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Tag: mental toughness

Building Mental Toughness in Baseball

I’m linking to a very important article from Dr. Gene Coleman on building mental toughness in baseball. Dr. Coleman is a strength and conditioning consultant in the MLB and has written numerous articles on the mental and physical sides of the game.

This article comes from the Professional Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society and I invite you to read the entire piece here…

I’ve highlighted and quoted some of the key passages that I believe would be most useful for players:

What is mental toughness?

Webster’s dictionary defines, mental toughness as “the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”

That’s actually a pretty good definition.

“Coaches say that mental toughness is resilience; the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty, failure, and defeat. Many sports scientists say that mental toughness is an acquired positive mindset.”

What are the characteristics of mentally tough athletes?

“Mentally tough athletes have clarity of mind and firmness of purpose. They desire to be great, and settling for good is never an option. They know how to win and stand tall in the face of adversity.

They make fewer mistakes and possess a work ethic, winning mentality and self-confidence. Mentally tough performers refuse to be intimated. They are able to stay focused and manage pressure. They hate to lose, but don’t dwell on defeat.

They accept losing as an inevitable consequence of meeting someone better on a given day. They are gracious in defeat and positive about the future. They believe in themselves and are positive about the future.”

How do you become mentally tough or tougher?

“This is the million or sometimes the multi-million-dollar question. There are a number of effective approaches that baseball players can take to help develop and improve mental toughness.

There are number of excellent sports psychologists that can help as well as reputable self-help books, articles and internet websites. There are also a few basic things that all players can do that have been shown to be effective first-steps to include the following:

Control what you can control

Nolan Ryan says that you should never lose because the other team was better prepared than you.

The only thing that you can control is how you prepare for the game. That includes how much sleep you get, timing, frequency, size and quality of meals, emotions, body language, mental state, work ethic (consistency of skill work, physical conditioning and recovery techniques), body language and response to success and failure.

Randy Johnson said that he went from being a good pitcher to a great pitcher when Nolan Ryan helped him control his emotions and body language both on the mound and in the dugout.

Nolan explained how his body language and emotional response to failure could have a positive effect on the opposition and negative effect on his teammates.

Once he understood this and was able to control his negative thoughts, poor body language and emotional outbursts, his mental attitude, confidence and performance improved significantly.

Are you the guy who shrugs his shoulders and puts his head down when you give up a run or a teammate makes an error? Do you sit in the corner of the dugout after you make an error or strikeout with the bases loaded, or are you the guy who says “my bad – get him next time,” stands up and supports your teammates? Your actions and reactions can affect not only your performance, but that of your teammates and opponents.

Controlling what you can control is an effective first step to improved mental toughness and performance. You can help your team by being a good teammate, getting on base, making a play in the field, expanding the opposing pitcher’s pitch count, advancing on a passed ball, etc.

Help comes in many forms. At the MLB level, most managers ask their players to do three things to help the team win: 1) be on time; 2) be a good teammate; and 3) respect the game. They don’t ask for shutouts, game winning hits, hi-lite plays or home runs.

A good teammate has a good work ethic, takes care of his body, shows up early, stays late, has a team-first attitude, doesn’t sulk when he fails or gloat when he succeeds, doesn’t point fingers, picks his teammates up, accepts blame and gives credit.  If you are on time, a good teammate and respect the game, the other things will take care of themselves.”

Have a Positive Attitude

“Your attitude and emotions can affect how you and your teammates perform both on and off the field. Don’t let your performance affect your attitude and emotions.

Coaches, teammates, parents and fans should not be able to tell what kind of game you had after a win or loss. Remain even keeled after both wins and losses. Be happy after a win and determined after a loss, but don’t get too high or too low after either.

Be disappointed and determined after a loss even if you had a great day. Good teammates are able to control their emotions and have a positive attitude even under unpleasant circumstances.”

Dictate your attitude

“Don’t let your personal or team performance dictate your attitude. Having a positive attitude makes you look good in the eyes of your coaches, fans, parents and teammates.

Be in control of your attitude when you show up to the field, during the game, after the game and on the ride home. Leave what you did yesterday in the past. You can’t change it. Don’t worry about the future. You can’t control it.

Control what you can control. Stay in the present, trust your preparation and make the most out of the game in front of you.”

Do the Hard Things First

“Determine your weakest skill and work on it first both at home and during practice.

If you are having trouble with backhand plays, work on them first when your body, mind and reactions are fresh. Don’t save them for last when you are fatigued.

Fatigue inhibits performance. Avoid doing the most important thing when you are tired. If you are having trouble with your breaking ball, work on the spin first at a shorter distance, say 20-feet.

