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.


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3 Keys to Building Mental Toughness on the Baseball Field

The underdog is often times one of the most exciting parts of sporting events to this day. We all want to root for the guy or girl who is not the favorite because as human beings we are wired to love the upset. Each one of us has an inner dog within us that comes out in the most drastic of times. When our backs against the wall, how are you going to respond?

Ray McIntire has battled the uphill battle that all underdogs must face to get to where they want to be. As an 18-year-old kid, Ray was told that he was number 36 out of 35 baseball players at the University of Nevada, Reno. Shocked with his back against the wall, his future was over. All his hopes of becoming a college baseball player, winning a national championship, and suiting up as a member of the Wolfpack were shattered.

“Coach Powers called me into his office and told me ya know Ray, you battled your butt off all fall but I’m sorry to tell you that you’re the 36th guy on our list.” Ray was stunned when he was informed by Hall of Fame Coach Gary Powers that he did not make the team. Most guys would have quit. They would have thrown in the towel, waved the white flag, and surrendered to adversity as the common athlete would. But Ray is different. He looked at this as an opportunity to work on his craft. Ray worked his tail off to come back the next year and make the team.

“That coaching staff gave me a shot and I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

One year after being told he wasn’t good enough to play division 1 baseball Ray McIntire was informed that he indeed had made the team and will be competing for a starting spot. The underdog rose to the occasion and stared adversity in its face, conquering the moment.

This displays incredible perseverance. The ability to come back after being told you are not good enough defines mental toughness. Ray’s work ethic is incredible as I was able to witness this for 4 years; 2 as a player and 2 as a coach. To say he is a “gym rat” is an understatement. This guy lived and died at the field and put every ounce of energy into achieving his dreams, hopes of playing collegiate baseball.

Mental toughness is something we preach at Major League University because we believe it’s what separates the average from the good and the good from the great. So let’s dive into a little bit about what we mean by “mental toughness.”


Control The Controllables

Controlling the controllables is a frequently used term in the athletic world. Coaches and peak performance experts often say to their athletes “control the controllables!”

But what does this actually mean?

Controlling what you can control, such as your emotions, body language, work ethic, and response to success and failure.

Are you the guy who sits in the corner of the dugout after you make an error or are you the guy always on the dugout rail supporting your teammates? These are easy actions to control.

Each day we have a new opportunity to contribute to our team. Don’t be mistaken; helping the team doesn’t always come from a grand slam home run. We can help our team win games by being a good teammate, making a play in the field, or driving in a big run late in the game.



Our attitude ultimately determines how we perform on and off the field, not vice versa. But often athletes allow their attitude to impact their performance on the field. We always have control over our attitude.

We dictate our attitude, not the other way around.

Carrying a positive attitude not only looks good in the coach’s eyes but in the eyes of your teammates. Understand that only you are in control of your attitude when you show up to the field. Leave yesterday in the past, and do not worry about the future. Stay in the present moment, be where your feet are, and make the most out of the day in front of you!


Be a Good Teammate

“Building a culture isn’t an overnight thing,” Ray McIntire said in our previous podcast.

What does he mean by this?

Culture is an interesting subject because it ties into being a good teammate. As a team, we want to focus our attention on the common goal: winning a championship. In order to win a championship, we must do the little things on a day-to-day basis that are going to help get us to that point.

Just like culture is not an overnight deal, neither is winning a championship.

Championship teams begin the process of competing from the very beginning of fall ball. We have the opportunity every single day to push the guys next to us to become better than they were the previous day. This is something to take pride in because being a good teammate is not a hard thing to do if we put our focus on the team aspect. The more you help the guys around you, the better the culture will be, resulting in more success for everyone!

All good teams have great people in the organization. Look at the New England Patriots. They have a solid foundation and a game plan that sticks to their strengths. As ballplayers, we should understand what makes us GREAT and how we can help the team win a ball game.

Mental toughness is not an overnight deal, just like culture is not an overnight success. But if we focus on what we can do on a daily basis to make the team better, we will ultimately be rewarded with more success personally and collectively!

Check out the full podcast episode below with University of San Diego’s assistant coach Ray McIntire. Be sure to subscribe, like, and share with your friends so we can bring you more amazing wisdom from the best in the game!


