The game of baseball is incredibly taxing. Physically, technically, tactically, and often forgotten, mentally taxing. Ty Cobb, one of the greatest achievers in the history of major league baseball, believed that “what’s above the [player’s] shoulders is more important than what’s below.” It is understood that it takes a great deal of physical skill to have any hope of high achievement in the sport, and by no means can the mental game alone do the work alone. This is a supplement, not a substitute. Yet, the higher the skill and competition athletes reach (high school into college), the more they themselves identify mental factors as having a positive and/or negative bearing on their performance.
The amount of physical and technical training that is involved to “play the game one pitch at a time” is trained day in, and day out without question. However, the mind is utilized frequently throughout the game, whether you realize it or not. Training the mental game is not a new concept. People think it should be looked at, but not enough athletes are training it! Once each pitch is thrown, the countdown begins until the next pitch, and this is usually around 15 seconds. Mastering the mental game is not the results, it is how you master the 15 seconds in between pitches to play consistently at the plate or on the mound no matter the situation or pressures involved.
The separation is in the preparation. We have between 30,000-50,000 thoughts every day at the conscious and unconscious level. Guess what? You’re going to talk to yourself. These thoughts will affect how you feel, think, and act. If you go into a grocery store without a grocery list, you’ll forget half the things you want and buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need. Create a simple thought process to make it easier to go through your mental checklist. Humans can only focus on one thing at a time, and our thoughts are no different. If you focus on the right process, the results will come. Here is a system for winning each pitch regardless of hits or strikes. Keep things simple!
What is your “sweet spot” when it comes to your energy levels? On a scale of 1-10, 1 being very low energy and relaxed, and 10 being super hyped. Where do you play your best at? When the end of the last pitch happens, where are your energy levels? Are you too excited, or too nervous? Are you out of control? How will you be aware of this level during the moment. Most importantly, how can you get back in control of your body and mind to own your inner environment to get you back into your sweet spot? Things like taking a deep breath, changing your body language, looking at a focal point, or having a mental reset. Any physical action that you do ON PURPOSE that requires focus and concentration will distract you from the last pitch or AB, and you’ll avoid spinning out of control.
Visually see your plan of how you want the next pitch to go. This is where your preparation comes to play. Seeing yourself executing your plan before the pitch is thrown strengthens your commitment and sharpens your concentration at the plate. The body achieves what the mind believes. Your plan can be as simple as “Hit the ball hard up the middle.” See the ball coming into your hit zone and see the optimum flight off the bat. But remember, an outcome is not a plan. Plans involve pitch types, locations, solid contact, and ball flight. This does not happen overnight! Visualize yourself at the plate or on the mound even when you’re not practicing so you can see it through your own eyes, and can throw strikes or make contact without doing it physically. Clayton Kershaw often pitches his lineup in his mind during warm up’s to plan out how he wants those pitches to happen. Having a go-to plan can help you deal with distractions, anxiety, pressure, negative thoughts, and the what-if’s of what’s next. The United States Navy Seals are notorious for visualizing their plans, “…they spend the entire morning going over every possible mistake or disaster that could happen during the mission. Every possible screw-up is mercilessly examined, and linked to an appropriate response: If the helicopter crash-lands, we'll do X. If we are dropped off at the wrong spot, we'll do Y. If we are outnumbered, we'll do Z.”
Once you have your plan. DO IT! Plant your back foot in the box, take your last breath as it sends your focus to the pitcher and the baseball; or send your focus to the catcher’s mitt, and just play catch. Trust that you are in control, have visualized yourself execution, and are giving 100% effort that you have right there. Nobody feels 100% every single pitch or at bat. The key is to trust what you’ve got, and give it everything you have even if you don’t feel like it. Because it’s not about how you feel. If you are sick, sore or just not feeling 100%, you can still give 100% of what you do have.
That’s it. Three steps to mastering the 15 seconds in between pitches. Again, the separation is in the preparation. Take the time to train a response, rather than reacting negatively to situations. Push your emotional limits every day, so you can figure out how to think when things don’t go your way.
The best is ahead,