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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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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.

Four Mental Training Tips for Baseball Players

Mental skills in baseball are often overlooked and very undertrained. Today, we’ll cover four tips that can help any baseball player improve on-field performance and handle pressure situations like a champ.

 

#1: Start a Simple Meditation Practice

The word meditation sounds weird and scary, right? Many players think that only monks, hippies or yoga enthusiasts take time out of their days to meditate. But meditation doesn’t have to be a big scary thing. Rather, athletes should just think of it as quiet time to sit, reflect, and let their minds get a break from everyday life.

Here’s how easy a meditation practice can be:

Step 1: Find a quiet place where you can sit where you won’t feel self-conscious or nervous. A place out of the public eye is ideal.

Step 2: Find a comfortable cushion to sit on or lay flat on your back. Propping up the back by sitting against a wall can be good, but I don’t lay down in a bed or another place where falling asleep is likely.

Step 3: Set a timer for 10, 15 or 20 minutes. Start shorter—10 minutes is a good starting place where you can get your feet wet.

Step 4: Sit still, relax, close your eyes, and let your mind wander wherever it wants to go.

Step 5: Breathe in and out through the belly—pushing it out and in—and consider counting each breath. Counting belly breaths helps keep your mind present, where you’ll feel less distracted by things from the past and future that you’re concerned about

That’s it! Keeping it simple will help you get started, and the quiet meditation time will help reduce the anxiety and stress we athletes feel in pressure situations on the mound.

For a deeper explanation of meditation, as well as the other three tips outlined in this article, check out the video below:

 

#2. Visualize Yourself Succeeding

Visualizing success is an important part of an athlete’s mental skills routine. If we don’t deeply believe that we can accomplish goals, become who we dream of, or execute on a very specific task…we never will. The self-fulfilling prophecy is a concept in which when we believe something will happen, it becomes more likely to actually happen. Thus, if we believe we’re destined to fail or choke under pressure, we increase the likelihood that we’re correct.

Expect and visualize yourself succeeding—the positivity will carry you through hard times and tough situations. Visualize the good swing you’ll put on the ball, the flight of the pitch you’re about to make and yourself competing in the Major Leagues in front of thousands of fans. If you do that, it becomes more likely that it will actually happen.

 

#3. Have Confidence and Create a Fight Mentality

When under pressure, it’s easy to want to pull back and be passive, hoping you can get the outcome you want. Rather, we have to get even more aggressive when we get nervous in games, reminding ourselves that we CAN do it, and that we’re going to pull through no matter what.

As athletes, we need to truly believe we can succeed. By both imagining it and reminding ourselves that we’re capable of anything we put our minds to, we can maximize our chance at success.

A lot of times in a game, it comes down to the fight or flight dilemma: when we’re scared of giving up the game-losing hit or we’re nervous about not getting the game-winning hit as a hitter, we pull back and play the game scared. Athletes play their best when confident and aggressive—trying to take the fight to the other team, forcing them to play scared. When times get tough, show those teeth like a wolf and fight for yourself and your team.

 

#4. Use Positive Comparison

Find players in the Major Leagues who you look up to, who possess similar qualities or characteristics. How would your heroes respond if placed in the situation you’re in? Would they come through and get out of a bases-loaded jam? Would they have a good at-bat when the team needs a big hit? Would they feel nervous or afraid?

Find a player or players who share similar qualities and ask yourself if he wouldn’t be afraid, why should I? If so-and-so would confidently walk to the plate with the game on the line and have a great at-bat, why can’t I? If he could beat this team, I can too because I’m a lot like him.

Use positive comparison as a tool to remind yourself of the special skills you do have, that you might forget when you’re nervous or lacking confidence.

 

Use These Mental Skills Tips as Part of Your Routine

Nothing happens overnight, so get started today with building new, positive mental habits. Mental skills training is very overlooked despite the fact that most players will report that they feel themselves struggle with doubt, anxiety and low confidence on the field. Make a change today and start seeing how good you could be if you played with confidence and a clear mind every single day on the diamond.

 

Need Help Building a Mental Training Practice for Yourself or Your Team?

I have a step-by-step mental skills video course called The Resolute Athlete. It’s 40+ videos of instruction and stories, along with seven worksheets designed to help you learn the high-level mental skills possessed by the game’s best players. It’s perfect for teams and individuals.

And for more free baseball and mental training videos, subscribe to Dan’s YouTube Channel here.