“Baseball is 90% mental — the other half is physical.” -Yogi Berra
Today’s task in the 21 Days Challenge is to begin training your mind for the demands of the game.
Master Your Thoughts and Feelings
Baseball is a game that lends itself to a lot of thought and reflection. These thoughts can have a positive or negative affect on a ballplayer. Sometimes, a player needs to learn from his mistakes in order to succeed in the future. Other times, when a mistake is made, he must have a short memory in order to stay focused on the current game, practice, or training session. With either scenario, the athlete must rely on his mentality rather than his physicality to succeed.
So, what allows one athlete to succeed and another to fail when the two have similar skill, talent, and work ethic? Often times, it is a matter of who can keep their thoughts and feelings under control. Baseball is a game of failure, and a ballplayer will have to master his reaction to failure if he wishes to progress to the next level. If his thoughts turn negative, he can talk himself into thinking that he is not good enough, which in turn leads to fear. Fear can make a once aggressive pitcher afraid to throw inside or attack the strike zone.
Negative thoughts usually lead to negative feelings as well. These feelings can make a player take a bad at-bat in to the field the following inning, and keep him from playing his best defense. He gets upset because he should have hit that outside fastball into the gap for a double, but instead hit a week ground ball to the second baseman. Because he cannot get his thoughts and feelings away from that result, he dwells on the at-bat and becomes distracted when he should be focused on the task-at-hand: playing defense.
What can you do as a ballplayer to excel in the mental field? There are many ways to prepare mentally — mental imagery, relaxation techniques, and self-talk to name a few. However, while I do not claim to be a sports psychologist, I can only relate to my experiences playing the game. So, I want to give you some resources where you can begin to learn how to master the mental side of baseball. Two of the best resources that helped me when I played were sports psychology books.
The first is The Mental Game of Baseball, by H.A. Dorfman. Not only does Dorfman break down such topics as establishing goals, visualization, and attitude, but he relates each to the game of baseball. The book also has sections dedicated to just hitting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning so you can see how to approach each of these aspects of the game mentally. I usually had this book nearby during the course of a season.
The second book is Mind Gym, by Gary Mack. I first read this book in college and wish I would have gotten a hold of it in high school. Mind Gym is actually a pretty quick read, but filled with tons of quality information and mental training techniques to prepare you for competition. And although this is not a baseball-specific book, it allows you to see how athletes from a variety of sports prepare themselves from the neck up.
I know you have been working hard to prepare your body for the demands of the game. Now, it’s time to prepare your mind as well. After you implement some of the techniques from these books, you’ll be amazed at how much better you perform and the edge you’ll have over your competition.