What Causes A Mental Meltdown in Baseball?

Ever watched a player melt down in front of your eyes, walking eight batters in a row, or making three consecutive errors in the field? Of course you have! More and more in today’s high-pressure, win-at-all-costs climate of amateur baseball, kids are being put in a position to fail, are not being taught how to handle high-pressure situations, or simply don’t play on their own enough to know how to adapt when the game changes around them.

In this article, you’ll learn the mechanics of a mental meltdown and what to look for as a coach or parent. And, we’ll discuss how these can be prevented.

 

Symptoms of a Mental Meltdown in Baseball

You know it when you see it, though as players climb the ladder in baseball they become harder to recognize. Here are some physical signs—symptoms–that one is impending:

  • Pitchers
    • Movements between pitches speed up
    • Talking to himself while wandering around the mound
    • Throws subsequent pitches with less aggression—guides them in, searching for the strike zone or trying to avoid failing by controlling his effort too closely

 

  • Fielders
    • All usually follow an error or misplay
    • Slumped shoulders and head
    • Talking to himself while wandering around the field
    • Looking up at the sky or elsewhere as if searching for answers
    • Guides a throw, easing off it hoping it will be accurate

 

But, what happens inside their head to cause these symptoms?

This is the real issue, and it can be much more complex than just saying “keep your head up!” or “refocus—next batter!”

 

Why Meltdowns Occur

The underlying emotions, fears, and mental state of an athlete are the real issue here, not the mere symptoms.

  • Embarrassment
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of losing out or blowing a chance (especially if a scout is watching)
    • This is a big one, as players often can feel like they’ve crossed themselves off a scout’s list by just making one error in front of him, or giving up a few runs, striking out, etc. That’s rarely true, but it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when they instead check out mentally and the situation blows up…
  • Insecurity, self-worth and a fragile identity
    • Lots of times, players are so wrapped up being ballplayers that their self-worth is tied to how they play. When they don’t play well, they feel like their worth as a person is diminished.

 

Pressure. It Can Often Be Re-Traced to Pressure.

Pressure is what athletes feel when you take these consequences and fears and hoist them up onto our shoulders. Ballplayers then play scared—afraid of making further mistakes and becoming timid and robotic because of it. This, in turn, only makes things worse…and thus we often are met with a complete meltdown.

It happens at all levels, but it’s harder to spot at higher ones.

 

Don’t Believe Me? Check out My Recent Talk on the Mental Game.

Most athletes attempt to stay out of the spotlight and downplay what happens on the field. In this talk, I shared very honestly why I had a meltdown at the ripe old age of 30. I was a seasoned professional and 2-time All-Star pitching in pedestrian weekday game early in the season.

But as I shared in the talk, there was a LOT more beneath the surface. This “black swan” of hidden information was what caused the meltdown to happen.

I highly recommend you—parent, athlete, coach—watch the video below. It’s what really happens in our heads as ballplayers.

 

Don’t Melt Down Under Pressure!

The mental game is a lifelong battle. But, observing your emotions and those of your players can help you understand what goes into performing at a high level, day in and day out.

 

If You Enjoyed This Article, Read Coach Blewett’s Books and Stay in Touch

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Two Common Curveball Mistakes Pitchers Should Avoid

As a youth baseball coach, I spend a significant amount of time shaking my head at easily taught aspects of the game that go overlooked. When youth pitchers begin throwing curveballs—somewhere between the age of 12 and 15, typically—they embark on a long journey with mastering what is a very difficult pitch to get right.

I advocate learning a curveball at 14 or 15—not younger—yet admit that it takes a long time to develop the pitch properly. The reality is that pitchers need a high-quality breaking ball by the time they are 16 if they want a chance at being recruited to pitch in college. When taught properly and given consistent coaching and feedback, a pitcher can learn to develop a solid curveball in 6-12 months. My 15U team this year had a fantastic season using a curveball for the first time, just a year after I taught it to all my pitchers.

Does a curveball in the repertoire help a young pitcher succeed in the short term? Sure—the brains of 12-year-old hitters simply can’t figure out the physics to help them make consistent contact against even bad breaking balls.

However, I am steadfast in my belief that this stunts long-term development of pitchers, as they learn to rely not on command and a changeup (both of which they’ll need later on in their careers) but rather just flipping in a curveball whenever they’re in a jam. This is not the way.

Yet, when it becomes time to learn the pitch, it can be a very difficult process. In today’s article, I’ll share two tips that I see most pitchers struggle with—how to locate the curveball, and how hard to throw it.

 

Tip #1: How Hard Should You Throw Your Curveball? As Hard As Possible!

I recently watched a very polished 15U pitcher throw against my teams with excellent mechanics, command and fastball velocity. “This kid’s going to be good!” I said to myself. Then, I saw his curveball for the first time. I cringed. He threw it way too softly, eased off it, and showed a nervousness about throwing it full speed. If only he saw himself on video, he’d agree that:

  • He slows his arm down significantly
  • Sinks into his front leg, causing his arm to get beneath the ball and float it upward
  • Doesn’t finish the pitch, easing off his follow through for fear of bouncing it

 

This is very common and understandable—the curveball is harder to control than a fastball, so pitchers mentally try to ease off and just toss it in there.

The problem is that when a curveball is thrown at less than 100% intensity, it will “pop up” out of the hand, making its trajectory look very different to a hitter. Though young hitters aren’t good at recognizing this at first, they start to pick it up well in high school and beyond.

To keep the curveball looking like a fastball the longest, a pitcher has to throw it at 100% intensity, often trying to mentally throw it harder than the fastball, even.

Learn more about how hard to throw the curveball, including how much slower it should be and more in the video below.

