Pre-Pitch Hitting Routine

Your Pre-Pitch Routine: Control - Commit - Compete

The Heads-Up approach is to segment the game and break it down into small chunks that you can manage, then create a system, or routine, for each segment. The fundamental element of playing Heads-Up Baseball is executing your pre-pitch routine.

Your routine is simply how you perform the Control, Commit, Compete process. It’s how you compete. It’s how you give 100% of what you’ve got right now to win this next pitch. RAMP prepares you for it.

Step 1: Self-Control

Self-control is about getting as close to a Green Light as you possibly can before each pitch is thrown. You can’t consistently play one pitch at a time if you aren’t aware of whether or not you’re in control.

  • Before you get in the box, check in. Do I have a Green Light? Am I in control of myself? How do I know I’m in control of myself? How do I know if I’m not?

  • If I have a Green Light, Commit to my Mission (what you want to have happen. Not outcome related, something like hard up the middle or sac fly etc…) for the pitch and step into the box.

  • If I have a Yellow Light, step away from the box and make an adjustment.

Need an adjustment? Here are some techniques that can help you release negative energy and get yourself back under control:

  • Sweep the box with your foot to wipe away whatever negative event just happened. Think of it as cleaning your head.

  • Stand outside the box and take an extra breath.

  • Redo your batting glove velcro, reloading your confidence and letting go of your thoughts of that last pitch.

  • Pick up some dirt, squeeze it to put your negative energy into it, and then throw it away – throwing your emotions away with it.

  • Squeeze the handle on your bat and feel your frustration… then release the emotion as you relax your hands.

  • Take your helmet off to let off some steam — and when you put it back on, you’re ready to focus on the next pitch.

  • Give yourself a pep talk to create a confident, “Bring it, buddy!” mindset.

  • Look out at your focal point.

  • Write a message and tape it on the underside of your batting helment and read it between pitches.

Whatever release (or releases) you decide to use, choose them well in advance. Practice your release in practice, and use it in the batting cage and during drills. Releasing negative emotions and regaining a Green Light is a skill. You get better at it with practice.

Keep in mind that working your process isn’t about slowing the game down for everyone else — it’s about slowing it down in your own head.

Step 2: Commit to a Mission

Committing to a Mission means you’re clear on what you want to have happen, you have a strong competitive desire, and you’re locked in on the present moment.

  • What pitch am I looking for? What will I do with it?

  • How do I match up with this pitcher? What’s the game situation? The count?

  • Am I committed to my plan for this pitch? How do I know? What do I feel and think that tells me I’ve let go of the past (and future)? Am I 100% committed to my Mission for this pitch?

  • If you’re not committed to your Mission, step out! You have just a fraction of a second to make your decision on each pitch, and doubt clouds your judgment. You’re not going to feel 100% on each pitch, but you can feel the best you can feel right now on each pitch.

  • Desire. Are your competitive juices flowing? It isn’t enough to be clear on what pitch you’re hunting. You have to be filled with the passion, desire, and will to win to give yourself your best chance for success.

  • Know Yourself. How do you know if you’re competing versus just going through the motions on a pitch? How do you know if you’re trying too hard?

Step 3: Compete

Finally, the pitcher starts his delivery and you let go. Just do it. Everything you’ve done has been in preparation for trust. Trust isn’t something we can put in words. The more you try to control yourself while you’re hitting, the less you’re competing.”

One way to think of trust is connecting with your target. At the Commit stage, you committed to your plan. The game now becomes about staying committed and staying connected with your target as you perform.

Sounds easy, right? Sometimes it is. You can trust yourself and let it fly.  But let’s be real. Fears, doubts, and random negative voices may come in during your AB, or even during a pitch. What do you do then?

Treat that little negative voice in your head the same way you treat opposing fans when you’re playing well on the road. The crowd can yell all kinds of things at you, but when you’re hitting well, you almost smile at it, lock in on the ball, and mash. If while you’re hitting an ’inner opposing fan‘ says, “Don’t strike out,” or, “I can’t see it!” – or a feeling of panic and doubt floods your body – stay connected with your Mission and trust yourself the best you can.

It’s just a thought. It’s just a feeling. It doesn’t actually mean anything and it doesn’t have to control you. Have you ever been scared to death and gotten a hit anyway? You may have negative thoughts and feelings while you’re hitting, but don’t let them overwhelm you. Take Responsibility for your performance, trust what you’ve got, and Compete.

