A new season has begun and all around the world, players are remembering just how hard it is to maintain focus. Missed fundamentals, bloopers and daisy are hard at work distracting players across the sports. All spring we trained our muscles for the game, but there are very few times we train the most important muscle of all, our focus. You’ll often hear, ‘It’s hard to prepare for game situations.’ Just like stretching is imperative to avoiding injury, mental skills training will keep your game in top shape throughout the season.
Though open discussions about the mental aspects of the game may be new, studies in these practices are not. Well before Dr. Harrison was improving visual bat speed in the ‘70s and The Art Of Tennis was being called a new-age approach to sports, psychologists were studying some of the greatest athletes in our games.
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Today many consider Ken Ravizza the grandfather of the mental game but names like Ruth, Wrigley and Spalding are all associated with earlier inquiries that date back nearly as far as the game itself.
In this training session we’re taking you through a few drills but also a lot of quality content regarding mental preparation and in-game techniques to keep your head involved from first pitch to last.
The majority of the content is based in three key areas: focus, positive mindset and muscle training. We’ll visit each area in different ways throughout this practice.
Know yourself. Know your game.
Before you can get control of your mental game you first have to learn to recognize the signs that you are straying. Legendary mental skills coach Dr. Ken Ravizza takes you through the basics of seeing your mental potholes and discovering the path around them.
How you handle failure will determine your success so give a listen to Olympic Softball Gold Medalist Jennie Finch as she discusses her own philosophy of, “Turning that frustration into determination.”
Becoming present isn’t something that can be turned on and off for game time. It is a method you have to practice, in every aspect of your game, every time you cross the chalk line. Take a deep breath before you straddle the line each and every time.
6-time All Star and MLB Player of the Year Don Mattingly said it best when he said, perfect practice makes perfect. Here are his suggestions for getting started.
In this next section we’re breaking down the ways to prepare your mind for success with each step you take on the field. We’ll start with your walk to the park.
This visualization drill goes over the steps you can take to ensure when you pull into the parking lot your head is already in the game.
These next drills are broken down into two main areas, batting and fielding.
Batting seems simple enough. Pick up the bat, get in position, swing when a strike is thrown. Beyond the physical preparation for the task are the mental considerations. Specific to batting is strategy. We’re taking you through each step on your way to the plate.
It begins in the on-deck circle. Evan Longoria discusses his preparation process when he’s on deck. You’ll not only hear how he physically prepares and why routine is key, but you’ll learn his mental process. He reviews the potential plays, the situations he could be walking into, and what he’ll need to do to be a team player in any scenario.
San Diego State University’s coach has some pointers he shares with is players for those final steps between the circle and the box.
Stepping into the box is another opportunity to prepare for your game. Here you’ll see methods for calming your mind, setting the tone and facing the opposition with success in mind in spite of the facts that say you’re going to fail 70% of the time.
When the game is moving too fast, and you need to reset, the key is focus. Here’s a video that helps you get to your best mental space between each pitch. If you were paying attention in the beginning section, you’ll see where perfect practice makes perfect comes into play.
Don’s back and this time he’s taking you a step further into the game with his mental approach to hitting.
If you’re looking for one further competitive edge, consider visual training. Sometimes what’s happening at the plate emotionally can slow down what you’re capable of physically. That’s where Dr. Bill Harrison’s methods fall in line with today’s lessons at the plate. He too believes it all begins with focus.
ESPN takes you further into Harrison’s, and other eye experts’ practices. They talked with their MLB clients to learn the benefits of training and how focus leads to consistency. You’ll see some of the drills they do and what visual training can do for a player’s confidence.
*Editor’s note, if you are light sensitive about 3:30 in, and again at 4:12, there are strobe lights.
When you take the field there is a different type of focus needed. It can be really tough to stay engaged through a 2-3 hours of waiting for a ball to roll your way. If you’re not relaxing between pitches, you’re bound to lose concentration. The question then becomes how to relax and yet still be ready for the next pitch when you’re not the one setting the rhythm of play. The answer? Create a circle of focus and utilize it as your reset button on full play engagement.
Here’s some great advice for pitchers but it speaks to every player on the field. It answers questions about handling your own mistakes, as well as forgiving the missteps of others. From player to officiating crew, everyone’s doing what they do for the love of the game. This video offers some excellent tips for keeping that in mind as the competition heats up.
In the batting section we discussed training your eyes to focus for batting. Here’s a series of drills from Dr. John Fitzgerald to help you in the field. The ring he’s created is easy to make at home. It just takes wiffle balls and some tubing from your local hardware store so have a look. The ring can be used solo making this an ideal tool to add to your practice routines at home.
Self-criticism and self-doubt are pretty good buddies. You’ll rarely find one hanging around without the other. They generally go everywhere together but their favorite spot to hang is inside your mind’s weakest synapse. The only way to break these guys up is with separate training programs. Here’s how you do it.
Your mind is a muscle with a powerful memory. You can train it to be your best asset or your weakest link. The choice is yours. Be positive! Be your own best friend rather than your worse enemy. Talk to yourself with kindness.
Challenge your players to face their self-speak head-on.
For one week, every time a player has a negative comment pop to mind about themselves, on or off the field, have them write it down.
At the end of each day, the need to use the next page in the notebook to change the negative statement into a positive one.
Negative: That error could cost us the game and it’s totally on me!
Positive: I got to the ball in time, put two hands on it, transferred it out of the glove in time. I was so concerned about getting the toss off that I forgot to set my target before releasing. Next time I’ll make sure to have my glove hand in line with the receiving player and the throw will be spot on.
Negative: I’m so stupid. I just locked my keys in my car.
Positive: I made a silly mistake. Everyone makes mistakes now and again, especially when rushing. This was my reminder to slow down, do one thing at time and be focused on what I’m doing. Where I am. To be present, and only present.
Jennie Finch is back and this time, the topic’s mental toughness. You’ll see that negative speak is an enemy players will have to face regularly in our game.
As the season goes on you can continue the drill, bring it up and compare weeks to see if some players are falling into old habits that you can help them break. It will be a challenge for some people and that’s a good thing. The harder it is to overcome, the bigger the impression the lesson leaves behind. It also helps take the doubt away. When someone knows what they are doing wrong, and when it happens, then they are less doubtful of their skills and more empowered to become proactive in correcting their mistakes, or lapses in training.
More importantly, in removing the doubt they have learned to accept the critique, learn from the mistake and improve their game all without affecting their confidence. They know they have the ability. They’ve succeeded more than failed. They know the game is rooted in failure and that is something they are now learning to overcome through repetition and review. The doubt creeps in when the reason behind the failure is unclear. By taking the negative speech away, the focus is on the process. This allows them to finding where the process is failing so they can correct the dropped step moving forward.
Solution-based problem solving takes the critic out of the critique and that is generally all that is needed to push forward with a positive mindset. This will be key to bolstering confidence.
Dr. Ravizza leaves us with another method for recording a player’s positive speak and using their own words to get them back to right when their game goes off kilter.
Mental skills training is a program not a one-off solution. Devise a plan for your team based on what you know about each player as individuals. Find what works best for them independently and then work on ways that everyone on the team can help them with their training for that specific skillset. If you need ideas about how to get started with all of this we found a psychological skills training manual that might help. It focuses on a few key areas including goal setting, self-talk and imagery.