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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.