I think the first batting stance I ever tried to mimic was Gary Sheffield's. Never in a Little League game, but in the confines of my yard I used to love pretending I had his exaggerated bat waggle.
I was no Gar Ryness (better known as Batting Stance Guy) growing up, but I used to study the stances of my favorite players and pretend they were mine. From the wide, powerful stance of Dave Winfield to the graceful smoothness of Ken Griffey, Jr. I took on many different plate personas while tossing the ball in the air to myself at home.
And as much as I liked what they did while standing at the plate, I am still as interested in the things they do when they get there. Tapping different spots on the plate with their bats, sweeping their feet in a certain way, digging in, all of it.
One of the things that I grew to better understand and appreciate as I got older was that each player's ritual was his way of getting himself ready for the hugely challenging task of hitting a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher. Every player has a slightly different ritual, but they're all done for the same reason. Most of the wiggles of the bat or foot taps are timing mechanisms. It's preparation for what they are about to do.
When Winston Churchill was leading Great Britain, he used to start his day from bed — he would eat and read the newspaper for quite a while before he got up — but when he left his bedroom the first thing he would do was take a walk around his garden before starting the rest of his day. Cal Newport has a "Three Ms" practice to his morning: movement, mastery, and mindfulness. Every morning he spends a little bit of time on each of those three things before starting his day.
And at the end of his workday, Newport has a ritual of saying out loud to himself, "schedule shutdown complete" after he has finished his last task. He says it's a way of shifting himself mentally for the part of his day that doesn't involve work. I've adopted this practice for myself, though I'm not bold enough yet to say it out loud.
I think things like this are important because they prepare us for what we have coming up. Personally, I know I handle the day-to-day ups and downs better when I have observed my little rituals in the morning and at the end of my workday.
In baseball, I've had the chance to ask people about how their rituals help them handle high-pressure moments (most of it for an article I wrote a couple of years ago). White Sox outfielder Adam Engel told me he looks for the familiar every time he goes up to bat. Something that will always be there no matter what ballpark he's in, like holding up his bat and taking a deep breath while looking at a particular spot on it. One pitcher told me he looks to the foul pole before getting into his windup. Ben Zobrist said he tries to have a singularity of thought at the plate. He said he usually repeats a phrase to himself like "stay inside of it". A sports psychologist said that routine is so important to athletes because it helps them to develop the muscle memory to execute even during high-pressure situations.
It's helped me in the last seven months or so to be more intentional about some of these little things. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Lindsey has gotten used to the sound of me grinding coffee beans for the French Press. I am hardly a coffee aficionado, but after five days of popping a pod in the Keurig in the morning, I like preparing my coffee this way because it's slower and more deliberate, which is how I want to spend my weekends. It becomes a signal for the mindset I want to have.
How I make my coffee in the morning, or where someone like Churchill walks when he gets out of bed, or how a batter stands in the box are all small rituals. But those little things help prepare us for what we have to do.