Byler Bombs – The Dog Within

4 Steps to Building a Winning Mindset for Baseball Players

We have all heard that we need to build from the ground up.  If we try to build a pyramid from the top first, it would not be sustainable.  The pyramid will collapse and you will have to restart from scratch.  This concept holds true for building a winning mindset.  As a player, we can have all the tools we need physically, but if we do not have the right mindset, it will be very tough to reach our ultimate goal.

There are many components that go into a winning mindset, but there are four that stick out the most.  Having played baseball for 20+ years, from tee ball to affiliated ball, it is interesting to see who makes it and who does not.  There are many players that seem destined to become a big leaguer from the time they were 12 years old, and there are many players that looked like they had no chance of playing past high school.

If the game were based on skill alone, it would be fairly easy to see who would make it to the “Big League” and who would not.  As we all know, that is not the case.  A ballplayer’s mindset becomes the separator between the best and the average.

Luckily, our mind is like a muscle.  We can work on it just as we would any other muscle group.  Developing a winning mindset takes the same amount of time and effort that you would put into working on perfecting your swing or your pitching.  Here are a few tips to build your winning mindset:


Always Looking to Learn and Grow

You are never too old to learn.  It does not matter if you are in Little League or in the Big League, every great player understands that they must grow.  There is an abundance of resources out there now, which makes learning much easier.  Those who take advantage of that are the ones who will move onto the next level of the game.  They make it because once they learn something new, they implement it into their game and become a better player.  Every ballplayer must understand that if they are not trying to grow, other players will catch up and surpass them, potentially stealing their starting role or their spot on the team.


Having Drive

Having drive means that you are willing to do what it takes to reach your dreams.  If you want to be a big leaguer, you will do everything in your power to accomplish them.  One thing that separates the best from the average is the drive and the player’s willingness to do what is necessary regardless of how they feel.  The best players build discipline into their daily lives so that if they do not feel like getting in the cage or the weight room, they do it anyway.  Their drive keeps them going and does not allow them to relax.


Develop Confidence

Confidence is one of the biggest key components that every successful athlete has.  Without confidence, especially in baseball, chances of success are very slim.  Confidence is believing in yourself and your abilities and trusting that it is more than enough to get the job done.  You know you are confident when you are completely relaxed in any given situation including a “high pressure” situation.

Knowing that your abilities are more than good enough to compete relieves the anxiety and self-doubts.  We all face self-doubts and have negative thoughts, but we are in control of those thoughts.  We can counter them by saying something positive to replace the negative thought.  This, along with finding other ways to create belief in yourself, breeds confidence.



Self-awareness is knowing the details of what is going on in yourself and your environment.  The more details you can pick up, the more self-aware you are.  The reason self-awareness is so important is that you can now make the necessary adjustments to get better in any aspect.

Mentally, being aware of your thoughts can be extremely powerful.  We have control over our thoughts.  Everyone experiences negative thoughts, but if we are not aware of them, there is no way to fix them.  Also, if we are aware of our positive thoughts, we can now intentionally have them more often.

Physically, being aware of the small details along with the larger ones will help tremendously.  Breaking a situation down into smaller details helps us to gain the edge on our opponent.  Baseball is a game of inches.

Let’s use base running as an example. If you round first base by stepping on the middle of the base versus the inside corner of the base, that could be the difference between being out or safe.  If you are an important run, now that hurts your team instead of helping them.

All components together make up a winning mindset.  Every single player has the ability to develop this and it will help them to succeed in their baseball career and in life.

How MLB Pitchers Use Mental Imagery to Enhance Their Performance

The following is an excerpt from Bob Tewksbury’s new book, “Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball.”  In this great new book, Tewks, a former Major League pitcher and mental skills coach for two of baseball’s legendary franchises (the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants), Bob takes fans inside the psychology of baseball.  Click here to learn more about the new book.

The mental game is extremely important for baseball players, and below, Tewks shares a great story of how MLB pitcher Jon Lester has used mental training to his benefit.


Ninety Percent Mental

Make no mistake; thoughts become things.

