Is Your Head Getting in Your Way As a Ballplayer?
"BASEBALL IS 90% MENTAL AND THE REST IS PHYSICAL!" - Yogi Berra
If you understand old Yogi's wisdom, you can see that the mental side of this game has a lot to do with performance success! What you focus on and think about before and during the game can make or break your performance!
I don't know what level you play or coach at, and I'm not sure what dreams you have for yourself and your game. I do know, however, that to truly reach your potential in baseball you have to develop a solid working knowledge of how to become mentally tough. Without the necessary mental skills to effectively handle big game pressure, quickly bounce back from bad at-bats, errors and tough breaks, the ability to focus on what's important, and that all important belief in yourself, you'll remain a baseball player with "permanent potential." In other words, you won't go anywhere!
You play your best baseball when you trust yourself and are "unconscious", that is, not thinking. Thinking tightens your muscles up in knots, distracts your focus from the task at hand and kills every part of your game. Baseball skills happen too quickly for your thoughts to be able to keep up with your actions. Thinking slows your reflexes and reaction times way down. Not to mention, making them uncoordinated.
Two years ago a Division I baseball player was referred to me because his game had been steadily going down the proverbial tubes. He had been a dominant, gutsy pitcher in high school and his physical skills and intensity on the mound had earned him a four-year scholarship to a big baseball program down south. He was the kind of pitcher who could go into a game with runners on, the count against him and the crowd screaming bloody murder. He'd keep his cool and slowly and methodically pitch his way out of the jam. Like all mentally tough ball players, his strength lay in his ability to put himself on automatic on the mound and just not think.
Shortly after he joined his college team several of his older teammates, jealous of his skills and potential to make the Majors, began to razz him after he threw a pitch in the dirt during a scrimmage. They nicknamed him "the wild-man" and mercilessly kept on his case. After several weeks of this goading he became shaken by what they were saying and began to think too much on the mound. "What if I throw a wild pitch? What if I lose control again?" Etc. Soon his worry about losing control became a regularly thing. "Paralysis by analysis" soon set in. The worry led to him getting tighter and more tentative, which led to more loss of control, which got him thinking even more.
You cannot play good baseball by thinking about it!
Thinking gets you trying too hard and pressing. Trying too hard is the "game of diminishing returns in baseball." That is, the harder you try, the worse you play. To be at your best, you have to be relaxed and on automatic in what I call a "let it happen" mode.
In no time at all this athlete found himself on the bench, feeling like a total head case. The coaches had lost all confidence in him and that just added to his growing self-doubts. Now he even dreaded having to go out and start a game. A trusted teammate suggested that he talk to someone who knew about the mental part of the game, but this pitcher thought that anything related to the "mental" side was just for "crazy athletes." The teammate laughingly explained, "The mental side of this game is for anyone who wants to raise the level of their play. It will help you build back your confidence, strengthen your ability to block out all the garbage the guys have been throwing your way and it will get you throwing great, like you used to at crunch time! Practicing mental toughness exercises are just like doing weights man! Weights help you build up physical strength so you can throw and hit harder. The mental side will help you build up your mental toughness strength. Hey, even I saw a mental coach last year!"
By the time this pitcher contacted me, he was ready to give up on his dream. His self-confidence was shot and he had little hope that he would ever play the game again the way he once did. If mental toughness was a scale of 1-10 he was a -3! Mental training? Yeah, he'd try anything! He was desperate.
Mental toughness in baseball starts with your ability to handle failure.
You can't be good in this game without the ability to quickly bounce back from errors, miscues, lousy calls and strikeouts. If you have trouble letting go of your failures and tend to carry them around with you, then chances are good that you'll consistently play way below your potential. How about pressure? Do you know how to stay cool in the clutch? Can you effectively manage the stress of big game competition? Without the ability to relax you can't play good ball. Don't forget your concentration skills. The cornerstone of peak athletic performance on the ball field is your ability to focus on what's important and block out everything else. What kind of focusing skills do you have? Can you block out the razzing crowd, your rowdy opponents and the scouts in the stands? Let's not forget self-confidence and that all important belief in yourself. Mental toughness is also made up of your ability to effectively prepare for upcoming games. Do you know the best way to program in success ahead of time? Too many baseball players mistakenly set themselves up for failure during the days and hours leading up to a big game. How about your ability to handle self-doubts and negative self-talk? Are you your own worst fan out there?
If you can learn the game of baseball, then you can learn enough mental toughness techniques to help you develop a solid mental game. This pitcher did! A few months after we worked together he was able to get his game back on track and after his college career ended he was signed by a Major League team! How important is the mental part of your game?
Are you in a hitting slump? Are you struggling with a repetitive throwing problem? Let me help you get your game back on track with my One-On-One Skype consultation services. Call me today at (413) 549-1085 or email Goldberg@competitivedge.com.
As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with ball players at every level, from the Majors on down, teaching them mental toughness. He specializes in helping athletes bust out of slumps and overcome throwing, hitting or fielding problems. He is the author of several baseball books and his newest audio mental toughness program, Baseball With The Competitive Edge.