 

Tip #2: Use Focal Points to Locate the Curveball

The curveball doesn’t fly straight…duh, right?

Well if it doesn’t fly straight, then why does every young pitcher who throws one stare right at the catcher’s mitt?

As pitchers, we have to place our eyes on a focal point where we want the pitch to start, not end up. With the fastball—because it’s straight—this location is the same. Yet with all types of pitches with break, including curveballs, sliders, sinkers, cutters, changeups, etc.—we have to account for the break.

This means that if your curveball breaks 12 inches straight down—and you want it to end up at the catcher’s mitt—you should choose a point to focus on that is 12 inches above the mitt, and basically try to “start” your curveball there. This makes sense, right?

Yet, many pitchers either never learn this, or learn it very late. I learned it when I was 20 years old, pitching in summer baseball after my sophomore year at a small Division-I school. This tip is HUGE yet overlooked, just as it was in my development.

For illustrations showing what this looks like, watch the video below. Using focal points can change everything!

 

Improve Your Curveball Using These Two Tips

These two tips discussed today can make a huge difference, as they both address mistakes I see on a daily basis. If a pitcher is easing off his curveball, hitters will hit it hard. And for those who have trouble locating, using focal points will give a concrete way to improve command.

 

Want to Learn More From Coach Dan?

Check out Dan’s two pitching books on Amazon, along with a list of his other favorite pitching and mental training books.

Watch the rest of his free YouTube online curveball course

And, sign up for his weekly newsletter here, where you’ll get his newest videos and presentations sent to you as soon as they’re released.

How to Properly Prepare Relief Pitchers to Enter a Game

It can be a challenge to get relief pitchers ready to enter the game. As situations rapidly change, the need for a reliever can go from mild to urgent in the blink of an eye. Yet, good communication and clear terminology can help any bullpen run smoother. In this article, we’ll explore how pro teams warm their pitchers up and give actionable advice for your team.

 

Pitching Coach Terminology & Strategies

If you’re more of a visual learner, check out this video below as a substitute and/or supplement for this article. This 15-minute video discusses everything we’ll cover today in even more detail.

 

First: Goals When Warming Up a Reliever

There are a few things to consider when relievers are preparing to enter a game. They need to be warm, but not fatigued. They need a clear idea of what their job will be during a specific game situation, and they need to know their role on the team. Here are four goals to consider.

1. Have a reliever throw the right amount of warm-up pitches.

Just enough to be perfectly ready to go – not too many, not too few. Too many relievers throw WAY too much because their coach doesn’t explain the plan (more on this later). Or, we can have a reliever who goes to warm up yet doesn’t realize the urgency of the situation and fails to warm up fast enough. Neither of these outcomes is good.

 

2. Have a reliever enter a game as soon as possible after he’s warm.

We do NOT want a pitcher to get fully ready, then sit around for a long time before he enters. Throttling up and throttling down, so to speak, is a part of life as a reliever. Yet, good communication can help pitchers pace themselves to make sure they’re not ready too soon.

 

3. Give relievers a clear idea of what their job will be, so they can mentally prepare.

Explaining the situation, expectations and duration of his outing is ideal. This can be done in just a few quick phrases if a coach explains his terminology and expectations to the team as a whole before the season begins. Getting everyone on the same page only takes 5-10 minutes and can

 

4. Put relievers in a situation where they are likely to succeed

Try to define roles that fit relievers’ skillset, mentality and experience level. Putting your pitchers in a situation that fits their personality, ability, and mindset will pay off for the entire team. Once you define and explain their roles, they’ll be able to predict when they’re more likely to enter a game, which makes the warm-up process even easier.

 

Actionable Ways to Accomplish Goals

With some of our main goals now defined, let’s discuss actionable ways to accomplish each of these.

#1: “I need you ready in three hitters”

This means that after three hitters have come to bat, the reliever will pitch to the fourth.

Asking a pitcher to get ready in two hitters is too short – three is typically the minimum to ask.

Yet, using a tangible number of hitters is a specific, albeit somewhat imprecise way of explaining when a reliever needs to be warm. It’s imprecise because the duration of an at-bat could be one pitch—and thus a mere thirty seconds long—or it could be five minutes.

However, the average duration is about three minutes per batter, and so if you ask a pitcher to be ready in three, four or five hitters, he’ll usually have at least 5-6 minutes to get ready. Again, two hitters are too few, and one is entirely unacceptable.

This method isn’t 100% precise because of the nature of baseball and how fast situations can change. Yet, giving a reliever a target number of hitters to be ready in allows him to watch the game and throttle up or throttle down the speed at which he is getting warm. Being a relief pitcher means accepting a certain amount of variability, yet this allows relievers to take control of their own relief speed because they can see when “their” hitter is nearly at bat.

Even young players will understand this method, and if you see them get ready too fast or too slow, you can easily correct and explain that they need to properly fit their warm up into the speed of the game.

 

#2. “I need you ready to face the 7-hole hitter—#17, the lefty.”

This is either an alternative to explaining the number of hitters or just an addendum to it. “You’re pitching to the 3-hole hitter if he comes up, which means you have four hitters in which to get ready.” This is very specific and gives the reliever all the detail he needs to be mentally and physically prepared to be on time with his warm up. On time simply means that he’s warmed up the right amount when he’s needed—not too much, not too little.

 

#3. Pitch-for-Pitch Readiness

Sometimes, it’s not clear when a reliever is needed. Perhaps a starting pitcher is getting near his pitch count limit, or we’re trying to help him make it through one more inning and work out of a jam. It’s important for young pitchers to get out of jams themselves and learn how to pitch when fatigued, with runners on base, etc. Often as coaches, we’ll leave pitchers in a bit longer to wait and see if they can succeed when times get tough. But, we still need to keep the score in check and not let things get out of hand.