If a pitcher thinks, “don’t walk this guy” or “that pitch was a strike” and allows that thought to occupy his mind, the thought will lead to that reality. As a result, your focus will be not on the execution of the next pitch but on the emotion from the distracting thought.

This takes focus away from the task at hand and any pitch thrown without trust, confidence and conviction will not lead to a positive result.


That is where my book begins, and it is where my book will end.


A concept so simple a newborn grasps it as soon as he greets the world. An act that eventually becomes so difficult an old man on his deathbed can no longer accomplish it.

In between, breath sustains life. And if you can master the art of controlling it, it can reduce blood pressure, improve sleep, maintain health, sharpen focus, improve job performance and, yes, in so many of our lives, cause stress to melt clear away like March ice on Opening Day.

Breathe. It is where we were midsummer in 2013, and Jon Lester had had it.

Around him, the Oakland Coliseum, a rapidly deteriorating ballpark that he detested, had never looked so untamable. Behind him, the first half of an inconsistently choppy season continued to clutter his mind. Ahead of him, the second half of a season that refused to produce answers appeared just as ominous.

At this point in its cracked-concrete life, the Coliseum was becoming notorious for sewage backups. Seriously. The major leagues? A plumbing system that may as well have been constructed during the California Gold Rush periodically caused toilets to back up, water to leak into both clubhouses and dugouts, and a resulting stench that could singe the hairs in your nostrils.

Breathe? Hold that thought. The Oakland Coliseum maybe isn’t the best place in the major leagues to preach this concept. Yet there I was, in my role as a mental skills coach for the Boston Red Sox, late afternoon, sitting in the dugout anyway.

The periodic sewage, the stench, the antiquated clubhouses, none of that, by the way, is why Jon Lester disliked the place. What so many outside the game don’t always understand is that every single road trip is foreign. Every field has a different look, a different view, a different background. Comfort breeds confidence, and nothing this side of health is more vital to a professional athlete than confidence.

Always, it seemed, for whatever reason, Lester was uncomfortable on the mound in the Oakland Coliseum. Every time he started a game there, the whole place just looked different.

“I don’t know what it is,” he says. “There are stadiums you get to and it never looks good. You always feel isolated. Detroit’s one of those for me. You get on that mound and nothing looks right. It just doesn’t fit you, for whatever reason. Toronto was the complete opposite. I love Toronto. I thought their mound was one of the best mounds in baseball. The way the backdrop is, it makes you feel like home plate is right there.

“Oakland was one of those places I never felt good in. I think it’s because of the [massive] foul ground. Home plate, it looks like you’re throwing to the batting cage over there. I’ve never really had good games there. So you have these different things that go through your mind when you get in these different places.”

In the previous season, Lester had limited the Athletics to just one run and four hits over 6.2 innings, striking out nine and walking just one. But the Red Sox lost 3-2. Never had a good game in Oakland? As my old manager in Minnesota, Tom Kelly, often said, “The mind is a very dangerous thing.”

On this day, there was a lot on Lester’s mind, and too much of it was diminishing returns. At 8-5 with a 4.60 ERA, 2013 in so many ways was a continuation of 2012, statistically the worst of his career: 9-14 with a career-worst 4.82 ERA. For the man who worked five and two-thirds incredibly impressive shutout innings as a rookie in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series at Colorado’s hitter-friendly Coors Field, this was foreign land, uncharted territory, a rock and a hard place he never would have imagined. Too many negatives were living rent free inside his head.

At twenty-nine and with the All-Star break waiting on the other side of the weekend, Lester was set to make his final start of the first half on Saturday night. At this point, he was certain of only one thing. What he was not going to do was step into the break without exhausting his search for solutions.

As David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and the rest of the Red Sox swung away in batting practice on this Friday afternoon, Lester looked into the dugout and spotted a potential life vest. He and I had first met in 2002, when Lester was eighteen, shortly after the Red Sox scooped him up in the second round of the draft. As part of my work with the Red Sox, I made it a point to meet as many minor-leaguers as I could as they entered Boston’s system. Just as the ball is held together with those red stitches, so, too, are the relationships in this game. They can never be tight enough.

