Success Guaranteed

Written By Aaron Weintraub


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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. For Baseball & Softball Training Balls & Training Aids!

Begin With The End In Mind (Imagery)

Written By Aaron Weintraub

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Begin With The End In Mind

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Imagery is using the mind to create or recreate an experience using as many senses as possible. The human brain does not differentiate between a real experience and a vividly imagined one. Therefore, experience can make an athlete better and imagery can, too… in exactly the same way. The great thing about imagery is that it is free, always available, and (with practice) completely controllable.

One consistent characteristic of leaders in athletics is that they are consumed with excellence. They think about winning and how to win more than average performers. Usually a lot more. They may even go overboard in the sport/lifestyle balance issue because they are so consumed with their sport. They imagine greatness in their sport so often that they arrive at both practices and performances with clear goals. Plus, they have already seen themselves achieving these goals in their heads. They begin with their end in mind.

Imagery can be used in many specific ways. It can be used to learn a new skill, to rehearse a skill or pre-performance routine, or to create an ideal state. Before a big game, an athlete may imagine her personal past peak performance (P.P.P.P.) to increase her confidence or a day at the beach to help her relax and slow the game down. Imagery can be used during a game to program the body and mind, like when a pitcher images the precise trajectory of her pitch. It can be used after the contest to help make appropriate adjustments. Imagining what happened helps athletes recall what went right and what went wrong. Then, imagining what they would like to happen the next time that situation occurs links their positive response to a good next approach. Both scientific research and experiential evidence indicate that using imagery enhances performance. As with any skill, improvement at imagery comes from quality practice.

Most thinking is done with words. Imagery is not done with words; it is practiced by imagining a scenario with any or all of the senses. Since a majority of information is taken in through the eyes, much of the power of imagery comes via visualization. Adding other senses strengthens imagery’s impact. One at a time, an athlete can add in how it smells, feels, tastes, and/or sounds. Typically, emphasis for an athlete is on how it feels and looks.

Everyone can benefit from imagery and everyone daydreams, which is a basic form of imagery. Quality practice is the key to maximizing the benefit of this free, universally available training tool. A primary goal of imagery is to feel the experience happening, rather than merely thinking about it. With practice, component skills such as number of senses used, vividness, controllability, and self-awareness will improve. So, too, will the ability to stay with the imagined experience longer.

Images should be positive. Recalling peak performances and personal triumphs does wonders for an athlete’s confidence. Imaging future good behavior programs the body and mind, increasing the chance of executing that skill. Imaging negative experiences can have the expected effect of degrading a performance, although this does not mean that athletes should only image perfect performances. A huge part of being an effective athlete is being able to effectively deal with adversity. Therefore, leaders also image their desired behaviors following a mistake or bad luck.

It can be beneficial for an athlete to image significant past personal experiences. Both positive and negative experiences can help bring strong emotions and intense energy from the past to the present. She may have to spend some time searching her personal database of memories to dig up the experiences that will help her the most. She should look for the events that motivate and generate energy. If she chooses to recall a negative experience, she should remind herself of how she overcame or was able to move beyond this adversity. She will gain energy and determination from the negative image while still leaving the practice on a positive note.

Most professional and Olympic athletes use imagery systematically to enhance their performance. Learning imagery can initially be intimidating, but it should not be. It simply takes quality practice and experimentation! Of course, a beginner is not particularly skilled at imagery, but this is good news because there is plenty of room to learn and receive imagery’s benefits! It is a good idea to designate a specific spot exclusively for practicing imagery and other mental skills. It does not have to be fancy, just secluded. For example, facing the opposite direction in bed might be a place that works. This designated mental practice spot should be normally available, private, quiet, and comfortable.

