By: Casey Fisk
You don’t know what you don’t know, and what you don’t know is stealing your joy and killing your success. That’s not exactly true. You know. You’ve played baseball, and many of you reading this are now coaches. The truth is in you already. A reminder is often more powerful than a new idea, because you get to say, “I knew that!” You knew it, but if you didn’t do it, that may be why you blew it.
Baseball, as in all sports, is filled with high-energy, Type-A competitors who share a passion for winning and a hatred for losing – at anything. They want to succeed so much that they and their parents invest countless hours and dollars on physical training, skills training, equipment, travel ball, showcases, etc. They run after success so hard and so fast that they overlook the truth they know: Their successes and struggles hinge on something they rarely, if ever, invest time working on.
Think of your last slump. What started it? Did you change your mechanics? No, you didn’t, but that’s what you went and worked on. You spent 45 minutes in the cage trying to “fix” what wasn’t broken, when the real problem is fixed in the five seconds you’re not paying attention to. The truth is, every slump is mental. Every slump starts with a thought change, and over-thinking prolongs every slump. The sooner you get on board with that idea, the sooner you’ll be willing to work on the skill that will help you the most.
I don’t know you, but I know you. See if this rings true in your experience. When you’re locked in at the plate, straight dealing on the mound, or making every play in the zip code on defense, what are you thinking about? Nothing. You’re just playing the game you love with confidence, aggressiveness, and energy. When you’re struggling in any of those areas, what are you thinking about? Everything. You’re playing a game you now hate with fear, hesitation, and no confidence. Guess what, though? The game didn’t change. The way you’re thinking about it did. Thoughts beget actions, actions beget results, and the beat goes on da-da-dum-da-dum-da-da.
What caused the change in your thoughts and approach? What really caused your slump? Maybe you took a fastball down the middle for strike one. You got excited to hit THAT pitch on the NEXT pitch, and you swung at a curveball in the dirt. You know that 0-0 and 0-1 are different, but you rushed and didn’t keep up with the game. Or maybe you got a middle-in fastball and hit a 400-foot foul ball to the pull side. That felt great, and you want to do that again, but the next pitch is a changeup away, and you nub a swinging bunt back to the pitcher. You just destroyed his best fastball; did you think he was going to throw it again? If you thought about it, you’d say no, but you rushed and didn’t keep up with the game. The game changes with every pitch, and you need to stay ahead of the action. Specifically, you need to slow down in order to keep up.
The fastest and simplest way to get back on track is to slow down, young Jedi. Don’t be a human rain delay; just don’t be the spaz on the dance floor, either. Take one deep breath. Hear and feel it go in as you recognize the game situation. Become aware of the count, number of outs, base runners, and defensive positioning. Don’t think; just become aware as you inhale. Then exhale. Hear and feel the air go out as you psych up and narrow your focus to this one pitch – right here, right now. In fewer than five seconds, you have relaxed, focused, eliminated distractions, and gotten yourself into a much better mental state for success. Now, repeat that process for every pitch. If it gets you back to good when you’re bad, imagine where it can take you from good.
Do you remember when I told you I know you? When you were 10 years old, you stood in your back yard with your whiffle ball and skinny yellow bat, and you set up the hero scene: “It’s the seventh game of the World Series, bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and a 3-2 count to (insert your last name). 40K fans are on their feet, and here comes the pitch.” You put yourself on the biggest stage in the game, and you were living the dream. You were calm, focused, aware, and attentive. You had already visualized how it would unfold (the stance, the pitch, the swing, contact, ball flight, fans going nuts, your trot, hitting home plate and getting mobbed by your team – all of it) before you even walked outside. What happened next? BOOM!!! Grand slam, and YOU were the hero! That kid didn’t feel pressure; he embraced the moment. He thought the game was fun. Bring him back to the field with you.
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