You don’t have to feel confident to compete. Trust what you have. You’ve worked hard, you’re good enough to be out there, so yes – release all the negative thoughts and feelings you can between pitches. But remember, you can succeed on the outside no matter what’s happening on the inside.

Trust Tips


  • Get Big! Imagine expanding yourself physically, stand big, move big, and lift your head up (that’s “Heads-Up Baseball”).

  • Focus on winning this pitch instead of the whole at-bat.

  • Think, “Get on the rubber, buddy!” and hit with conviction.

  • Take possession of the box. Claim it. Control it. This is the place you rule, so act like it (even if you don’t feel it!). Fake it ’til you make it.

Sometimes these moves will only help you feel less bad. They may only stop you from spiraling from a Yellow Light to a Red. But they’ll help you get to the next pitch with 100% of what you’ve got right now so you can compete.”


I encourage our hitters to pass the baton. They don’t have to do everything themselves all the time. I encourage them to do the little things, and if they don’t get the results, the next guy will. This helps reduce the pressure the player feels.

Rick Vanderhook

Head Coach, Cal-State Fullerton”

Sample Pre-Pitch Routines

Here are some examples of common pre-pitch routines.

Example 1: “Keep It Simple”

Control:  Stand confidently outside the box and take a slow, steady breath.

Commit:  Repeat to yourself, “See the ball, hit the ball,” and visualize the pitch coming in and crushing it to a gap. Step into the box… take possession of the box.

Compete:  Trust! Respond to what you see.

Example 2: “Mechanical Cue”

Control:  Get big and step in the box when you’re ready.

Commit:  Inhale, and as you exhale, say to yourself, “Hands inside the ball.”

Compete:  Finish your pre-pitch moves and settle into your stance. Get your energy going out to the ball.

Example 3: “The Classic”

Control:  Outside the box, check in and notice your tension level. Plant your back foot in the box. Pause for your complete breath while focusing fully on the fat part of the bat or a letter on the label. Connecting with your bat puts you in the present moment (you could also look at any other spot outside you).

Commit:  Once your exhale is complete, place your front foot in place and remind yourself of your Mission, such as, “line drive up the middle.”

Compete:  Shift into “Bring it!” mindset.”


After each pitch, do a quick Lessons Learned meeting with yourself. Notice what you learned about yourself (how you feel, what’s working, what’s not working), the pitcher (his confidence, his approach), the umpire (what his zone is), and anything else. Then start your routine again. Be mindful at the same time that you don’t overthink it!

Mike Trout Pre-At Bat Routine

“For hitting, I walk slowly to the plate and go through my routine with the bat and batting gloves and take that good, deep breath. I still remember one of the first things Ken told me – that I was taking the breath, but I wasn’t finishing it. A big thing for me is finishing that breath before I get back in the box.”


“It really kicks in when I snap my last batting glove and finish that deep breath. Once I finish that breath, I’m ready to get back in the box. I don’t want to let the pitcher force me to be ready, so I make sure I get in the box when I’m ready to get in the box.


“My attitude is: “I’m hitting. It’s my box. I own the box.”


“If I get beat on a pitch against a good sinkerballer, I’ll get out of the box, take a few deep breaths, finish them, and tell myself something helpful, like, ‘See the ball up.’ I’ll review the last pitch to see what I did wrong. Once I get in the box, after taking that deep breath, everything is in the past and I’m on to the next pitch. I look at it this way: He’s got to beat me three times and I’ve just got to beat him once.

“I’ll do what it takes to stay positive. If I line out or have a good at-bat and get out, that’s a negative result. But you’ve got to look at it as, ‘Alright, I got out. Next at-bat.’ You’ve got to look at the positives, like having had a good swing, and then be able to visualize that good swing again, the base hit up the middle, or the home run, and then just stay positive.”

A Quality Breath Before Each Pitch

If we could, we’d require you to take a meaningful, clear, clean, noticeable breath before each pitch. A slow, steady breath is the heart of the Heads-Up approach. 

The deep breath:

• Helps you let go of the last pitch.

• Enables you to check in to see if you’re in control (got a Green Light?).

• Helps you get control.

• Helps you let go of tension.

• Helps you shift from conscious thinking to unconscious trusting.”

• Helps you establish a sense of rhythm in your hitting. 

• Tells your coach that you’re in control of yourself and working it!