Consistent practice will pay off. First, practice simple scenes in real time. Control an image much like operating a remote control, trying not to use the fast forward button too much. Images can be in the first person, meaning that the athlete sees the scene as she will see it in real life, or in third person, meaning that it appears as if it is on a movie screen. When using third-person imagery, the perspective can be from in front, behind, Imagery can be incorporated into an athlete’s routine plan for each play. Immediately before each play, a quick image or two of what should or could happen next allows the body to be truly prepared to act or react aggressively, under control. This commits the body to a specific plan, allowing instincts to take over during the action. For example, an outfielder may see herself making a great catch to rob a home run. Next, she could imagine herself cutting off a single in the gap and making a great throw to second base. Then, she might include one of two reactions to a looping liner in front of her that she may be able to catch. If she is in a “no doubles” defense, she would imagine slowing down to keep the ball in front of her. If an out is more valued than keeping the batter to a single, she would see herself making a great diving catch.

Imagery helps the mind and body cooperate with each other. Without it, an athlete may hear instructions to do something and even tell herself to do it. Then, she may do the exact opposite of what she just agreed to do. For example, the first base coach may say “freeze on a line drive.” The runner may nod in agreement, and then make the mistake of running a couple steps toward the next base when that line drive is hit. It is not that the runner is purposefully ignoring the instruction, but rather that she never fully committed her mind to that plan. Imagery ensures this commitment and adds a bonus of a mental rehearsal of the play, too.

Incorporating imagery into a routine of preparation and/or reflection is an excellent way to practice it. Typically, imaging appropriate attitudes, postures, and behaviors before performing helps enable that “green light” “Go, go, go!” feeling. Various external images can be tried. The image of a glass lake helps many to quiet their conscious mind. The image of Supergirl, Rocky, or their favorite player helps many to feel powerful. The brief image of a strong, shiny, silver spring all coiled up and waiting to pounce can be a powerful image for athletes like hitters who use quick, explosive movements. The calmness and beauty of the image just before a perfectly synchronized explosion of resources helps the athlete to stay patient, then explode. Often, players image an entire performance before it happens so that they will feel like they have been there before when it actually happens. This is a bit like taking a Mulligan in golf… without cheating.

After performing, imagery can promote effective adjustments. Pausing during an inning to mull over what just happened, especially if it was a mistake, is usually not a good idea. During the game, athletes want to stay in the present by releasing mistakes and trusting their ability. Later, imaging what happened can aid their powers of recall, helping them to not miss the opportunity to learn and grow. A leader picks out which behaviors to repeat and which to change, and then images herself executing the corrections.

An athlete's performance, in imagery as in sport, is her responsibility. To approach her potential, she will have to figure out how to maximize imagery's benefits. No single formula works for everyone. With motivation and the courage to try new strategies, she will develop her skill and awareness, practicing what works and enjoying the effects of tapping into the power of her mind.

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Smart Work Routs Hard Work and No Work Every Time

Written By Aaron Weintraub

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Smart Work Routs Hard And No Work Every Time

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“Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.” ~Aristotle

To work smarter and improve faster, discipline is required. Discipline is commonly cited as a necessity for success in sports (or life). But what is discipline? How does an athlete know if she has a disciplined approach? Is it the sweat? The fatigue? The outcomes? Many young people (in age or maturity) lack a full and clear understanding of what it means to be disciplined. Laziness certainly shows a lack of discipline. Every great leader knows that she must go through the middle to get to the end. Quality practice is a necessity; it is the huge “middle.” She cannot expect to coast through drills in practice and be able to “turn it on” in the game (or worse: late in the game if the score is close).

A leader works to make the performance in practice feel the same as it does in a playoff championship game. She goes game speed, or she does not go at all. Ideally, she cares equally about all of her results, regardless of the situation, because results always provide feedback about how well she is currently doing at approaching her potential (the “end” that she is striving for). She wants to be the best she can be and she knows that the only time she has any control over for reaching that lofty goal is right now. She has the discipline to move beyond her comfort zone, beyond her familiar zone. It is her habit of doing her best, now — regardless of how hard that is — that makes her successful.

Disciplined athletes make excellence second nature because they are willing to endure fatigue and pain now to enhance their pleasure later. Typically, this is pleasure that will result from performing better, maximizing her chances to win.

Simply put, disciplined athletes are competitive. They run through the line instead of coasting to it. They go to bed at a decent hour rather than go out to a party. They lift weights rather than hang out in the weight room. They eat fruits and vegetables rather than fast food and ice cream. Their attitude is one of appreciation rather than one of entitlement. In many different ways, they push towards their goals rather than coasting along. Disciplined athletes figure out what their job is and do it the best they can.