Preparation never was a weakness for Lester. Few worked as hard as he did. But there was one area I felt could help improve his performance. I told him how I used mental imagery throughout my career. You’ve heard the expression “mental imagery”? The body doesn’t know the difference between a real or an imagined event and, therefore, the body will go where the mind takes it. During the tough times, mental imagery exercises I had developed helped me battle the fear of failure and insecurity that, always, are an athlete’s toughest opponent. During the good times, the mental imagery reinforced the foundation upon which I operated.

The short answer was that, no, Lester had never tried imagery before any of his starts. He had flirted with the idea of it just once, long ago, and he didn’t like it for a very interesting reason.

Lester was never much of a reader because his admittedly short attention span just won’t allow it, but he nevertheless devoured the legendary Harvey Dorfman’s The Mental ABC’s of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement when he was in high school. He read it in three days, matter of fact. It was during his senior year, and he had decided to not play basketball that winter in order to focus on baseball, and he read the book about a week before his first start.

Looking for a way to focus amid the swirl of professional scouts and college recruiters who were creating chaos in his life at the time, Lester inhaled the book and immediately went out and threw a no-hitter in that first start, punching out nineteen hitters. He came within one out of a perfect game.

And that is why, more than a decade later, he still shied away from imagery. Because, as he told me, he just knew he could not replicate the success of that no-hitter with nineteen strikeouts.

“It just so happened that it was one of those days that just kind of fell in line with what I was doing and I was like, ‘I can’t get back to that place. If I try to do imagery again, it won’t replicate the outcome,’” Jon says.

“That’s the first thing you think of when you do it. You think of the last time you did it and what happened.”

I shared my personal experiences of having used imagery for most of my career, and how powerful a mental tool it had been for me. He seemed intrigued. I asked if he would be willing to try a guided imagery exercise with me to give him a feel for what I was talking about. It was the right moment. At this point, Lester was open to anything that might help him.

We walked up the long tunnel leading from the dugout back into the visitors’ clubhouse and disappeared into a small office. He sank into a leather couch. He slouched down, getting comfortable, his head leaned back against the top of the couch. In full Red Sox uniform, he tugged his baseball cap forward, tilted to shield his eyes from the room’s harsh fluorescent light.

“Okay, now that you are comfortable, I want you to close your eyes and focus on your breathing,” I told him.

I spoke slowly, softly. “Inhale through your nose… feel the air as it slowly passes down through the back of your throat and into your lungs… feel your chest rise and expand… now hold it… now exhale slowly and fully through your mouth.”

We repeated that sequence three times. As we did, I noticed Jon gradually sink deeper into the couch. His jaw loosened. His mouth opened slightly. His leg twitched. I paused, surprised he had become so relaxed so quickly.

“You are now relaxed and ready for your imagery practice,” I said.

Following a few seconds of silence, I continued. “Now, imagine yourself on the pitcher’s mound tomorrow night. Feel your spikes as they rest firmly on the pitching rubber. Feel the seams of the baseball as you grip the ball in your glove, which you hold up directly in front of you.”

I led him through game situations. Through facing two batters while pitching from the windup. One batter while pitching from the stretch. I worked to create pictures in his mind, each associated with a particular pitch. Fastballs down and away for called strikes. Changeups cloaked in the illusion of fastballs, creating swings and misses. Slow curveballs floating in for strikes, the hitters helplessly watching them go by. Deadly cutters that made those hitters look foolish.

I went through each batter he would see in Oakland’s lineup the next night. I detailed various situations he might face and how he would successfully respond to them. Someone commits an error, this is how you react to it.

This imagery exercise went on for about eight minutes, and then I instructed Jon to open his eyes and reorient himself to the room. When he nudged his cap up off of his face, he looked like he had been sleeping. Wow, I thought. He really got into this.

“What did you think?” I asked. He said he liked it but that at times my dialogue went a little too fast. Because of that, at times, he said, he struggled to fully create images in his mind. This was good feedback for next time. Most important, there would be a next time. He was buying in.

We agreed to implement this brief imagery practice into his pregame routine the next night. The best time, we decided, would be after his pitcher’s meeting, around five o’clock. Before each start, the starting pitcher, catcher and pitching coach meet to go over that night’s opposing lineup and implement a game plan. Right after that, Lester would go to the trainer’s room, lie on the table, cover his eyes and re-create, as best he could, what we had just done.

