Updated: Jul 21, 2019
“I’m not going to leave my wingman” – Maverick Top Gun
The movie Top Gun has inadvertently became a major influencing factor in the State Championship hitting plan. During the movie, a scene is shown where instructors are breaking down Mavericks most recent mission in a disapproving way being very critical of the moves Maverick made while proceeding to tell Maverick what moves and techniques he should have done instead. Then the moment comes where the instructors ask Maverick “What were you thinking?” and Maverick responds:
“Up there you don’t have time to think, if you think, you’re dead”.
Although the stakes are not quite as high, this isn’t unlike baseball / softball where if a hitter thinks too much in the batters box it can adversely affect performance. This is where the hitting coach needs to step in to serve as the hitters WINGMAN!
Hitters on my team do not face the pitcher alone because as my hitters WINGMAN, the pitcher is working against a pair of people, (or in the case of our baseball team, a team of people - a few coaches and the hitter) to earn an out. This is the biggest difference between swing coaching (helping with adjustments and mindset of hitters) and being a hitting coaching. As the hitting coach, I play a key game day role in assisting the hitter in reaching a positive outcome in their at bat through real time information processing, but my game day information processing role is simply an extension of the team’s daily training.
I am essentially a Top Gun instructor who is on the headset with Maverick during battle:
When I delved into the Top gun scene a bit more, I learned that the military uses Colonel John Boyd and his theory of the “O.O.D.A. loop” to win dogfights. If fighter pilots must succeed at a rate of 100% and O.O.D.A. is the techniques used to achieve this perfection, then I reasoned that it must be a powerful learning technique and I wanted to see if it could have any application to baseball. Well I found out it DOES!
In its most basic form, O.O.D.A. (observe, orient, decide, Act) states that a fighter pilot should be able to take all information available in real time during a dogfight (plane location, plane speed, country of enemy pilot origin, type of enemy plane, etc.) and put him or herself into a favorable position to win the dogfight drawing from a deep base of knowledge about all the aforementioned factors.
Now obviously our military is not just sending our pilots up in jets and telling them “see enemy bogie shoot enemy bogie”, rather they are teaching our pilots about enemy capabilities and tendencies and then teaching the pilot about their own capabilities and tendencies while placing them in live real life simulations that are evaluated in order to help the pilot make better and more efficient decisions in future engagements.
If Maverick has to face a MIG-28 from Russia, he would have already practiced against this plane and he would know before ever engaging the enemy certain things such as:
· Tendencies of Russian pilots
· Ways in which a MIG 29 can move during a fight
· Best techniques his F-14 can use to win against this MIG
Maverick has already practiced against this threat and because he has evaluated his performance against the threats, he has become more efficient and confident and automatically knows how to execute his plan against the MIG when the time comes. During battle, Maverick won’t have to think, he will only react because the situation is so familiar that thinking is secondary to reacting. The goal is to do this faster than the opponent so Maverick can recognize advantages and exploit advantages before the chance passes.
THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT A HITTING COACH SHOULD BE DOING ON A DAILY BASIS
Just as the military does not say “See Bogie, kill bogie”, we do not rely on the philosophy of “See Ball, Hit ball”. If a fighter pilot can process an O.O.D.A. loop in a life or death high pressure situation moving faster than the speed of sound, than surely a baseball hitter can do the same in a much slower paced lower risk environment.
To work on our O.O.D.A. loop, each day in practice, our hitters face simulated threats. We prepare our hitters to face different variables including:
d. Umpire strike zones variances
e. Pitch Sequences
f. Positive vs. negative count scenarios
We have also created our own “hitter language” and named many of the threats so that during the game, the WINGMAN (coach) who is processing data all game long, can quickly name the threat our hitters are facing and automatically, our hitters know what approach and techniques will best help them arrive at a positive outcome.
When Maverick is told he is facing a Russian MIG certain techniques come to the forefront of his brain that he knows he must use. The same can be said for our hitters when I tell them they are facing a “Type A” or “TYPE B” pitcher today.
Type A or B automatically tells the hitter the speed, location, and in some instances sequences that the pitcher is using. I can then inform the hitter of the umpire’s strike zone for the day and the hitter can then execute a plan they have tirelessly practiced without having to think in the batter’s box because the thinking has all been done during practice. The wingman can give a few reminders when the hitter is in the hole and can answer questions about pitch type command, umpire strike zone variances, typical pitch sequences, defensive alignment, etc……
The key here is the hitting coach and players on the team identifying the pitcher type as quickly as possible. But pretend for a second that Maverick is surprise attacked by an unidentified jet type from and unidentified country. Maverick would have no base of knowledge to draw from and he is essentially fighting blind!
If we face a pitcher that we have no advanced scouting report about this is the scenario we essentially face. This is also something we practice, but the approach the hitter would take in this scenario would be dependent upon their personal strengths and weaknesses. The hitting coach would be responsible to develop this approach in conjunction with the hitter so that he has a fighting chance!
Key points about O.O.D.A. LOOP TRAINING
1. Teams need a coach(es) who can simulate the different threats and variables.
2. Coaches must be able to identify and chart pitches during games as well as figure out a way to make this chart easily and quickly digestible by hitters.
3. Coaches and hitters need to have a system of in game communication.
4. Hitters improve because O.O.D.A. loop training forces hitters to identify and improve their weaknesses
5. Hitters play with more confidence because they always have a plan.
6. Advance scouting is helpful.
a. Essentially all pro-hitters use this same technique, but they have libraries of video on each pitcher they will face from which they can formulate their plan.
7. If coaches create the proper pitcher “types”, EVERY pitcher a team faces will likely fit into a pitcher type thus making practice much more productive!
*FULL DISCLOSRUE: I had the good fortune having a “TOP GUN” pilot assist me in understanding O.O.D.A. loop as one of the parents of our baseball players was a carrier based fighter pilot that convinced me about the validity of what I surmised to be true from a fictitious movie! Top Gun is not real, but the learning techniques on display in the movie ARE!
Contact me if you have questions about this process. This learning process has been an absolute game changer for our team and has made all of our hitters tougher outs for the opponent.