Can a person work hard and still be undisciplined? Yes, and this is not uncommon. An athlete is mentally lazy if she does not constantly evaluate information, looking for the best way. Some athletes do not like to focus on the details. It is too much trouble, and after all, everyone can see that they are already working hard-just look at the sweat. Unfortunately, if they are working hard, but not smart, the return on their work will be less than a tenth of what it could be.

Quality practice produces improvement more than ten times faster than merely going through the motions. Slow progress occurs when the athlete does not work at the edge of her ability level, or she is not focused, or she works only on her strengths, not her weaknesses. Disciplined athletes understand the point of their practice, they focus their attention appropriately, and they wisely choose how to spend their time. Often, they spend most of their time working on their weaknesses and finish with their strengths (to maximize confidence and fun memories after practice). In the weight room, an athlete should train her proportionally weaker muscles more than her proportionally stronger muscles. Also, she should train for functional strength in her sport, not to look good on the beach. She takes the time to design drills that are as difficult or more difficult than the game situations that they simulate.

Normal athletes' evaluations of what they are good at and what needs the most improvements are often biased by their expectations and prejudices. Most would rather protect their ego than identify a better way. When something goes wrong, they do not sufficiently search for the cause of the problem. When it is time to try something new, they hesitate or skip it because they fear the unknown. They do not know how to stretch their own boundaries. They have not learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. As a result, they make poor adjustments and their rate of learning suffers, as does their performance in “uncomfortable” situations. Skillful adjustments and continuous learning are primary ingredients for any athlete/scientist to approach her potential.

The quality of an athlete's approach can be disciplined and unselfish or undisciplined and dictated by emotions and the selfish ego. A hitter should often go for a single to the opposite field rather than trying to pull a home run. The pitcher should execute a game plan rather than engage in a personal battle with the opposing 3-hole hitter. A lack of self-control causes athletes to act emotionally instead of rationally, which is often manifested in increased tension and/or aggressiveness. Examples of a lack of self-control include obvious mistakes such swinging at pitches that are not close to strikes or less obvious mistakes such as bad rhythm (usually rushing, but sometimes being too slow and careful) or loss of flexibility. Infinite examples exist. Discipline requires emotional control, thereby allowing the athlete to use her best judgment about how to maximize her chances of getting the outcomes she wants.

In the book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, Dr. M. Scott Peck clarified what it takes to have great discipline. His premise is that life is difficult, but with discipline, a person can transcend this difficulty. He breaks down discipline into four necessary components: delaying gratification, accepting responsibility, dedicating oneself to reality, and balancing. Delaying gratification means scheduling pain in the present to enhance pleasure in the future. Accepting responsibility involves recognizing that a problem any person is having is her problem and it is her job to solve this problem. Do not wait for someone else or “society” to fix it. Part of accepting responsibility involves a dedication to reality, which assumes a commitment to discovering truth or what is real and what is not. Stringent self-examination, willingness to be challenged, and relentless honesty are necessary components of a total dedication to reality. Shortcuts are sought for efficiency, but inappropriate shortcutting such as cheating is unacceptable. Finally, balancing, or choosing one course of action over another, requires flexibility, good judgment, and courage. It also acknowledges the pain of giving something up. In conclusion, Dr. Peck's work teaches that the disciplined individual is a spiritually evolved person who has the capability to transcend the difficulty of life.

All this information may seem like a lot for an athlete to handle. Do the details of good discipline make the attempt at it overwhelming? No. Would an effort to be disciplined be futile? Never. Clarification makes the process manageable, and the effort alone defines the success. All that is required is courage and motivation. Of course this is easier to understand than to do, but if courage and motivation exist, a leader will constantly fight to improve her skills. She will fall down often, but will get up each time. She will strive for perfection, but she will be smarter than to ever allow herself to expect it. She will keep the mountaintop in mind, sometimes at the forefront and often in the background, but she will enjoy the journey even more than the destination. By doing these things through motivated and courageous behavior, she will truly be disciplined in her attempt to approach her potential. Success is inevitable.