So, in this case, we might warm up a pitcher to 80-100% and have him go “pitch-for-pitch” with the starter.

This means that when the starter throws a pitch, our reliever throws a pitch in the bullpen—pitch-for-pitch. We can also tailor this to the situation: if we are confident the current pitcher will complete his inning, we might ask the reliever to throw one pitch every time the starter throws two, or even three. This way, he remains somewhat close to ready if things escalate, but he doesn’t tire himself out throwing for the entire inning.

This is the best tactic to use when it’s a wait-and-see situation where the goal is to get through the current inning with the current pitcher, while still maintaining a safety net.

With pitch-for-pitch readiness, a reliever can be ready to enter in as fast as one batter if needed. A few quick warm-ups plus the eight pitches on the game mound should be enough if this is done right.

 

#4 Talk With Pitchers About Roles. Be Honest.

Look, it’s hard to tell a pitcher that he’s not good enough to pitch in a tight game. However, telling him that “right now, we’re using you only if we are behind, but if you pitch well that can change” gives a pitcher reason to go out and compete for better, more exciting roles. No pitcher wants to be on “mop-up” duty, entering games in blowout situations, but someone does have to mop up the messy games.

Especially in high levels of baseball, relievers know where they stand and the roles they’ve earned. They also know that the better they pitch, the better the role they earn. Coaches insert the pitcher they trust most to get out of the tough situations and save the less-skilled pitchers for times when the game isn’t on the line.

Being honest while still leaving room for optimism gives relief pitchers a good idea of when they’ll enter the game. This helps them mentally prepare for their name to be called.

And, in the case of youth baseball, telling pitchers who is “up” (available or expected to pitch) or “down” (not available or unlikely) helps them stay in the game and be mentally ready. Then, by telling them the role and situation you anticipate for them, they can watch the game and get excited as the stars align for their time to shine.

As a professional reliever myself, I earned the role of setup man in my fifth season. My parents knew that I was going in the game only if my team was up by 1-3 runs late. If it was a blowout, I mentally relaxed and they drove home early. If the game was tight, I was mentally absorbed and ready to go compete for a victory. I knew, my parents in the bleachers knew, and all of my teammates knew when it looked like Dan’s situation to pitch. This a great state to be in because I could begin mental and physical prep earlier, maximizing my chance at pitching my best.

 

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

If nothing else, just communicate. Be open and honest. Tell your players what you expect and how you believe you’ll use them in a game, tournament, and season. If their role changes, tell them. As a coach, you’ll be planning ahead anyway, so letting them in on your plan will make the whole machine run more smoothly.

 

Want to Learn More From Coach Dan?

Check out his online baseball and softball courses – they’re designed to walk players, coaches, and parents through advanced concepts in baseball and softball. Follow this link.

If you’d like to test-drive one of his courses, his How to Throw a Hammer Curveball course is released for free on YouTube here.

And, sign up for his weekly newsletter here, where you’ll get his newest videos and presentations sent to you as soon as they’re released.

The Baseball Recruiting Process is Failing Us

In the early 2000’s TV series “Who’s Line Is It Anyway” Drew Carey used to open every show by saying, “a show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.”

Drew Carey’s repetitive opening line could be applied to much of baseball’s recruiting and player development landscape today as majority of it simply doesn’t matter. The structure of the seasonal baseball schedule from youth to college is broken.

Money has been a driving factor in year-round play and “elite” travel teams where winning is placed at the highest importance. Many teams are marketing “developmental programs” where they play 5 plus showcase events through the course of a season.

Though these programs are marketed as developmental, it is the last point of focus for the coach or organization.

Showcases, invite-only tryouts, all-stars, All-American games and rankings are all designed as incentive based reasons to pay more money for a better chance at getting recognized as elite.

In some cases, these opportunities can be useful but majority of the time just as Drew Carey used to state, “everything is made up and the points don’t matter.”

 

It Starts at the Youth Level

Athletes at the youth level today are simply playing too much. It happens from a combination of parents’ desires for their kids to be on elite teams and teams desiring to grow profits or build into organizations with year-round tournament play.

Individuals, leagues, organizations and cities are profiting off the high volume of teams playing in these events, so more are hosted.

Special events are designed to sound like they are more elite such as “All-American games, invitationals, select tournaments or teams… etc.”

These are simply another opportunity to continue to generate revenue for the event hosts and allow the parent or player to feel as if they are continuing in the right direction for future success of the athlete.

Future success of the athlete at the youth level though is built around the development of skill and overall athleticism, not the number of trophies held on a mantle.

As the athlete matures and the lack of focus on skill development continues, many athletes find themselves injured or behind the curve in the recruiting process to reach the next level.

Natural maturity with proper focus of skill development can catapult an athlete’s career once both have been given time to work together. Often, these will be most noticeable within the early years of high school.

 

Showcase/Tournament Marketing

With a continually growing competitive recruiting circuit, college coaches are competing for younger and younger talent. Freshmen in high school for most college coaches are the youngest to receive notice.

Showcases are a place in which an athlete with adequate talent can “show off”. Tournament and showcase organizations claiming you can be seen at events are not lying. College coaches do attend events nation-wide to find unknown players.

However, what these events are not advertising is what it actually takes to receive the interest of a college coach.

For pitchers, it is clear that you must first pass the radar gun test. When a college coach sees a player who may be a “prospect”, the first thing they do is pull out a radar gun to determine if they fit the velocity they look for at the level of their college.

D1 schools look for 90+ mph, D2 schools look for 85+ mph and D3, NAIA will look for 80+ mph. Junior colleges will differ by region.

