You hear it all the time. Coaches say it in press conferences. Players say it in interviews. You’ve probably said it to yourself. And it’s absolutely correct. Focus on the process, evaluate yourself on the process, and the results will take care of themselves.
What are your processes?
If you can’t immediately answer that question, you’ve got a big problem. How can you focus on the process if you don’t even know what your processes are??
It’s universally acknowledged that the mental game is paramount to success in all sports. Baseball in particular, it plays an even larger role than most others due to the time in between pitches. If you’re a pitcher you have 15 to 20 seconds to think about how to not screw the upcoming moment up. Same goes for a hitter and a fielder.
Coaches acknowledge that the mental game is integral, yet how much time is devoted to the education and training of the mental skills of players?
Yogi Berra said it best, “90 percent of the game is half mental”
This is an exercise I like to use with athletes the very first time I discuss the mental game with them. Even if you’re not a pitcher or baseball player, you can do this exercise.
I want you to think about your best performance last season. Really put yourself back there. Remember how it felt in the moment. What were you thinking? What were you saying to yourself? How did it feel? Spend a minute just being in that moment.
Ok, come back. Now I want you to recall your worst performance. Step back into your shoes. (Or skates). How’d that feel? What were you thinking? How were you talking to yourself?
What difference, in terms of percentage, would you say can be attributed to the mental side of the game between those two experiences?
Your processes are your tool box. They are your tools you can use in the moment to help centre yourself and achieve peak performance.
There are two types of focal points: big and small.
Your big focal point is something you only use once in a while to help reset yourself. It should be something that really speaks to you and its purpose is two-fold: first to remind you why you play, and second to remind you of everything you’ve ever done to get to where you are today. For example, mine was the American flag. As a Canadian, the U.S. flag reminded me of being a young teenager with the goal of playing college baseball.
Your small focal is something you should use every single pitch. Its purpose is to either clear your mind completely, or to focus solely on one dominant thought. A teammate of mine’s focal was his left toe. That left toe meant clear mind, and he’d look at it until he was ready. Then he’d look up and get his signal from the catcher and go.
Recently, Corey Kluber talked about something similar on Eric Cressey’s podcast and I’d highly recommend it. He said he doesn’t look up again until he’s ready for the next pitch.
Let it go.
Pick up some dirt and let it go, symbolizing letting go of what just happened and moving on. Another example is wiping off the rubber with your foot, symbolizing wiping the slate clean.
A couple of deep, slow breaths can do wonders in slowing down your thoughts, calming yourself, and getting back to focusing on what you can control. Breathe deeply in through your mouth and exhale slowly. If you find you’re overthinking and your thoughts are spiralling out of control, now would be a good time to utilize your breath. You can even work it into your routine every single pitch.