A sprinter who is having trouble with his start, doesn’t run 100-yards every rep. He shortens up and works on getting out of the blocks and his first 3-4 steps. If you can’t control the spin at 20-feet, throwing 60-feet won’t make it better.

The same goes for hitting, catching balls in the outfield, blocking balls behind the plate and running the bases. Work on what you are having trouble with first. You going to be only as good as your weakest link.

Working on your strengths will not improve your weaknesses. Identify your weakest links and address them head on the first thing every day. Work smart. Have a plan, execute the plan, reevaluate the plan and make adjustments when and where needed.

If you are a catcher and having trouble blocking balls, determine if it’s your lack of skill or lack of strength and mobility. Your body is a 3-link chain – 1) your hips and legs, 2) core and 3) upper body, arms and hands. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You initiate force in the lower body and transfer it through the core to the chest, shoulders, arms and hands.

You can have the fastest hands in the league, but if your legs or core are weak, you will not have the strength, mobility and speed to get your body in the right position for your hands to do their job. Conditioning enables an you to put your body in the proper position to effectively perform the drills enough times (reps) to improve performance.

If you are not in shape to do the drills properly and repeat them enough times to enhance performance, you are wasting valuable time. Get in shape to do the work and then work on the things that you can’t and don’t like to do first.

If you are lifting weights, do the exercise you like least first when you are fresh. If you wait, chances are you won’t want to work on your weakness or you will not give it your best effort. When you choose to do the hard things first, you develop mental toughness and the game and life become easier.

When you choose the easiest first, you get mentally weaker and the game and life become harder.

Developing and improving mental toughness and effective performance is not a quick fix. You can’t microwave toughness or skill. You can, however, focus on what you can do on a daily basis to make yourself and the team better. The goal should be to make your team more successful, and this starts by making yourself better.”

Stop Revisiting Negatives From Past Games

As you probably know by now, one of my favorite mental coaches is Dr. Patrick Cohn of Peak Sports Performance. Dr. Cohn is a sports psychologist out of Orlando Florida.

He’s always preaching about mental toughness – as well as the techniques athletes can use to grasp it.

He sent out an e-mail blast recently that I’ve posted below regarding eliminating negative thoughts regarding past performance – and how to best get past it.

For instance, you whiffed the last two at-bats swinging at balls in the dirt and now you are facing the same pitcher with a runner in scoring position, “Here we go AGAIN!”

Or you walked the bases loaded and are having difficulty with your control and are now facing a hitter that has torched you in the past, “Here we go AGAIN!”

Or your team has blown the lead in the ninth inning the last two games and now you are clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom on the ninth, “Here we go AGAIN!”

This is a common problem among baseball players, but this mindset is based on a misconception. This misconception implies “what happened in the past will continue to happen in the present.”

It is an over generalization to believe the past will repeat itself but many baseball players, in the moment, buy into the “here we go again…” mindset.

When you allow past outcomes to influence your mindset in the present, the pressure heightens, which creates anxiety and tension.

Playing anxious and tight ball is a recipe for athletic disaster and under-performance.

In Action

The San Francisco Giants could have easily defaulted to the “here we go again” mentality after a breakdown against the Texas Rangers.

The Giants started out the first game of a three-game series against the Rangers with a tough game, blowing a six-run lead to lose in extra-innings at home.

To add to the potential pressure, the Giants had lost 10 of the previous 13 at their ballpark.

The San Francisco Giants had to quickly re-focus in Game 2 of their series.

The Giants quickly jumped out to a 5-0 lead but gave up three runs in the eighth inning.

Despite similar circumstances, the Giants fought forward and San Francisco relief pitcher Mark Melancon closed out the game with the bases loaded to secure a 5-3 win over Rangers.

Hunter Pence, who had a pinch-hit home run in the seventh, talked about their “keep attacking” mindset rather than succumbing to the “here we go again” mindset.

PENCE: “It’s very important to continue to send that message of relentless attack. Even where we are and as clouded as it may seem, you still never know. When there’s still a chance in this game of baseball, things can get hot in an instant.”

Knowing there is a chance is a great strategy to keep your head in the game and avoid the pitfall of “here we go again.”

Keeping Your Head in the Game

Knowing you have a chance comes in many forms:

*Knowing there is a chance to still win.

*Knowing there is still a chance to bounce back the next game.

*Knowing there is still a chance to hone your skills and improve your game.

*Knowing you can learn from the past and adjust.

If you can adopt the “there’s still a chance” mindset, you can focus on making things happen in the moment.

Let go of what’s already happened, look for signs to build momentum, and get things moving in a positive direction. Instead, take a trip down memory lane to when you did drive in that run!