On the field that Saturday night, Lester felt more comfortable than he had all season. He threw a called third strike by Coco Crisp to start the bottom of a 1-2-3 first inning. Induced a ground-ball double play in the second from Nate Freiman and wound up stranding two Athletics and holding them off the scoreboard. Derek Norris touched him for a solo homer in the fifth, and then Oakland scratched two more runs off of him in the sixth.

But on this night, the internal results following his session the night before became the most important element.

“It was almost like I had already pitched,” Lester says. “I felt more relaxed and prepared. We lost 3-0, but I pitched a lot better. I felt more in command with what was going on in the game, with situations that arose during the game.”

We talked again the next day about implementing imagery and visualization permanently into his pregame routine. We decided that I would record a guided imagery program for him to use prior to his starts during the season’s second half. We discussed the content and timing of the script that day, and I made the recording during the All-Star break.

Over thirteen starts during the second half of the season, Lester would go 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA. Best of all, that run would stretch deep into October, where a quiet room in Fenway Park and an imagery program on Lester’s iPod would combine to become as beautiful in Boston as the autumn orange- and red-tinged trees along the Charles River…


Get Bob Tewksbury’s Book Ninety Percent Mental

Bob Tewksbury is the mental skills coach for the San Francisco Giants and was formerly the mental skills coach for the Boston Red Sox. He has a master’s degree in sport psychology and counseling from Boston University. Drafted by the Yankees in 1981, he won 110 games over a 13-year career (from 1986 through 1998) with the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, and Minnesota Twins, and was named to the National League All-Star team. He lives in Concord, New Hampshire.

The Key to Building Confidence as a Baseball Player

We have all heard of the term “confidence” and I am sure we can all agree that it is of vital importance to a baseball player’s progress and development.

Yogi Berra put it best, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Although gaining and developing confidence to some may seem like an easy task, similar to a switch you can simply flip on and off, for some ballplayers, confidence is the single greatest flaw in their game and what ultimately prevents them from maximizing their potential.

Having struggled mightily with confidence over the years, I want to take this brief moment and share with you a couple thoughts that I have found useful that I believe you will be able to implement and benefit from right away.

Struggling with Confidence

First and foremost, I believe the most important element within all of this, is having the ability to be comfortable within your own skin as a human being. Before anyone steps on the baseball field, it is absolutely crucial that they love themselves as a human being and whole heartedly accept their reflection in the mirror regardless of how their box score reads after the game.

If this proves to be difficult, it will undoubtedly be more challenging to remain confident during times of struggle on the field. Baseball is arguably one of the most difficult sports and the success rate will be minimal compared to the amount of failure you will endure as a ballplayer.

For many years I would base my self worth off of the amount of hits I recorded, the number of runners I threw out or the MPH reading that would flash on the radar gun. This is not a healthy, ideal, or practical way to live life and it is not sustainable over time.

You have to be able to compartmentalize between life as a ballplayer and life as a human being.

When you truly come to grips with the notion (it’s hard, trust me) that I am a worthy human being, regardless of my performance on the field, a huge weight will be lifted off your shoulders, allowing you to play free, loose, and relaxed. Soon thereafter, baseball will become much more enjoyable.

As a ballplayer, we must come to grips with the notion that regardless if we go 5 for 5 or 0 for 5 at the plate, our family and true friends will still love us unconditionally and their opinion of us will not waver based on our athletic development or achievements.

A parent will love you for the individual you are, not the batting average you maintain.

A true friend will want to spend time with you because they enjoy your company, not because you hit the game winning home run.

Your significant other will love you because of how you make them feel, not your average fastball velocity.

As a ballplayer and especially as a young child, it is crucial to always remember that those who truly love you will always love you, regardless of how the scoreboard reads. This is by no stretch an easy concept to grasp and it is a difficult lesson to learn.

The day after my first shoulder surgery, I had 35 missed calls, 43 text messages and 8 voicemails. The day after my fifth shoulder surgery, I had 4 missed calls, 6 text messages and zero voicemails. That experience allowed me the opportunity to see who truly loved me and who just loved the idea of me.

