Many competitive baseball players participate in between 50-162+ games each year. What are some of the most effective techniques or routines to prepare the mind and body for competition on a daily basis?
Afremow: First of all, stick to your basic personality types. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. If you like to joke around with the guys before the game, then stick with that approach. If you like to be in your own little world and visualize what you want to have happen on the field that day, keep doing it. There’s no right way, there’s only your way.
A good one is walking meditation. I recommend doing things on game day a little bit slower than you usually do. When you’re walking to the park or the field, when you’ve parked your car and you’re going to the field, walk a little bit slower than you usually do, but be mindful of your feet on the ground as you’re walking. That helps anchor you to the present moment, slows you down, clears your head, and gets you into a good frame of mind. Usually, we’re thinking about what we want to do today, what we want to accomplish, or worrying about things that are totally unrelated to baseball. Walking meditation is great and slowing things down on game day is important.
Dixon: We’re all wired differently. We all have different routines, we all do different things to get us ready. Some listen to music and some don’t think about the game because if they think about it too much, they’re probably going to screw it up.
That’s a problem with the mental game. Some people overanalyze. They think they have to be in this Zen-like moment to be successful. That doesn’t exist on a baseball field or in any athletic arena. It’s never a perfect scenario, so we have got to learn to deal with failure and to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The breath, music, journaling, reading a book, there are many different ways.
I was a visualizer. I would always visualize scenarios. There’s a left-handed hitter with a runner on first base. I want to get him to roll over, so I’m going to throw a fastball away, a little 4-6-3 double play. When you visualize, you are as detailed as you possibly can be. You engage all of your senses, see it, smell it, hear it, taste the sweat. Get as detailed as you possibly can, because your mind doesn’t know the difference between perception and reality. If you just play it and play it in your mind, success, success, success, that’s what your body is geared towards. It could be the day before, the night before, or the hour before.
Many people think with the mental game that you have to be locked in for three hours straight. That doesn’t exist. It’s all about short bursts of focus. Each pitch is around five seconds. I have to be locked in and focused for about five seconds, then quick adjustment, quick evaluation, what’s next, next pitch, boom, go. It’s a sequence of pitch to pitch, inning to inning, out to out, game to game.
We look at 162 games for a professional baseball player. That is overwhelming. You go one day at a time, you compete to the best of your ability, and you evaluate it. You have to have a short-term memory in baseball. You can’t really look at results, it’s got to be the process, because the game of baseball is cruel if you think about it. You can do everything wrong and get great results, or you can do everything right and get bad results. It’s a cruel game, so you have to have the ability to not worry about hits, strikeouts and ERAs. You’ve got to think about what it takes to be successful: relationship to practice, attention to detail, and being committed and present one pitch at a time.
Gordon: I’m a big believer in visualization and thinking about your success that week, the great play you made that week, several of your great plays and your best hits. Visualize those, because if you did it once, you can do it again. We know that when you see it, your mind is almost acting as if you were actually doing it. It’s very powerful to visualize. It’s very powerful to have positive expectation and optimism.
It’s very powerful to be in the moment, but sometimes when you’re thinking too much about the play or too much about hitting, fear comes in. ‘What happens if I can’t reproduce it?’ You have to make sure you’re doing these strategies with the mindset, that I’m really focused on playing in the present, being present and not worrying about failure, not allowing fear to sabotage it.
Springer: The keyword is routine. It’s about getting in a routine, not a superstition, whether it’s getting to the yard at a certain time, eating the same meal, or going out stretching at the same time. Both big leaguers and twelve- year-olds will benefit from learning how to show up one day at a time. Yesterday is over and tomorrow is not here. It’s about today. It is a choice. Am I going to choose to be confident? Am I going to choose to play for the team or am I going to let yesterday’s 0-for-4 get in the way of today? If I go 0-for-1, in my mind I’m now 0-for-5.
We are all taught all of the clichés. It’s about today. Make today opening day! I give them a big picture to give them a little bit of freedom. It is not only about today, it’s about the next ten years, getting great at showing up with
your confident guy.
Jaeger: I feel strongly about the foundation of what you need to do. That is always going to be the core. When it comes to imagery and visualization, they’re both incredibly powerful.
I would do something like inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, exhale 4, and try to count to 100. That would be a powerful way to incorporate your breath in some form of concentration.
Imagery and visualization are great ways to access the right brain. They are great ways to associate very powerful images that can really get into your neuromuscular system. I am a huge fan of it. Doing that on the fly or taking some breaths is great, but can you imagine if you spent 10-12 minutes really clearing your mind, and then inputting some images or visuals? That would have a lot more staying power on a very quiet, clear mind.
When I teach meditation and we get into imagery and visualization, I have had my students spend 2 or 3 weeks only on breathing and clearing their mind. I don’t even want them getting into imagery or visualization until they first learn how to clear their mind, because the imprint factor in imagery and visualization can be much more powerful if the mind is first cleared.