 

Mental Toughness For Pitchers

“The pitcher with a winning mental approach will appear to rise to the occasion in big games, when in reality he is the one who successfully keeps his head while others around him are distracted by the moment.”

“Mental toughness allows the pitcher to remain focused on these things regardless of all the chaos going on around him.”

“The mentally tough pitcher can focus on the things he can control and not let the things out of his control distract him.”

So says legendary college baseball coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland. McFarland coached 38 years at the college level – 18 at James Madison University. Equally impressive, he coached 55 players on their way to the big leagues (including Kevin Brown of the Los Angeles Dodgers).

His book, Coaching Pitchers, is a great read – and I’d encourage you to purchase it here.

The following is an excerpt from that book…

Many say that mental toughness is an ability that is born into a pitcher, but with some work and effort all pitchers can create a winning mental approach. In this chapter we will look at identifying problems and then offer advice, drills, and practice ideas to help pitchers create a winning mental approach.

Factors the Pitcher Can’t Control

The first step to becoming mentally tough is to figure out the factors you can control as a pitcher and those things that are out of your control. The list of things out of your control is much longer than the list of things within your control. First you determine those factors out of your control and then you learn to deal with them.

  • Weather conditions – these include wind, rain, sun, cold, and heat. You can dress appropriately, but you cannot do anything to control the weather.
  • Field conditions – these include wet field, dry field, poor field, dimensions of the field, poor lighting, and the height and condition of the mound.
  • Teammates – a pitcher cannot control his teammates and their play. They may score 0 runs when you pitch; they may score 10 runs. This is true of errors too. Your team may field great when you pitch or they may make several errors. You can’t do anything about errors or run support.
  • Umpires – as umpires determine their own strike zone,  the pitcher will need to adjust to that zone for the day. A pitcher can’t control whether or not the umpire makes all the correct calls during a ball game.
  • Unruly fans and bench talk – fans or opponents will try to disrupt a pitcher by verbally abusing him. You can’t control fans; when you acknowledge their remarks, it gets even worse. Sometimes opposing teams will try to get a pitcher out of his game by bench talk.
  • The batter – once the baseball leaves a pitcher’s hand, the batter has the control. The batter decides to swing or take. The batter will determine whether to hit the ball hard by his swing.

The pitcher may affect some of the factors with his performance, but he cannot control them. So he should not worry about them. A pitcher cannot focus on or spend time and energy on things out of his control.

Factors the Pitcher Can Control

A pitcher with a winning mental approach knows that there is only one thing a pitcher has complete control over, and that is himself. Mental toughness starts with the realization of this concept.

Be concerned with those things and only those things that a pitcher can control: himself and his actions. A pitcher must first learn to be responsible for himself and his actions.

  • A pitcher cannot control the weather, but he can pitch accordingly and give himself a better opportunity to be successful.
  • A pitcher cannot control the condition of the field, but he can pitch accordingly and give himself a better opportunity to be successful.
  • A pitcher cannot control the play of his teammates, but he can help himself by playing good defense and being positive in the dugout; he can pitch accordingly to ensure his own success.
  • A pitcher cannot control umpire decisions; but he can make adjustments to different strike zones, affect umpiring decisions by his actions, and pitch accordingly to ensure his own success.
  • A pitcher cannot control what is being said about him or to him from opposing teams or fans, but he can choose whether to let them affect his game.
  • A pitcher cannot dictate what the batter will do with a certain pitch; but by studying hitters and learning weaknesses, he can pitch accordingly and ensure his own success.

Instead of focusing on things out of his control, a pitcher must take each set of circumstances and pitch or act accordingly to make himself succeed.

Each pitch and each situation involve a new set of circumstances. How he reacts to each new set of circumstances or situations is within his control, and this is where he can start to make a difference.

Assess the situation, make the appropriate decisions, make the appropriate pitch or play accordingly, and then accept responsibility for the result. Understand that the pitcher starts and affects the action of the game with each pitch more than any other single event in the game; this is crucial for a winning mental approach.

The pitcher is the only player on the field who has the power to act. All other players on both teams only have the power to react. Use this power and act accordingly to each new set of circumstances and each new situation to help ensure your own success.

The key to a winning mental approach is not to focus on the things a pitcher cannot control but to be consumed by the things a pitcher can control.

Telling a pitcher not to worry about the fan in the fourth row who is riding him hard or not to worry about the umpire whose strike zone appears to be on wheels and is moving around is as effective as telling someone not to think about an elephant that’s standing in the room.

Instead, create a pitcher who is consumed with the next pitch and is focused on what he can do in the next set of circumstances, no matter the current situation.

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