I’ve consistently pointed out that the mental part of baseball is an undervalued and lesser taught piece of this great game. Sure, mental toughness and “having a good approach” are buzzwords used by coaches every day…but what can you do to teach it?
Well, I’m linking an article by Alan Jaeger regarding some specific advice on “mental practice” every day.
Here’s’ the link to the full article – and I highly recommend that you read the entire thing!
Here are some of the key excerpts…..
Addressing The Mental Game: Prioritizing Your Practice Plan
Practice plans have been passed down for generations, and they of course have plenty of merit. But at what point (and what cost) are we going to continue to center our practice plans around physical preparation when we know that between the lines, the game is at least 90 percent mental? Hitting, throwing and running bases are all indispensable, as is bunt defense, pitchers fielding practice and first and third run downs.
But this is the 21st century – times have changed.
The good news is that society is changing for the better. More than any other generation in the past 50 years, this generation is privy to the reality that Mental Training is not only a credible field, but it’s application to sports and life is a essential. Which begs the question — what are you doing to act on this reality?
Done as a precursor to practice each day, each coach will be given enough information to lead his players through a 10 minute, mental training exercise or session that revolves around breath work.
Ultimately, whether we call “mental practice” relaxation, meditation or mental focusing time, the application of these exercises on a daily basis will have the greatest and most profound effect on your players minds. For without practice how can you expect any skill to be developed and maximized.
Understanding Where We Want To Be: The Zone, Locked In, Unconscious
Having a great mental game is as much about understanding where we want to be, as where we don’t want to be.
When things are going well it seems like the mental game is simple. And when things aren’t going so well the game can be very frustrating and complex. Understanding “how” we go in and out of these states of mind is extremely valuable.
In sports, we actually have many terms for this “optimal” state of mind. It’s been referred to by many names, including “The Zone”, being “Unconscious” and being “Locked In.” The technical term for this state of mind is called a Peak State, and has very specific attributes, including:
- The absence of thought
- A complete immersion with the action
- A sense of being process oriented
- A sense of calm or peace
- A detachment from the outcome.
By understanding the components of a peak state of mind, we can better understand ways to train the mind in order to put it in alignment with this ideal state.
Breath Work: The Core Ingredient Of Your Mental Practice
Mental Practice is a very broad field that includes breathing exercises, imagery, visualization, affirmations, and so on. You can also get forms of mental practice from among other things, Yoga, Martial Arts and being in Nature. Anything that brings the mind into a state of “presence”, a state of peace and quiet can be categorized as mental practice.
But the most common element that I’ve found in mental practice revolves around the breath.
There are many reasons why the breath is at the center of mental training exercises universally, including several physiological benefits (relaxation, lower blood pressure, oxygenation), but some of the other profound benefits may be more subtle. For example, the breath is always happening now, which symbolically, can be extremely helpful in teaching the mind how to be present.
The breath is not a thought, thus, the more time you spend with your breath, the more time you are training your mind how to be in a “no-thought” state. Again, the absence of thought and being present are two major characteristics of a Peak State of mind. Thus, the breath alone can be a catalyst in changing the mind from a result oriented default, to a process oriented default.
Other benefits that can often be associated with breath work include calmness of mind, improved concentration, focus, patience, discipline and inner trust. Inner trust, which is similar to the term confidence, is a by product of spending time in a relaxing and comfortable space each day, and getting to know your self and your inner workings. Considering that your breath keeps you alive 24 hours a day, it’s safe to say that a lot can be gained simply by spending time, appreciating and understanding our breath.
Looking where to begin?
Control your breath. Learn how to take deep breaths, in your your nose, out through your mouth. Let your belly expand, not your neck. Try this during your practice sessions and see how you feel.
Want to Learn More About the Mental Game of Baseball?
Here’s the link to Alan’s book that talks about his approach. It’s called “Getting Focused, Staying Focused: A Far Eastern Approach to Sports and Life.”