Hand-eye coordination in baseball isn’t everything; it is the only thing. As a player, it’s paramount that you keep your eyes on the ball, determine the speed at which it is approaching you, and find out its path and spin. You should also be able to find it mid-air with your bat and give it that perfect hit that will get you and your players to the next base successfully.
Basically, how successful you are in baseball, softball, badminton, and hockey among other games depends on how good your eye-hand coordination is.
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What is hand-eye coordination in sports?
Put in the simplest terms possible, hand-eye coordination is the ability to track your hand’s movement using your eyes. As simple as I make it appear to you, this is a complex neurological process that involves your eyes, the brain, your hands, and lots of gross and fine motor muscles in between.
According to Chen Yu, a professor in Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, the entire process of hand-eye coordination starts when your eyes send information to the brain about stimuli.
The brain processes the data using two systems. The focal system tracks the object while the ambient system picks its position and speed in space. After processing this information, the cerebellum takes over by triggering the required motor coordination.
To be an elite hitter in baseball, Grant Geisser, the Director of Cincinnati Reds minor league says that you need to pick up the speed of the ball and respond each time accordingly. Hand-Eye coordination is a ‘miracle’ considering that the entire process takes place in nanoseconds.
Improving your hand-eye coordination in baseball
Hand-eye coordination deteriorates as we age. If you have not been active in the field for some time, you might also have some problems tracking the ball and hitting it on time. Luckily, this is something that you can improve on at any age. Here a few tips on how to improve hand-eye coordination in baseball.
Tip #1: Perfect your ‘Quiet Eye.’
It’s very likely that you’ve heard of the old saying, ‘’see the ball, hit the ball’’ right? As old as it is, this saying still holds true in baseball.
The entire process of hand-eye coordination starts with the eye locating the ball and maintaining a sharp focus. In baseball, you need to ensure that you have a sharp focus on the ball from the time the pitcher holds it in hand to the time he/she makes the throw.
According to research, the world’s best athletes succeed in most instances because they are able to perfect and utilize their quiet eye.
This involves locking your gaze into a stimulus (in our case, the ball in the pitcher’s hand). The essence here is to ensure that your brain is attentive to detail. It also helps the brain to respond to stimuli in the right time frame.
To perfect your quiet eye, you could have another player hold the ball at some distance from you. Ask them to swing their hand in slow motion and ensure that your eyes move with the ball. Repeat this for some time and ask them to throw the ball towards you slowly at first and increase the speed with time.
Tip #2: Juggling
Another great way of sharpening your peripheral vision is by juggling. Yes, it’s quite baffling how such a simple task can have such a significant impact in the field. Fraser Horn, a sports instructor at Pacific University, says that this is probably the best way of perfecting your hand-eye coordination.
When juggling, you could start with 2 tennis balls or beanbags and slowly up the ante by adding more objects to the game.
The thing with juggling is that it teaches the mind how to concentrate more on the moving airborne objects. It also keeps a perfect track of what comes in and out of your hand without necessarily looking at them.
Horn says that in juggling, the brain ensures that data processing is done in relation to the speed of the balls and where they cross. The brain also makes lightning-fast decisions on where the hands need to be each time.
Another great way of enhancing your concentration skills would be throwing in some distractions into the game. For instance, speak to your friends or sing along to some music. This will not only perfect your coordination but also simulates real-life situations.
Tip #3: Perfect your swings
After ensuring that you have a perfect focus on the ball from the time it gets off the pitcher’s hand to the time that it is within the hitting range, you also need to perfect your swings (as the batter).
There are a lot of drills that could help you to improve your hitting. A good example here is soft toss. Soft toss involves someone else throwing the ball to you where you kick it towards a screen, for instance, a net.
Most coaches agree that soft toss has a significant contribution to improving hand-eye coordination in baseball. But you need to work hard on it. In this context, hard refers to not less than a hundred swings every day.
For better results, the thrower should vary the tosses from perfect to imperfect for change ups. This ensures that you are able to react according to different swings.
Important: Remember that lots of soft-tossing could damage your bat. A good idea is to use a soft ball, for instance, a tennis ball and taking breaks between the swings.
Tip #4: Play Catch at Pro Level
Playing a game of catch also helps in improving your hand-eye coordination. The traditional way of playing it is by throwing a tennis ball against a wall and catching it with your hands.
At pro level, you’ll need a few balls, let’s say three. Mark the balls with numbers or letters and then throw them against the wall randomly. As each ball bounces back to you, try to not only catch it but also to ID it. This helps your eyes and brain to concentrate on fine details and make quick judgments.
Of course, I can’t forget to emphasize the importance of practicing these hand-eye coordination tips. Simply reading them won’t do you any good if you won’t practice them in the field. So, find some time to perfect them.
On the same note, remember to be conscious while playing and try to utilize these tips in the actual game. Above everything else, believe in yourself, stay cool, and have fun.