If your coach sees you taking your breath and exercising your routine, it tells him that you’re in control of yourself. If he sees you skipping or cutting your breath short, he knows that you’re out of control. Rush your breath and you’ll rush your mechanics. You can’t control your hitting unless you’re in control of yourself, and your breath is the indicator that you’re in control.

When do you take your breath? We want you to take a quality breath between pitches. You choose when you take it.

Options for when you can take a breath include:

1. Standing with both feet outside of the box. Don’t step in until you complete that breath.

2. After securing your back foot in the box, but before you put your front foot in.

3. After you put both feet in the box as you do your pre-stance movements.

Try a Double Breath routine in which you take a quality breath at more than one of those times. The first breath can be a big ’release’ breath that can signify the end of the last pitch. The second breath is more of a ‘trusting’ breath that can mark the start of the next pitch. You may find it best to use a Double Breath routine when the pressure is on, but a single breath routine at other times.

You choose. The deep breath is the MVP of Heads-Up Baseball… put it in your lineup!

Note: Finish your breath. You can go through the motions of taking a deep breath just like you can anything else. Pay attention to the breath. Notice the air coming in. Notice the air coming out. Let the breath finish before you proceed in your routine. When players are struggling, they cut their breath short. After rushing their breath, they rush their swing. Let the breath help you keep to the rhythm, tempo, and effort level you know you want to be at.

This sounds simple, but it can be very difficult to do in games.

“If you’re not 100% sure you took your breath before a pitch, you’re not in control of yourself and you likely aren’t playing one pitch at a time.”



Building Your Routine

Now that we’ve given you some ideas, use the questions below to help you write down one or two things you’ll do at each point to help funnel you to where you want to be at the plate — head clear, focused on the baseball.”

When You’re Struggling/Slumping: Multiple Routines for Multiple Yous

We’ve noted throughout this book that sometimes you have your A game and other times you’ll have your B or C game. That is, sometimes you feel great and the game flows for you, and other times you’ll struggle to some degree.

You may find it helpful to develop different variations of your routine for different levels of confidence. If you have your A game, you may just step in, take a breath, and rip the ball. If you have your B game, you can segment the time between pitches and be more deliberate about working through Control - Commit - Compete.

If you’re really struggling (C game), segment even more. When you’re in the hole, do a great job of being present in the hole; when you’re on deck, do a great job of being on deck. Be present for each step when you’re walking to the plate; do a great job with each step of your routine at the plate. Finish each breath! Take possession of the box and be ready to give 100% of what you’ve got to win that next pitch. Define success as having been present for each segment of your AB.

(Of course, this may not be true for you. You may need to get simpler and segment things less when you’re scuffling. Know yourself!)

Final Thoughts on Hitting

We started the chapter by reminding you to keep it simple, and then we gave you pages of ideas that risk making hitting complex. Why? You need to be able to deal with the “simplexity” of hitting: Sometimes it’s simple, sometimes it’s complex.

We could say, “Put your back foot in the box, take a breath while looking at the fat part of the bat, and say ‘See the ball, hit the ball.’” That could help you because it’s a clear, simple strategy that has literally helped thousands of hitters have more QABs.

But we also wouldn’t be dealing with reality. We’ve worked with thousands of hitters over the years, and they all say that hitting fluctuates in difficulty. Every pitcher is different. Each trip to the plate, you are different.

Experienced players know more often than not that they need to take Responsibility and work it. They need to work the process because they don’t have their A game. They don’t feel 100% — but they also know they don’t need their best swing to succeed.

They compete. They focus on having a QAB. They take what they have at this moment and compete with it. They say, “I’m not so bad that I need my A game and total confidence to hit well. Anyone can be great with their A game. Bring on the adversity! I’m going to work the process by doing a great job with my routine and compete pitch to pitch. And I LOVE it!

Action Plan / Homework:

Type up your pre-pitch hitting routine and send me a copy.

Note your routine must include the following:

  • Signal light check in, what color are you?

  • Ways to get back to green if you aren’t green. See section "Need an adjustment?" above if you need more options.

  • A deep breath (a complete inhale and exhale).

  • Hard focus (like where the colors disappear from the vision sheet) on the decimal point of the USSSA stamp of your bat or some other small text. This trains your eyes to focus and makes the ball seem much larger coming in.

  • A reminder of what your mission is or your plan for this pitch. i.e. Where is my "Go box" and what pitch types are a "Go" for this count? and your goal like hitting it hard up the middle, sac bunt / fly etc…