For example, Florida junior colleges will look for guys who can compete at the D1 level as most of the major D1 transfers will end up at Florida JUCO’s. This is different in northern JUCO’s though where 80 to 85mph may allow you to receive a scholarship.

 

The First Step in Recruiting

The first step in setting a plan to get recruited is determining your current skill level as a player and deciding if your talent level lines up with the caliber school you are looking to be recruited by.

If you are shooting for an SEC or ACC school at the D1 level then you are going to need to be very refined as a pitcher to catch the interest of one of those coaches.

Before wasting your money to attend events in which you hope those schools will be attending, it is best to decide if you are currently someone that coach may be interested in.

First impressions can be everything to many recruiters. Just like a job interview when you first present your skills you want to provide a “wow” factor.

If you are hoping to attend a high level D1 school and you showcase yourself for that coach throwing 75 mph you are likely going to be passed over or crossed off their list.

It is better to skip these events and spend this time developing your skills and developing yourself physically. Once you have developed the skills needed to provide the “wow” factor for a coach at the level you desire you can take these skills and then begin to showcase them effectively.

 

Showcases Are Not the Only Way to be Recruited

Showcases today look like a herd of livestock. Roaming around a field in the masses, numbered and asked to perform specific tasks in which they are rated for their performance.

Showcases can be an opportunity but in today’s world there are an abundance of opportunities in which a player can drive his name to the top of a coaches recruiting board.

From attending specific school camps (as mentioned previously) to sending schools video of your skills, there are ways aside from showcases in which a player can be recruited.

We recently had a player who added a coach on twitter, messaged him, got a call and received a scholarship offer. You do not have to pay thousands of dollars for an opportunity to receive a scholarship. You simply must understand the level at which your talent aligns and be consistent in your approach to show a school you fit their needs.

To get the most out of the recruiting process, here’s how the baseball community can offer guidance:

  1. Make your time as a youth purposeful in skill and physical development.
  2. Understand what coaches look for at each level and do not buy into the event marketing.
  3. Make your first step as a player to reach the needed skill level of your desired school.
  4. Avoid getting lost in the shuffle of showcases by being practical in your approach with recruitment.

3 Ways Baseball Pitchers Can Use a Radar Gun to Enhance Performance

One of the simplest, yet most effective training aids for any baseball pitcher is a radar gun.

At one point in time, I was actually against having youth baseball pitchers use a radar gun too often and focus on velocity, but I actually think that there are a few great benefits.  And with recent advances in technology of radar guns, people can easily get an affordable pocket-size radar run, like the Pocket Radar, to use at home.

One of the key differentiators I see between amateur and professional baseball pitchers is often just intent.

What I mean is, our pro ball pitchers tend to throw with much more intent than our younger pitchers.  Sure, this could be that pro ball pitchers are older, bigger, and stronger.  But intent isn’t just an output of mass and strength.  It’s also an output of intensity, which is something many youth need to learn.

Even in our sports performance programs at Champion, our early focus with people new to training is developing intent when training.

So while I don’t necessarily want our amateur baseball pitchers focusing solely on velocity, I still think there are a bunch of great uses of a radar gun during training.

Here are my top 3 ways baseball pitchers can use a radar gun to enhance performance.

 

Enhance Power Development

Have you ever used a radar gun to check your velocity?  No matter what your velocity was on the first throw, what did you every time on that second throw?

Try to throw harder, right?  Of course you did, we all do!

In the motor learning world, this is a form of extrinsic feedback referred to as “knowledge of results.”  This can be used to give immediate feedback to the player to enhance technique, but also motivation.  We see this all the time, especially in athletes who are competitive in nature

We know that using external feedback and knowledge of the results in the sports performance world helps increase power output.  For example, in one study using external feedback of results was shown to help improve vertical jump performance.  In a 2014 study the Journal of Human Movement Science, it was shown that using feedback of vertical jump height performance results in an immediate increase in vertical jump performance, as well an 18% improvement in jump height over a 4-week training period.

One way that we apply this knowledge with our baseball players is with medicine ball power drills.  In this video, you can see we are using a radar gun set up to monitor the ball velocity.  The athlete is encouraged to ramp up his intensity on subsequent throws until he reaches his maximum velocity.  We’ll record this and try to improve over the course of his program, just like we would by recorded weights during his lifts.

 

Monitor Throwing Intensity

Another great use of a radar gun for baseball training is to monitor throwing intensity.  This is important for a few situations:

  1. A player returning from an injury that wants to slowly develop load to healing tissue
  2. A player preparing for a season that wants to slowly build capacity of the arm to handle stress
  3. A player inseason that wants to manage his workload more specifically

Monitoring the number of throws performed or pitch counts during a game is important, and something that we have shown to correlate to predicting both injury and performance.  However, using the quantity of throws on its own is too simplistic.  Overuse is more of a combination of quantity and intensity.

Compare one player playing light catch for 30 throws versus another long tossing for 30 throws.  Which one do you think was more stressful on the body?

By using a radar gun, you can document and build gradual progressions more appropriately.  Distance becomes less of a factor, and intensity becomes more specific.

Here’s an example of how we use a radar gun to ramp up a throwing session.  In this video you can see a few throws that slowly ramp up to the max intensity that we want that day.  The athlete then does his best to remain right around that velocity to get his work in for the day.

 

Improve Pitching Velocity

Using a radar gun to help improve pitching velocity is probably the most obvious.  When it comes to actually training to enhance pitching velocity, it has been shown that if pitchers know the speed of their pitch during their training, the have a larger increase in velocity.

In a recent study in the Journal of Human Kinetics, it was shown that if players were able to see their throwing velocity, the players were able to enhance their velocity by 4x more than if they did not know their speed.  That’s pretty amazing to me, and based off the same mechanisms of motor learning discussed above.