One of the most detrimental acts any ballplayer can partake in is directly comparing themselves to those who surround them. This is a recipe for disaster on a variety of levels. Day in and day out, the goal of any ballplayer should be to win the battle against themselves and focus solely on that reflection in the mirror.

We all understand that baseball is a team game, but if you begin comparing yourself to others around you, you will stunt and even derail your potential growth as a ballplayer. It is irrelevant if Billy hit a home run today or Nick made the game winning catch. All that matters is, did I, myself, improve today and am I better today than I was yesterday.

The greatest achievers in any industry have an internal drive, allowing self-improvement to be their exclusive focus and concern. In addition to holding themselves to the highest standards, they judge their performance solely against preceding versions of themselves, not against teammates or competitors.

Each and every one of us develop, mature and progress at our own pace and on our own timetable. None of us are genetically equivalent, so what is the sense in comparing ourselves to others based on factors that are out of our control?

Many often forget that this game, similar to life, is a marathon, not a race.

A Daily Mental Practice for Baseball Players

This is not football, basketball or hockey – it’s baseball.  And of the four “major” sports in the United States, baseball is by far the most mentally challenging and demanding.

Demanding, because there is so much dead time compared to other sports. Dead time gives baseball players lots of time to think, and thinking is often at the root of tension, pressure and anxiety.

Challenging, because baseball players spend most of their time on physical preparation and little or no time on the one area that is going to impact their career the most. Yes, the mental game is being talked about a lot more these days, but talking isn’t good enough. It’s time to cut to the chase. Doing something about it is where the rubber hit’s the road.


Addressing The Mental Game: Prioritizing Your Practice Plan

Practice plans have been passed down for generations, and they of course have plenty of merit. But at what point (and what cost) are we going to continue to center our practice plans around physical preparation when we know that between the lines, the game is at least 90 percent mental? Hitting, throwing and running bases are all indispensable, as is bunt defense, pitchers fielding practice and first and third run downs.

But this is the 21st century – times have changed.

People in all walks of life are looking deeper for answers. Major corporations are putting a ton of money into creating a (mentally) healthier work environment by putting time aside for “self improvement.”  Among other things, motivational speakers and yoga instructors are being brought in to help people relax and be more effective. When it comes to big business, they understand the bottom line, performance.

Sacrificing some time out of an employees busy work schedule for “mental health” is viewed as a necessity. Yet, somehow this hasn’t seemed to translate into the baseball community. Not that some teams (The University of San Diego has incorporated relaxation exercises prior to every practice) and individual players haven’t made the adjustment, but quite frankly, it’s a drop in the bucket.

The good news is that society is changing for the better. More than any other generation in the past 50 years, this generation is privy to the reality that Mental Training is not only a credible field, but it’s application to sports and life is a essential. Which begs the question — what are you doing to act on this reality? Until coaches start recognizing that Mental Practice is also an indispensable part of their daily practice plan, players are going to be deprived of developing the single most important asset in their career (their life), which is their mind.

The goal of this article is not to suggest that coaches have to go back to school to get their Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. It is to give coaches a deeper understanding into why players perform a certain way, and more specifically, what can be done on a daily basis to support the players both from a strategic (terminology) point of view, as well as a practical point of view.

Done as a precursor to practice each day, each coach will be given enough information to lead his players through a 10 minute, mental training exercise or session that revolves around breath work.

Ultimately, whether we call “mental practice” relaxation, meditation or mental focusing time, the application of these exercises on a daily basis will have the greatest and most profound effect on your players minds. For without practice how can you expect any skill to be developed and maximized.


Understanding Where We Want To Be: The Zone, Locked In, Unconscious

Having a great mental game is as much about understanding where we want to be, as where we don’t want to be.

When things are going well it seems like the mental game is simple. And when things aren’t going so well the game can be very frustrating and complex. Understanding “how” we go in and out of these states of mind is extremely valuable.