One of the main benefits of meditation is the ability to be neutral to thoughts that are about the future. Thoughts usually are pretty distracting, right? If we sat there with a tape recorder and played them back, we would be shocked at what our mind is thinking about. One of the most important benefits of meditation is that you’re sitting there, breathing, you’re getting nice and relaxed, and then some thoughts start coming up about some bills you have to pay, you should have done this, you should have done that, or you’re starting to think about an argument you had with your girlfriend. Before you know it, you’re gone, just spinning on this wheel.
What I love about the practice of meditation is that, at its core, it’s about learning to hear that stuff but not buy into it, not engage it, not have a conversation with it. You have to develop a powerful skill of concentration, of just being present. Learn that the stuff going on around you or in your head is just there. It’s not good or bad. Can you keep bringing your attention back to this presence of your breath, your concentration, or eventually just being in a relaxed state? When you’re in a relaxed state, you’re just being. It’s like a great movie or a great song. It’s just happening, and you’re in it. Anything you can do to help discipline, focus, and concentrate the mind, to have more real presence and attention—it’s powerful.
Brubaker: I am a big fan of imagery. It has been known not just to help athletes but to cure cancer. I’m a big fan of the concentration grid. Because we are in the age of distraction, we need to practice mono-tasking, being focused on one thing.
My favorite technique to prepare my mind and body is to get your mind ready for what your body is about to do. That is actually self-talk. I will talk to myself and say it out loud. It is one thing saying it internally, hearing it in a completely different tone, and absorbing it in a completely different way, and a whole other level when you’re saying it out loud.
One example is the marathon I ran. If you met me in person, you would look at me and say, ‘He is not built for speed or distance,’ but I managed to finish this marathon, due in large part to what I told myself. I just kept telling myself, when things got tough, training on an 18-mile run, on hills, whatever, I told myself, ‘This is easy. You’ve got this.’ When you say it out loud, you hear it in a completely different way.
Focus on talking, not about the outcome, but about the process.
You convince yourself, through your thoughts and your words, of the correct actions. The cool thing is that, before Bluetooth technology, if you were talking to yourself, people thought you were nuts. Now everybody is walking around with headphones in their ear, so you fit right in.
Margolies: The first thing I teach an athlete is how to effectively relax their body and mind. I primarily use progressive muscle relaxation to do that. An athlete is so in touch with their muscles, and the greater their self-awareness level is, the more they’re going to be able to perform when they can learn to relax their body.
The next step would be imagery rehearsal. I don’t care what you want to call it, mental practice, imagery rehearsal, visualization. In textbooks you might even see it referred to as visio-motor behavior rehearsal. The more we actively engage our imagination in very specific ways, the better off we can be, using concentration or focus exercises.
Gap training or mindfulness training is really important and easy to use. If you’re on a long bus ride, you can learn how to quickly get in the zone. Because it’s a skill, the more you practice getting into the zone, the easier it is, when you step up to the plate, to step into the zone.
Maher: It’s an up-and-down rollercoaster ride for most players. We emphasize perspective first, to really understand your values. Why are you doing this? What’s important to you in your life? Where does this fit in? That’s perspective.
The second thing we emphasize is ‘mental parking’, being able to put away from your current situation things that don’t do you any good. We emphasize putting on the role of player, then taking off the role of player, leaving it at the ballpark, then putting it back on when you come.
The third thing is using a journal to keep track of your feelings and thoughts, things that you can go back to during the course of the season. You may note a particular day when you really locked in, when things were going well, how you felt, what happened during that time. Those would be the three things: perspective, mental parking and keeping a journal.
Rickertsen: Routines are actually one of my favorite things to teach, and baseball is all about that. I don’t even play, and I realize it’s a grind. It’s a long season, and in order to be where you want to be when you need to be there, routines are a huge part of that. The reason that I like them so much is that they’re such an individualized approach. For one person the emotional piece is going to be really important. Someone else is going to need to work on their attention, maybe through concentration grids or meditation. Other people may need to be doing energy management, some deliberate breathing or imagery. What I love about them and what makes them so cool and so helpful to athletes, is that they are so individualized. The ability to work mental and physical pieces into that routine, and understanding what the routine is doing for you, is going to be very important.
It’s great to have a routine, and it’s definitely helpful to get yourself to where you want to be when you need to be there, but there also needs to be a little bit of flexibility. For example, you’re running late and you don’t have time to go through your whole routine. What are your go-to pieces that are going to get you to where you need to be? When I help athletes create routines, I have them go through the list of skills that they want to put in that routine, and then we pick out the absolute must-haves. Just in case you don’t have the time, or something else happens, you have those go-to pieces that will help you get there without having to go through the whole routine. I could make a case for all of the skills that I teach being in a routine, but it’s not necessary for every single person.
Dehmer: We always talk about having different hats you wear throughout the day. When you’re at school, your job is to get an education. When you transition from student to athlete, putting on your uniform, your cleats and all that, now it’s time to be an athlete. Once you’re done, as you’re taking your uniform off, you’re also taking that performance off, whether it was amazing or one of the worst games you had that season. It’s over, and now you’re putting your uniform in the laundry, it’s done. It’s a symbol, something that kids are actually doing instead of just a thought process or a mindset. it’s something physical that kids can do. You can start tying physical things that players do to the mental side of the game. A good connection can be made for these guys, instead of just talking about the mental game, which coaches do a lot.