Another past study compared the throwing velocity of youth when instructed to “throw the ball hard” vs the same instruction with radar gun results.  Again the study showed that simply instructing the athlete to throw the ball hard does not increase velocity as much as when they can visually see the results.

In another interesting study in tennis players, it was shown that training for 6-weeks with feedback of serve velocity had a significantly greater improvement in velocity than a group that did not know their results.  But what is most interesting, is that this same group stopped training with external feedback of their velocity and still showed that the velocity improvements were retained 6 weeks after the program.

What this could mean is that training with the knowledge of your velocity not only helps motivate you to throw harder, but perhaps also trains you to continue to do this even when external feedback is removed.

So while I don’t think amateurs players should always be focusing on enhancing their velocity, I do think there are a few good reasons why the should focus on knowing their velocity.  Just like anything else, is the focus is on what is more important, a radar gun can not only be helpful to enhance performance, but also to control and monitor workload.

 

What Radar Gun Should You Use?

There are a few options when looking at purchasing a radar gun.  As you can see from the above examples, I value the convenience of having one on me.  So I value one that is portable and easy to use.  I’ve personally been using the Pocket Radar and think it’s perfect.  We’ve compared it to the more expensive guns, and it’s always just as accurate, but so much easier to use.

The new Smart Coach model is awesome, it can connect to an app on your phone or tablet via bluetooth, or even an external display.  This is what we’ve been using at Champion and everyone has loved it.

 

 

How Visualizing a Bad Performance Can Help an Athlete Avoid One

The fear of failure—and the shame, embarrassment and ridicule that accompanies it—is a major hindrance of fluid, athletic motion and good performance on the field. It’s common wisdom that positive visualization and self-talk will enhance an athlete’s mindset, boosting confidence and outcomes on the field. Though this wisdom is tried, true and effective, it may not address a core problem that plagues ballplayers at all level: fear of failure.

 

The Fear of Failure Will Crush a Ballplayer…If He Lets It

Today was the day—you filled out the recruiting questionnaires, attended the showcases, filmed the videos and emailed the coaches. And today, the recruiting coordinator is in the stands with his radar gun fixed squarely on you.

Holy. Crap.

You’re nervous, your coach is nervous, your Mom, Dad, Grandma and dog are all nervous. It’s the biggest day of your young life. How do you separate yourself from the crushing disappointment you’ll feel if you, well, choke?

As a former pitcher myself, I can tell you for a fact that the thought will run through your head. You’ll be out there on the mound knowing full well:

If I pitch well today, I may get my chance. If I don’t pitch well, I may never get another.

Coaches and athletes alike know that when you try harder…things only get worse.

 

The Best Players Don’t Give a Darn

In the sports world, a revered trait among athletes is to be perceived to not give a darn. Though I’m using the PG version of this sentiment, it rings true—the best athletes rise to the occasion and succeed under pressure because they’re either not afraid to fail, or are completely detached from the idea of failing. Either way, the best players pitch, hit and play like nothing is on the line…even when everything is on the line.

Positivity and confidence-boosting techniques definitely deserve a place at the table, but they may not remove the fear of failure in the same way as the technique outlined by Yamamoto Tsunetomo in the famous 18th century book Hagakure.

 

Why Samurai Regularly Visualized Their Own Death

Hagakure, compiled by author Yamamoto Tsunetomo, is a guide in Bushido, the code of the Samurai warrior. Samurai lived and died by the sword, and as such were subject to intense physical and mental training. Too many American athletes neglect mental training altogether, but they can learn countless lessons from the Samurai code. This passage from Hagakure is especially important:

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo

 

Why Is It Good to Meditate on Such Awful Things?

The goal, Tsunetomo explains, is to have experienced death so many times in one’s own head that he becomes immune to it, detached to it, and unconcerned by it.

When a Samurai had imagined his own death enough, he entered battle with a sense that he was already dead. How could he be afraid of his opponent’s sword if he was already dead?

The goal was to obtain a clear mind that allowed the warrior to simply react without fear and thoughts slowing down his sword.

Athletes of all sports report entering the zone, which is this same state of thoughtless action in which they play at their full potential without being slowed down by an anxious, cluttered mind.

 

How Does The Samurai Code Apply to The Ballplayer?

Baseball is clearly not life or death.

However, time spent visualizing the outcomes an athlete fears and struggles with can have a clear, tangible benefit. If a player only spends his mental training reinforcing confidence and positivity, what is he to do when he finds himself on the brink of failure, or when he has failed?

Experience always helps—things are less scary when we’ve been there or done them before. For pitchers who get nervous and fearful with runners on base (a common affliction), visualizing himself giving up those runners and watching those runs score—all the while in the safe, calm, no-consequence environment of his own head—can help him realize that it’s not the end of the world. Failure is a huge part of every sport.

The best athletes learn to shrug their shoulders in defeat, call it a fluke and turn the page. But when athletes take it too hard, get too anxious, and dwell on it too much…they struggle to make in-game adjustments or move on mentally to the next game.

 

How to Do This

Athletes, if you’re mature enough to have read this far, you’re capable of doing this yourself: sit down, close your eyes, get comfortable and imagine yourself in a pressure situation. Then, imagine it all going wrong. Do it over and over, then open your eyes 5, 10 or 20 minutes later.

You’re okay, right? You’re still you. Remind yourself this—the goal is to detach yourself from negative consequences and know for a fact that no matter the outcome, you’ll play another day.

And for parents and coaches, sit down with your athlete(s). Explain to him or her the drill and close your eyes together. Then, when you come to, have a discussion. Explain how negative outcomes will always be there and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them. When we face our fears, we realize that they hold only as much power as we allow them to. And, we give ourselves the best chance to succeed.