In sports, we actually have many terms for this “optimal” state of mind. It’s been referred to by many names, including “The Zone”, being “Unconscious” and being “Locked In.” The technical term for this state of mind is called a Peak State, and has very specific attributes, including:

  1. The absence of thought
  2. A complete immersion with the action
  3. A sense of being process oriented
  4. A sense of calm or peace
  5. A detachment from the outcome.

By understanding the components of a peak state of mind, we can better understand ways to train the mind in order to put it in alignment with this ideal state.


Identifying the Problem: Consequential/Result Oriented Thinking

To better understand how to access this peak state, we have to first ask a very important question – what is the current state our mind is in?  To do this, we need to look further into those factors that are responsible for the infrastructure of how we think.

The most logical place to start with is the environment we’re raised in. If you were raised in the United States chances are that you were exposed to a culture that breeds a state of mind that in many ways is the antithesis of the components of a peak state of mind. What I mean by this is that most people have been “programmed” by a society that places a great deal of emphasis on thinking and a preoccupation with the consequences or results of their actions. This preoccupation with thinking as opposed to reacting, and attachment rather than detachment from the outcome have become part of our psychology, and on a physical level, our neural pathways.

Attachment to the outcome is what is referred to as consequential, or “result oriented thinking.” Due to the nature of society most people are exposed to a great deal of this programming at an early age, including how we are “graded” in school, and how we are judged by our peers. Couple that with the culture of sports, where we are constantly measured by our statistics, our wins, losses and teammates, and you can see why it would make sense that our minds are conditioned to think about the results of our actions, rather than the action itself.

More so, these behaviors are more likely to be prevalent in game situations, where a greater premium is placed on performance. Though a peak state of mind tells us that we would like to stay in the present and be detached from the outcome, the mind tends to default to it’s old programming, because this is what it knows – this is what it’s familiar with.


The “Default” System

Thus, you can see how vital a mental practice would for the typical player who’s default system is trending him away from a peak state of mind. This is where the role of mental practice becomes vital. Though good advice and mental strategies can be very effective toward changing the mind for the better, mental practice is at the root of “unearthing” old programming, and replacing it with new programming. Ultimately, we want the mind to be well practiced at being clear, relaxed and process oriented…we want the mind to default to a “peak” state…a state devoid (or at least minimized) of consequential or result oriented thinking.

This is perhaps the most critical concept to understand about making a change in your mental game for the better. For without understanding this “default system”, players may continue to put thousands of hours of hard work into physical practice and not understand why it’s not translating into game situations; why being “immersed in the present moment and detached from the outcome” is the exception, rather than the rule.

Understanding why the mind tends to default into consequential thinking when our sole objective is to be in a non-thinking and process oriented state, is crucial.


Creating A New Default System

One question I can hear being asked is, “Why is mental practice necessary if we could just tell our minds not to think about results or consequences, and just think about the “process?” Well, that would be a good start, but the mind has years of old programming, and to change the default takes a consistent and committed practice.

Ultimately, it is the practice that leads to the change of old ways of thinking, old behaviors and new neural pathways.


Breath Work: The Core Ingredient Of Your Mental Practice

Mental Practice is a very broad field that includes breathing exercises, imagery, visualization, affirmations, and so on.  You can also get forms of mental practice from among other things, Yoga, Martial Arts and being in Nature. Anything that brings the mind into a state of “presence”, a state of peace and quiet can be categorized as mental practice.

But the most common element that I’ve found in mental practice revolves around the breath.

There are many reasons why the breath is at the center of mental training exercises universally, including several physiological benefits (relaxation, lower blood pressure, oxygenation), but some of the other profound benefits may be more subtle. For example, the breath is always happening now, which symbolically, can be extremely helpful in teaching the mind how to be present. The breath is not a thought, thus, the more time you spend with your breath, the more time you are training your mind how to be in a “no-thought” state. Again, the absence of thought and being present are two major characteristics of a Peak State of mind. Thus, the breath alone can be a catalyst in changing the mind from a result oriented default, to a process oriented default.

Other benefits that can often be associated with breath work include calmness of mind, improved concentration, focus, patience, discipline and inner trust. Inner trust, which is similar to the term confidence, is a by product of spending time in a relaxing and comfortable space each day, and getting to know your self and your inner workings. Considering that your breath keeps you alive 24 hours a day, it’s safe to say that a lot can be gained simply by spending time, appreciating and understanding our breath.

