In my workshops, I teach John Wooden’s definition of success: the peace of mind that comes from knowing you did your best. Doing your best one pitch at a time defines “winning” the mental side of the game. However “best effort” and “trying hard” are not synonyms. To deliver a best effort performance, trying hard is a pre-requisite, but it is certainly possible to try hard and perform lousy… to try hard and still have regrets about the controllable aspects of performance. Peace of mind equals no regrets.
In the same workshops, I like to do an “experiment” where the student-athletes stretch to the left “as far as you can, and mark it by pointing to a small and specific spot on the wall.” Then I ask them if they know how far they can stretch to the left. It is tempting to say yes, because they just marked how far they could go. Then, after imagining getting farther two times, we physically do the same stretch and well over 90% of participants get farther. Even those who do not acknowledge that by stretching just a few minutes every day for a week, they would likely get farther. The point? It is tempting to know how far you can go based on past experiences, but it is a big mistake to put a limiting belief on potential.
If success is knowing you did your best, but it is always possible to do better, does this mean that success is impossible? NO NO NO! It is not about performing the best you could ever perform. Performance will go up and down, and on average it will go up with experience (as long as you pay attention to the experiences you have). It is about doing the best you can at that point in your life. Success is all about best effort now!
To know that you will be successful even before the game begins – and this is certainly possible – you must not only define success in this way, you must also know how to give a best effort performance… and do each part of this to the best of your ability. Fortunately, there are easily defined components. First, create an ideal state. Said another way: get your mind and body ready to go… to the best of your ability at this point in your life. Next, commit to a plan of attack. You have to know your job to do your job and you have to want to do what you are about to do… to the best of your ability at this point in your life. Finally, focus. Do not over-analyze. Let it happen. Trust it. However you say it, when the action occurs, the athlete must do the best she can at that point in her life to perform in that moment with freedom.
To guarantee that an athlete is doing these three steps to the best of her ability, she must accept that she is the most important coach she will ever have and take the initiative to carefully design her routines. Each routine (pre-game, inning, at-bat, and/or pitch, plus a gathering routine after a pitch if she is off track) must include every best guess she has about how to create an ideal state, commit to a specific and controllable plan of attack, and focus. Being intelligent is simply being good at guessing. Guessing often and adjusting the guess based on her patterns of results leads to that goal.
There are three categories of strategies for routines: things to physically do, power phrases for key reminders at just the right times, and images that tap into the vast resources of the subconscious and conscious brain. For example, a pitcher might:
1. image her P.P.P.P. (personal past peak performance),
2. sweep the rubber clean,
3. get the sign,
4. think “she’s in trouble,”
5. breathe deeply,
6. image the ball hitting the target perfectly,
7. and deliver the pitch with her focus solely on the target.
A hitter’s (not a hacker’s) routine might be to:
1. image her P.P.P.P.,
2. think “this is a great opportunity to… (completing the sentence appropriately to the situation)” while digging into the batter’s box,
3. look for the sign from the third base coach,
4. think about what she wants to swing at and what she wants to take – and how she wants to hit the pitches she is programming a swing for,
5. take a focal breath where she stares at a small spot on the bat and breathes deeply, paying attention the calmness of the exhale,
6. step into the sacred space (batter’s box) with both feet,
7. image hitting a missile into the right-center field gap as she takes rhythm-keeping easy swings that reinforce the good mechanics of staying inside the ball,
8. think “see it and be easy” as her eyes go to the pitcher’s hip,
9. let her mind go quiet as she hunts the ball.
Routines are simply checklists of the athlete’s best guess about how to give her best effort. They should be adjusted, but only based on rational thoughts, not emotions.
Therefore, it is appropriate to stay with a routine during a game and adjust it afterwards based on what is working and what is not. It may have many steps or just a few, but if the athlete is trying to give her best effort without a clear plan of how to do it, she is likely to have regrets when the outcomes do not turn out her way. (It is a good idea to record your routine in your smartphone and write down the “why” for each step, too.)
All this may seem like bad news because success is rather difficult to achieve – it requires uncommon diligence and honesty. However, it is good that it is hard because most people are not willing to do what is difficult, and for your team to win on the diamond, the other team has to lose. Your courage is your edge over your competition! If you have the courage to believe that your best is always good enough and get rid of the “safety net” by doing everything you know to do your best, now, you will not only be a winner, you will usually win on the scoreboard, too.