 

For The Samurai, They Played For Keeps

For the Samurai warrior, combat was not a game—it was life or death. If a Samurai was afraid of being killed in combat, his swordplay would suffer and he would almost certainly be killed—it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mental training is sacrosanct in martial arts, because they know that a fluid, uncluttered mind yields the best performance; the body can react and do what it knows how to do. For this reason, meditation, visualization and mental training is just as vital as physical training.

Modern athletes can use this technique—meditating and visualizing negative consequences—as part of their mental training. It is not necessarily the right practice for everyone, but as athletes and coaches look for an edge in performance, they should give it a try and see how it fits into their mental skills routine.

 

Want to Learn More on The Mental Game From Coach Dan?

Sign up for his free pitching strategies video course, called Ace of the Staff Lite. 

It’s filled with mental strategies for all facets of pitching – holding runners, pitch sequences, confidence, and much more.

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A New Reason Why Youth Athletes Shouldn’t Specialize Early

It is well-documented that young athletes should not be specializing early in any one sport. Baseball is an often-cited culprit, as the repetitive stresses of throwing accumulate much faster with players who specialize and only play baseball. These players end up playing most of the year, never giving their body the rest it needs nor the unique stresses and stimuli that other sports can provide.

…but we know all this, right? It’s well-documented that early-specialization in baseball is a major risk factor for throwing injuries. Rather than re-hash this, today we’re going to draw on the wisdom of coach and educator Paul Reddick, in what he says is a critical, but often-overlooked reason that young athletes – not just baseball players – should be playing multiple sports.

 

Sports Help Young People Grow Emotionally and Socially

Sports offer numerous life-lessons and growth opportunities, including the following:

  • Meeting new people
  • Working as a team
  • Interacting with others in a stressful environment
  • Dealing with adversity
  • Dealing with failure
  • Dealing graciously with success
  • Helping, teaching and mentoring others
  • Accepting that luck, unfairness and inequity are parts of life
  • Learning physical limits
  • Learning mental and physical toughness
  • Much, much more

But specifically, from Paul Reddick’s point of view, let’s discuss some major reasons young athletes should not specialize early.

 

Reason #1: Missed Opportunities to Make Friends

Paul explains in his video how he met a lifelong friend through a sport that he was – quite plainly – bad at.

If players only stay in their most successful lane, limiting the pool of social exposure to other athletes, they’re limiting the amount of positive interactions and potential friendships they can develop.

Takeaway: Kids may be missing out on amazing friendships they might develop when exposed to new people and experiences.

 

Reason #2: Learn to Play Different Roles Within a Team

We’re not talking about shortstop versus third base. Rather, Paul rightly argues that young athletes should be put in situations where they can be both successful and unsuccessful. This forces them to adjust their mindset as they learn to play supporting roles on teams. These roles can help young athletes better understand team dynamics and how even star players can contribute in unique ways.

In business, relationships, and sports there are all sorts of roles that people play to make sure overall goals are met and harmony is achieved. Players don’t learn this when they’re allowed to only play when they can be the star. Kids need to learn

Takeaway: Kids should learn to support others and the team from different perspectives. This helps them understand how to not be the star in an organization, which they will need later in life.

 

Reason #3: Players Learn to Compete When They Can Play Other Sports

Athletes competing in only one sport year-round will run into long periods where they only train and don’t compete in games. This is a natural progression of in-season to off-season, but when players choose multiple sports, they can continue to learn how to compete and build mental toughness without burning their bodies out with repetitive motions.

We all know champion professional athletes who have ice in their veins in the most pressure-packed situations. Paul Reddick argues that they didn’t develop this shooting free-throws or hitting off a batting tee, though both activities have their place. Rather, they learned to develop the eye of the tiger, so to speak, through regular competition and being placed in situations where they had to step up and be mentally tough. For athletes who play multiple sports, they’ll get more opportunities to do this in more unique ways.

Takeaway: Early-specialization can rob a young athlete of the chance to compete more often with more unique experiences and challenges. Multiple sports provide the venue to be placed in more situations that require mental toughness for a larger portion of the year without increasing repetitive injury risk.

 

Check Out the Full Video Here Below

Paul has some great advice for parents and players that we at EBP wanted to share with our audience. Check out the full video below from which this article was adapted, and be sure to leave us a comment if you agree or disagree!

10 Keys to a Better Long Toss Session for Baseball Pitchers

Note from the Editor-in-Chief: We love long toss at Elite Baseball Performance, especially programs that are smart, individualized, and well structured for the right time of year.  Alan Jaeger has done a lot of great work in this area and has really helped popularize long toss in general.  Dale does a great job discussing some of these concepts and points he uses to get the most out of long toss below.  If you are interested in learning more, we encourage to learn more from Alan’s Thrive on Throwing 2 program and be sure to check out his J-bands for your arm care program.  

 

In baseball, there is no substitute for a well-conditioned and healthy arm. Virtually no baseball specific activity can be done successfully if you have a weak or an injured arm. You can’t make accurate throws if you’re an infielder, you can’t gun down a runner from the outfield, and you certainly can’t pitch well.

I’ll say it again: the bottom line is that a baseball player needs to have a strong, conditioned and healthy arm to play the game. It can be the deciding factor as to whether a player moves on to the next level.

In this article, you’ll learn how to better structure and improve your long toss sessions/

“Your arm is your life line as a player — it can either be an asset or liability. Be proactive — it is one of your five major tools, so treat it that way.”

 

 

When Should a Player Implement a Long Toss Routine?

