According to Yogi Berra, “Ninety percent of baseball is mental the other half is physical.” Just like the physical aspect of baseball, the more you practice your mental game, the better you will perform (and train). Unfortunately, most of us don’t know how to train ourselves mentally. Over the next 3 blog posts, we will look at some introductory principles of growing your mental game. Mindfulness. This is one of the foundational concepts to becoming a mental game warrior. It is simply a moment to moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment. You may not have heard this word, but you’re certainly familiar with some of the other words to describe this skill: being in the zone, or locked in. Ironically, we use phrases like “he’s playing out of his head” or “he’s unconscious” to describe players that are in the same state. When we are mindful, performing the movements of baseball are done by the brain like blinking the eyes. It’s an action we are completely aware of without doing anything to make it happen…think about that last sentence for a second. What happens when you “think” about blinking, or swallowing? Once we move from awareness to thinking about either of these autonomic activities, they become more difficult.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why mindfulness is such an important attribute, and it’s importance to becoming a more complete baseball player. When we are mindful we are aware of our activity in such a way that we are not judging what we are doing, just doing it in the present. Sound confusing? Think of it this way: during a bullpen, you are trying to work on your slider. The problem on that day: it won’t break and keeps backing up on you. Being present or in the moment, allows us to focus on the next pitch, not allowing the previous pitch or pitches to cause frustration. Allowing the past “failures” to affect the next shows we are focused on the past…something we can’t control. When we remain in the present, it’s much easier to separate the past “failures” from the ONLY one you can control, the next pitch. We are aware without thinking.
If we are in the right state of mind we are able to provide and receive better feedback. Baseball is a game of adjustments. Sometimes those adjustments are things we feel and can control. Sometimes they require feedback from others. Being in the right state of mind frees us from being overly concerned with a good or bad outcome and enables us to get the “feel” of the act that we are performing. We learn to focus on what we can control versus the myriad of things we cannot control. Being mindful of the process, controls negative emotions and tension. Physically, anxiety wreaks havoc, worst of which is the muscular tension and fatigue it causes (We will look deeper into anxiety in part 2!). Mindfulness has a major impact on our physical performance!
As we mentioned earlier, baseball is a game of adjustments. If we have a plan of attack on a particular pitcher, or hitter, which proves not to be successful, we need to quickly move to plan B. The ability to execute and adjust these strategies is another reason why practicing mindfulness is such a key to becoming a better baseball player. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series and we will dive deeper into how to become mental warriors the baseball field. If you are interested in doing some of your own research on the mental…and we highly recommend you do, we would encourage you to check out the following books: Ken Ravizza and Tom Hanson, Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time. H. A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl, The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance. W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis, (yes, you read that correctly If you’re not familiar with this book, put it on your list and READ it!)