Looking where to begin?

Control your breath.  Learn how to take deep breaths, in your your nose, out through your mouth.  Let your belly expand, not your neck.  Try this during your practice sessions and see how you fell.  Over the next couple of months, I’ll be writing more on the mental game of baseball.  Subscribe to the EBP newsletter to be sure you see the upcoming articles.


Want to Learn More About the Mental Game of Baseball?

I have a book overviewing my approach that I think you’ll enjoy.  It’s called “Getting Focused, Staying Focused: A Far Eastern Approach to Sports and Life.”  In this book, I teach you everything you need to learn about enhancing your mental approach to baseball.  Get instant online access from EBP for only $17, or purchase my entire bundle including my arm care and year round throwing programs.


The Mental Pregame Workout: Improve Your Performance Using Your Brain

The act of mental visualization is one of the most underutilized tools in the field of performance psychology. Not utilizing visualization and the mental pregame on a daily basis, is basically short changing your success on and off the field!

Before I go on to explain the 3 Keys of of a Mental Pregame are and how it can benefit you, I need to let you in on a little secret….

Any single solitary person can apply and develop this skill. It can be used by athletes, business people, or even those that are looking to better prepare for their day in general.

I will explain to you in my own knowledge how you can utilize these three key concepts to improve your game. First, you will have to read this article to understand the idea of how to go about the pregame. When you’re finished and understand the concepts, close your eyes and give it a go!


Key #1 Visualize in the First Person – Details, Details, Details

You’re on the mound staring 60 feet 6 inches down at your catcher’s mitt, you feel the cool breeze against your jersey as the crowd and teammates quiet down. You receive the sign and prepare the pitch, wind up and you deliver the pitch to the glove as the batter swings and misses! STRIKEEEEEEE!!!!


I want you to visualize this in your own mind with as much detail as possible.

Don’t worry if you get distracted or are unable to really focus as detailed as you may have wanted. Each time you use the mental pregame try to incorporate more and more detail each time. For example: the weather forecast for the day, what the field looks like, the opponents team jersey, the green grass beneath you on the mound.


Key #2 Emotion & Confidence – Feel How You Want To Feel

The mental video you play needs to capture the emotional experience you want to have.

Through visualization you have the ability to create an alternative reality and reality involves emotions and feelings. The goal is to feel and experience confidence in your mental pregame, visualize how you will perform and how you want to feel when you get there on game day.

You may already be asking yourself, “why the heck am I doing this.” But if you got up to this point there’s a reason why you kept reading on, because you want an edge and you want to improve your game for yourself (that’s the real first step).

When you visualize the actual situation, you will be in during any point in time, and how you will feel during it, you are preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for what is to come. When this happens the frontal cortex of your brain has basically “seen the future” before you actually did with your eyes. Your brain is now subconsciously ‘priming’ itself to better handle your emotions and confidence level.

When you are more prepared for a situation, you improve your ability to react positively during game time.


Structured practice is all well and good- anyone can go on the mound and throw 50 pitches without any repercussions for miss pitches or hits. But if you’re a good player, basic practice is often little more than exercise. You want to simulate game conditions, put yourself in that mental frame of mind like when you are competing. Having this extra piece added to your practice can help you exponentially over time when added to your repertoire.


Key #3 Visualize in Real Time

Watch your mental pregame in real speed – the speed you want your performance to be. The key is to visualize the most important & specific moments of the game you may encounter, not in generalities.

For pitchers, it may be making that first strike to start the count, making that strikeout on a 3-2 count when the pressure is all on them or maybe pitching to the toughest player on the team.

Feel and see the speed of the game, the speed of the pitch, the speed of the swing. This will aid in making your mental picture more realistic.


Key Points to Improve Your Mental Game

Key points to take away from why you should incorporate a mental pregame as part of your routine:

  • When you are more prepared for a situation, you improve your ability to react positively during game time.
  • It can improve your confidence because in your ‘’mind’s eye’’ you have been here before.
  • Taking that extra step in your practice, over time, when utilized the correct way can exponentially improve your mental focus and performance.