modern Theory on Pitch Recognition Skill Acquisition

Modern theory regarding pitch recognition and faster swing decisions imply that a hitter has time, space and mental incentive to compare pictorial images and possibly neuronal patterns built from previous pitches to assist the hitter in determining what the next pitch will be. It’s as if coaches want to teach hitters how to predict the future by uploading the past into the present visual window. Conditioning the hitter’s brain to swing at strikes is very different from teaching the hitter what pitch to cognitively expect. Those cognitive overtones are supposed to help the hitter use specific pitch counts and experience to increase their swing decision speeds and efficiency. The problem with this is the brain has to rely on an imaginary strike zone since it doesn't have a conditioned neuronal one. It isn't possible to cognitively hit an observed pitch traveling 90 mph due to the biological time limitations associated with cognition. Cognition requires 150 milliseconds and the hitter has approximately 350-450 milliseconds total time to process the visual impulses being rendered within the hitter’s visual receptive field related to the contact point of a particular pitch. It is likely possible to train a reflex/trigger to a stimulus over time but its difficult at best.

Spatial neurons lack the capacity to "learn" however, they do possess the ability to "adapt". Therefore, if you want (9) hitters that swing at strikes and take balls regardless of the pitch count, I recommend conditioning specific strike zone parameters implicitly using V-Flex. V-Flex induces adaptations similar to those of muscles, meanings the gains expressed during the conditioning phase will be lost if a maintenance program isn't adopted. If you want the brain to express an acute awareness of the amplified strike zone you will need to train with V-Flex between 2-3 days per week prior to and during the season. There is nothing more valuable than 9 hitters that take balls identically. It means that pitchers must throw strikes to get hitters out and that is hard to do since hitters hit strikes hard 20% of the time and balls hard 2% of the time.

Dr. Les Anderson recorded over sixty thousand pitches over a 4 year period regarding strike and ball efficiency data on Top 50 NCAA softball teams that trained on V-Flex and the effects were pretty impressive. This chart shows a steady increase in BE (ball efficiency), the ability to take a ball. The most amazing thing was the lack of improvement by non V-Flex trained teams. Zero teams rose above the 69% BE mark. It appears that the natural best or (biological maximum) for ball efficiency within the common space is around 70%. Some V-Flex trained teams are now on their 7th season and continuing to increase their BE. Some of our top 10 NCAA softball teams are consistently around the 85-90 range regardless of the pitch count. The goal is to see more and more baseball teams experience this type of success.   

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