The primary goal of any throwing program should be to put the arm in the best position possible to be healthy and perform at the highest level. The next priority is to build strength, endurance and accuracy. The most important time to establish a throwing program is during the offseason, for two main reasons:

 

  1. No Interference From Games and Practices

When a player is in the offseason, there are no demands of games or practices giving players the freedom to follow a sound throwing routine. This freedom allows players to throw based on their own personal needs and work on specific mechanics. Also, in the absence of excessive game related throwing, the player will be better able to recover adequately between sessions.

 

  1. Less Wear and Tear From In-Season Throwing

When a player is in season, bullpens and game-related throwing put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the arm. It has been shown that arm strength, more specifically rotator cuff strength and scapular stabilizer proficiency, actually decreases over the course of the season. Because of this, we don’t want to add any excess stress on the arm during the season.

 

How to Long Toss

A long toss session can be broken into two phases: the stretching-out phase, and the pull-down phase.

 

Stretching-Out Phase

This is the first stage of a long toss session where our goal is to let the arm stretch itself out with a loose arm action. Here we are allowing our arm to throw as far as it wants to throw while keeping throws pain free and effortless. Be aware of keeping sound mechanics.

The goal of this phase is to “stretch out the arm,” creating a greater capacity for arm speed using a longer, looser arm motion. Progressively throw farther and farther until comfortably maxed-out in distance. After peaking in distance, we’ll start the pull-down phase.

 

Pull-Down Phase

After reaching maximum distance during the stretch out phase, we will work back in towards our throwing partner. Because the muscles have been lengthened and the arm has been adequately loosened, we have a greater capacity for the arm to generate speed.

As you come in, you will notice that it will take a great deal of concentration to pull your throws downhill and not sail them over your partner’s head. If you decelerate or ease up on your throw to gain this control, you cannot effectively increase your arm speed.

To pull your throws down to your partner, we will have to accelerate through your release point by taking your maximum effort throw toward your throwing partner. We want to focus on maintaining good balance and creating downward extension through your release point towards your target.

The number of throws during the pull-down phase will vary from player to player. A general rule of thumb is to come in 10 feet at a time with each throw.

Arm speed and endurance comes from the combination of both phases. The additional distance provides the arm with an opportunity to generate more arm speed on longer, looser and well-conditioned muscles. Now that we’re clear on what a long-toss session looks like, let’s discuss some ways to maximize your training effect.

 

Baseball Field

 

10 Tips to Get The Most Out of Your Long Toss Session

  1. Warm up properly using a dynamic warm up.
  2. Always maintain sound throwing mechanics. Don’t let your mechanics degrade by overthrowing.
  3. Keep your throws loose and nearly effortless. You should not be straining to reach your target.
  4. If you max out in the stretching-out phase in terms of distance, don’t worry, just stay at that distance and continue to work there until your arm allows more. Remember, the end point of your throwing distance should still see a nice controlled throwing motion with your normal mechanics.
  5. Remember that the goal of a long toss program is to progressively build arm strength through increasing distance.
  6. Let your arm dictate the number of throws that you perform at each distance. If you feel strong, feel free to throw a few extra, but remember: if at any point you feel sore or fatigued, stop throwing. You should never throw through fatigue and certainly not through soreness.
  7. When returning from max distances to throw from 60 feet, concentrate on finishing through your release and forcing the ball down – it is easy to miss high.
  8. Use a step behind before every throw. It keeps the hips properly closed preventing the arm from flying open too early, especially as you stretch out to longer distances. Add a second crow-hop if necessary to build momentum.
  9. Starting a long toss program early on will help you develop a unique understanding of your arm that will pay big dividends for years to come. Get to know your arm now and put yourself ahead of the competition.
  10. Perform a cool down. Gently stretch and perform a post-throwing mobility routine to help speed up your recovery and maintain muscle tissue quality.

 

Don’t Forget Arm Care & Prehab

Even the strongest arm is vulnerable to serious injury if not properly cared for with functional rotator cuff and scapular stabilization exercises.

By neglecting the importance of a rotator cuff strengthening program and an adequate throwing warm up routine, you are pushing the odds in the favor of injuring yourself at some point.

Elite Baseball Performance has a great free arm care program designed to build your base strength.

 

Use These 10 Tips to Improve Your Arm Strength & Health

Without the opportunity to long toss, the arm won’t gain the strength, length, and endurance it needs. Following a quality arm care and long toss regimen will pay dividends in the long-run. Use the guidelines in this article to have better long toss sessions and build arm strength for years to come.

4 Tips for Strength Coaches to Connect with Baseball Coaches

The ability to connect with players is a topic getting more and more attention in the sports performance world these days. But, what are some strategies for connecting with the coaches of the athletes you train?

This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I figured no better topic to get me back into blogging.

I see a lot of articles on the science involved with being a strength coach, how to be a great programmer, how to teach the squat, top five accessory lifts for baseball players etc.

But, as we all know, being an effective strength coach is more than just the nuts and bolts of a micro-cycle or setting up correctly for a deadlift.

Strength coaches need to be equipped with a certain set of interpersonal skills which allow them to communicate efficiently with the many different personalities they will deal with daily. Athletes are the obvious example that comes to mind, but here I want to focus on the importance of a good relationship between the strength coach and skill coach, and how it can make or break the progress of the athletes involved.

I have seen this relationship from multiple angles in my career, both as both a player and an strength coach. If you’re not careful and collaborative, the dynamic can quickly turn into a coach vs. coach relationship leaving an athlete in a tough spot.

One coach pitted against the other can be escalated to even greater heights thanks to the infinite amount of training information available at your fingertips thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter, with little guidance on sorting out the good from the bad.

Most coaches develop their ideas and philosophies through personal experiences. Because no two coaches have the exact same background or coaching path, it’s unlikely they’ll see eye-to-eye on every training philosophy; that’s why strength coaches need to be adaptable!