The other thing we used to do at practice, that I talk about on my audios, part of the 1PitchWarrior system, is what I call ‘clear the water’. We would have guys close their eyes, all in the dugout, very quiet, and I would talk them through a scenario of someone filling up a glass of water. That water is very cloudy, with lots of bubbles, you can’t see through it. They’re slowly coming into focus and thinking about these next two or three hours of practice. I need to think solely about being a baseball player, and putting all my effort into making sure I’m the best baseball player I can be, regardless of what happened at school, at home, or at work. Now it’s time to be a baseball player. I talk them through this imagery. At the end, we say that the water is clear and our thoughts are where they need to be. Everything else is gone and we’re putting that aside for now. It’s time to get focused on the task at hand, and nothing else matters except this two or two and half hours of practice or game, whatever it is that we’re partaking in that day. I always found that was a good way to start practice. You never know what the guys are bringing to practice, the baggage that they’re bringing, maybe a fight at home with Mom and Dad or girlfriend or a terrible day at school. All kinds of things can happen, and sometimes we overlook that as coaches. It’s just a good way to hit the reset button and start fresh and say ‘here we go.’
Bell: Don’t look at your stats, don’t look at the scoreboard, and don’t judge yourself. We get into this constant performance mode, ‘How am I doing, how am I measuring up, how are we doing?’ The baseball has no idea what your average is and no idea when that base hit is coming. We’ve got to be able to let that stuff go, that’s the biggest thing. Batting average is meaningless because it makes no difference on the most important pitch, the next one.
If you talk to any Hall-of-Famer, they all say the same thing. ‘I never imagined I would be a Hall-of-Famer. I wanted to be great. That was my goal.’ They never say, ‘I always pictured myself being here. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be a Hall-of-Famer.’ It really got me thinking, what were the memories that all of us had? The memories on the bus, in the dugout, in the locker room, and between games are the memories that really stick with us, the relationships we have. It is all the more important to let everything out on the field. When it’s done, it’s done. It’s over.
How can we keep connecting with others? How can we help other people? The best way to get confidence in ourselves is helping other people. We can’t keep it inside. There is no secret, it’s just talking to one another. It’s funny how the guys that are batting .200 hang out with one another, and the guys who are on a roll are hanging out with another. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s creating this positive feeling towards one another and then being able to share it. ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing, this is what I see that’s going on.’
There are techniques, always something simple, that a great athlete’s going to change if things aren’t going so well. This is what has worked for me. I coached every athlete that I’ve worked with on this. You’re getting ready for that big moment. You don’t know when it’s coming and it’s going to make all the difference. Are you going to believe in yourself, or are you just kind of hoping that you’re going to be ready? There’s a big difference between knowing you’re going to be ready and hoping you’re going to be ready. That’s the thing I always coach people on.
Take somebody who is in a 0-for-16 slump. It’s not a good spot to be, but it happens. Hey, your moment is coming. Are you going to focus on the most important pitch, or are you going to lose that confidence in yourself? That’s what differentiates people who are great ones from the people who just do OK. It’s that belief. Capture those ‘hinge moments.’
Many competitive baseball players participate in between 50-162+ games each year. What are some of the most effective techniques/routines to prepare the mind and body for competition on a daily basis?
Afremow: Stick to your basic personality types. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. If you like to joke around with the guys before the game, then stick with that approach. If you like to be in your own little world and visualize what you want to have happen on the field that day, keep doing it. There’s no right way, there’s only your way.
Dixon: Some people overanalyze and think they have to be in this Zen-like moment to be successful. That doesn’t exist on a baseball field or in any athletic arena. It’s never a perfect scenario, so we have got to learn to deal with failure and to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Many people think with the mental game that you have to be locked in for three hours straight. That doesn’t exist. It’s all about short bursts of focus.
Gordon: When you see it, your mind is almost acting as if you were actually doing it. It’s very powerful to visualize and have positive expectation and optimism.
Springer: It’s about getting in a routine, not a superstition. Yesterday is over and tomorrow is not here. It’s about today. Make today opening day! Get great at showing up with your confident guy.
Jaeger: Imagery and visualization are both incredibly powerful. The imprint factor can be much more powerful if the mind is first cleared.
Brubaker: Get your mind ready for what your body is about to do.
Margolies: I use progressive muscle relaxation to effectively relax the body and mind. Then it is imagery rehearsal because the more we actively engage our imagination in very specific ways, the better off we will be. Mindfulness is really important and easy to use to quickly get into the zone.
Maher: Perspective, mental parking and keeping a journal. Rickertsen: Routines are individualized and needed to be where you want to be when you need to be there.
Dehmer: You wear many different hats throughout the day. When you’re at school, your job is to get an education. When you transition from student to athlete, it’s time to be the best player you can be. Talking the players through imagery can also be a very powerful tool to clear the mind and focus on the task at hand.
Bell: Your moment is coming. Are you going to focus on the most important pitch or are you going to lose that confidence in yourself?