Is Your Head Getting in Your Way?
Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra said “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”
He wasn’t kidding. 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.
You can’t play good baseball by thinking about it!
- Learn how to allow your negative or “Gotta get a hit!”/“What if I boot the ball?” thoughts to pass through without engaging them.
- Don’t try to use “positive thinking.” It doesn’t work because it is a distraction from the game’s action.
- Stay dis-engaged from your thinking by instead focusing on the action.
- Thinking gets you trying too hard and pressing. Trying too hard is a 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.
Matt had been a dominant, gutsy pitcher in high school...
A few years ago, a Division I baseball player was referred to me because his game had been steadily going down the proverbial tubes. Matt 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?” Soon, his worry about losing control became a regular 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.
In no time at all, Matt 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 Matt 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 Matt 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-to-10, he was a -3! Mental training? Yeah, he’d try anything! He was desperate.
Mental toughness in baseball starts with your ability to control where you put your focus of concentration.
- You have to immediately let go of your errors, bad at-bats, bad calls, and strikeouts.
- Keep your focus in the NOW on what you’re DOING, one play/swing/pitch at a time.
- Stay aware of when your focus drifts away from what you’re DOING to your THINKING, and immediately return your focus to the game and the task at hand.
- Do this as many times as you drift!
Concentration is also about your ability to effectively prepare for upcoming games. Do you know the best way to focus both before the game and before each at-bat? Too many baseball players mistakenly set themselves up for failure during the days and hours leading up to a big game because they concentrate on the wrong things.
So what happened to Matt?
A few months after we worked together, he was able to get his game back on track, and throwing like his “old self!” After a very successful college career, he signed with a Major League team and eventually made it to the Show!
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 writes for Collegiate Baseball and is the author of several baseball books and mental toughness programs including Baseball With The Competitive Edge.
You can’t reach your baseball dreams without using your head!
I used to get mad and frustrated whenever I struck out or made errors. Every time I did that I'd mess up even more but I couldn't stop it from happening. I read Using Your Head ... Baseball and it taught me how to focus and how to let things go. I'm back in the starting lineup!
This mental toughness training program is an excellent and extremely useful tool for players at all levels! Dr. Goldberg's has made a significant contribution to slump busting & mental toughness in this game!
Baseball is a mental game and Goldberg shows you how to play it well. Hitting and Fielding in the Clutch will help you do just that. A simple yet powerful mental toughness training manual
I've been a supporter of your mental toughness and slump busting program for years as a coach for AAU basketball. As a behavioral scientist I truly appreciate the way you have reduced theory down to a very practical instrument. Thanks for your contribution to youth sports!
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This mental toughness training program is an excellent and extremely useful tool for players at all levels! Dr. Goldberg’s has made a significant contribution to slump busting & mental toughness in this game!
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After listening to your CD’s, John hit a 2 run homer out of the park as part of a go-ahead win tonight. I attached a picture of him holding his homerun ball. He’s so happy and immediately asked me to thank you for your help which he’s going to keep using. As a parent seeing the joy on his face is priceless!
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