It is naïve to believe there is a one size fits all approach that a strength coach can use to effectively communicate with every sport coach they will encounter.

So how does a coach with knowledge and expertise in getting athletes faster and stronger best communicate with a coach whose main concern is putting together lineups, winning games, and teaching how to throw a change-up?

 

Check Your Ego at The Door

In coaching, just like any other profession, there are egos involved. Some strength coaches and baseball coaches are slow to change the way they do things, especially if they have had some success. Resistance or hesitation to implement a new training style or program should not be met with resentment by the strength coach.

Instead, the strength coach must be able to communicate the basic tenants of their program to the sport coach. Explaining how the program would benefit the athletes and ultimately improving sport specific performance.

Remember, the sport coaches measure success in wins and losses, not vertical jump height and back squat numbers.

Too often I have seen a strength coach get frustrated and “write off” a coach because they are unwilling to implement fully what the strength coach recommends. Avoid the urge to get upset, and keep being a professional!

Understand where the coach’s reservations are coming from and keep an open mind, perhaps they have some good points based on their experiences that could help you grow as a baseball strength coach.

However, you can communicate to the baseball coach see the “value” in your program, building trust as you develop a relationship. Start by getting small “training” victories and build these small victories on top of one another.

These victories lead to players buying in you, which will hopefully eventually lead to their coach buying in as well as they start to see the results.

 

Share the Same Goal – Developing Players!

Another thing that is easy for strength coaches to lose sight of is the fact that they are there to elevate the on-field performance of the athletes they work with, through performance training.

Performance training is not the end goal for athletes! This elevation in on-field performance manifests itself in performance!

When I feel I am having trouble communicating or getting through to a coach, I remind myself of this fact, we both want the best for our athletes!

Finding this common ground with a sports coach can create a very strong foundation in which a cohesive work relationship can be built.

Again, patiently describing how you can help the coach and their athletes develop will create value in your training program.

 

Give a Little to Gain A Lot

Many times, a strength coach must be willing to adapt at times to achieve a greater overall goal.

A quick example of this might be getting on board with a baseball coach taking his team through an basic workout or training session once a week to allow those athletes to come train with you 3 other days that week.

Sure, in your head you know that the players will only have minimal gains in performance by training ince per week, but start building that relationship with both the players and coaches will help develop into a longer relationship.

Trying to be a dictator or a “my way or the highway” strength coach, is a sure way to drive them away from you and your training. This is especially true when you haven’t worked with a sport coach before.

 

Be Part of the Team

This is a tricky point, one that I feel is vitally important, but can also be easily misunderstood. I have heard strength coaches complain about how they don’t get respect from baseball coaches and sometimes even athletes they work with.

They get hung up on being called “coach”, complain about buy-in, scheduling difficulties, players being on time, the list goes on.

Usually these are the same coaches that don’t ever attend games or practices, rarely to ever show interest in the athletes on-field performance and then wonder why they may be treated differently from other “on-field” coaches.

As a player, I wanted my strength coach to be “all in” on me and the team! It made me feel like he was a part of the team when I would see him at our games.

I think it’s also an important way to show the sport coach that you care as much about team’s success as they do. Showing up at games, practices etc. can go a long way to smooth over any bumps that may be present in a relationship with a sports coach.

It can also begin to help coaches and player see you as an integral part of the staff. Demanding everyone call you “coach” will not earn you anything but a reputation as power hungry egomaniac.

All of this is great, but it must be mentioned here: you are not a sport-specific coach! Know your role and stick to it.

In no way should you involve yourself with any on-field activities/instruction unless explicitly asked to lend a hand.

It is not unusual to see a competent strength coach playing catch with a rehabbing pitcher or maybe helping out shagging balls during batting practice, but again, only do so if you are asked to assist!

Overstepping your bounds is the quickest way to a sport coaches dog house. Stay in your lane!

As the strength and conditioning profession continues to evolve, interpersonal relationships are becoming more and more important.

Yes, the ability to connect with athletes is an integral part of the job, but so is the ability to connect with their other coaches. Understanding and employing the tips above will go a long way in making sure you relate to the coaches in working towards a common goal for your athletes.

Quick Tips to Never Hang a Curveball Again

You’ve got the hitter 0-1 after a sharp first-pitch fastball for a strike. You then break off a nasty 1/7 curveball, and he swings and misses. The hitter is on the ropes and took an ugly swing, so the catcher calls again for the curveball. You nod in agreement, rock, kick and deliver….

…a big, fat hanger.

He blasts it into the gap, and you don’t know what went wrong. The last curveball was a hammer – hard and straight until the last second, at which point it dropped off the table and embarrassed the guy with the bat. But in trying to make the next one even better, you tensed up, tried too hard, and hung it.

This is an all-too-common scenario, especially for young pitchers.

 

How to Fix Your Curveball During a Game

Some days, a pitcher just doesn’t have it. But no matter how good – or bad – a pitcher’s stuff is on a given day, he has to battle to find, and right the ship before it’s too late. Most days, a pitcher will take the mound with his B or C-grade stuff, and he’ll have to battle and adjust to eek out a win.

Pitching is a game of adjustments. Remember – mechanics are half the battle, and pitchers need to keep a clear mind to let the body do what it knows how to do. Too often, pitchers struggle to locate off-speed pitches because they’re too anxious and nervous about falling behind in the count, failing to execute, or giving up hits.

Relax, pick your spot and execute. Check out the video below for quick adjustments that can be used immediately on the mound!

 

 

How to Throw a Hammer Curveball

If you liked this video, be sure to download my free eBook, How to Throw a Hammer Curveball. You’ll also get access to my entire VIP library of pitching eBooks, courses, videos and weekly updates.