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Trying Hard And Best Effort Are Not The Same

Written By Aaron Weintraub for all your catcher gear needs!

Trying Hard And Best Effort Are Different

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“Nobody who ever gave their best effort regretted it.”
~ George Halas

You can be mentally tough. All you have to do is figure out how to give your best effort on one pitch, in any situation. In fact, a great definition of “winning” the mental side of the game is to give your best effort one play at a time, accept whatever happens, and do it again. Your best effort in a game, inning, at-bat, or singular pitch may not be as good as your performance yesterday, but it is much better than a performance in which you try hard and stink. To perform the best you are capable of performing at this moment in time means that you will have no regrets later when you think back to how you approached that performance.

There is a big difference between “trying hard” and giving your “best effort”. To give your best effort, you have to try hard. There is no substitute for sweat. However, softball players often try too hard. They press, they get tight, they get distracted, they space out, they do things that make them wish for a do-over. There are no do-overs (even in practice)!

So what do “clutch” performers do that others do not? What do you do when you are playing great that you fail to do when you are trying hard but struggling? Obviously, there are many factors, but they can all be summed up in three steps. First, you have to get your mind and body ready to go. I call that “creating an ideal performance state”. Next, you must commit to a specific and controllable plan-of-attack. Finally, focus with tunnel vision on the task-at-hand!

An ideal state is usually not easily achieved. Occasionally – very occasionally for most – life flow (current environment and recent experiences) takes you to where you want to be. Perhaps it is the first game of the season, a rivalry game, or a game where the pitcher makes a couple mistakes down the middle of the plate against you in your first two at-bats. At those times, awareness of your ideal state or how to get yourself there is unnecessary, because you are already there. The rest of the time, awareness and the ability to create an ideal state has tremendous value.

Tony Robbins teaches that, “you can change your state in an instant”. This is true, but it is an advanced skill that must be practiced. The way to get the mind ready to go is to use effective self-talk based on an Optimistic Explanatory Style. Your thoughts determine your attitude, so it is easy for a mental skills coach to say, “think good thoughts” Doing this is difficult, but that does not excuse not trying. Every day provides thousands of chances to practice finding the positives in each situation and focusing on the opportunities rather than the feared outcomes. In addition to controlling the direction of the mind, body language is a critical component for creating an ideal state. Your mind affects your body and vice versa. If you want to be confident, act confident. Acting includes both thinking and looking like someone who exudes confidence.

It is unlikely that you will do your job well without clarity as to what you are trying to do. When there is doubt in your mind, how are your muscles supposed to know what to do? To commit, you have to want to do this job, not just be willing. And the goal should be within your control! Pitchers: do not try to get strikes and outs. Instead, try to give your team the best chance possible to get strikes and outs. The way to do this is to give your best effort to hit your spots aggressively. Strategy: image the if/thens for the next pitch. Then, all you have to do is see the ball and react based on what you have already planned to do. Imagery is typically more effective than verbal instructions within an athlete's self-talk.

The first two steps, creating an ideal state and committing to a plan of attack, are both steps of self-coaching. Mentally tough athletes are consistent in part because they play the game smart and know how to get themselves ready to perform. However, this strategic self-talk has to stop, or a best effort performance will not ensue. Thinking too much is debilitating for a hitter, baserunner, pitcher, or fielder. First, the athlete must know what the correct focus for the task-at-hand is. She must learn the game. Then, she must block out distractions from the present, future, and past. This can be summed with the memory aid “W.I.N.” (What's Important Now).

Blocking out distractions from the present such as parents, coaches, and teammates hollering, or items within the field of vision takes practice, but is easier for most people than “flushing” the past or not worrying about the future. There is no secret for blocking out worries, but the strategy to achieve it is to understand that worrying will not help, and the way to “W.I.N.” do What's Important Now. The same principle applies to “flushing” the past: “forget about it; what's next”. This mantra, or some version of it, should be practiced because it is a powerful skill that will improve with practice. However, if the “poopy” bad thoughts are stuck in consciousness, a “plunger” is needed. The “plunger” is forgiveness. Forgiveness will give you freedom from what is making you frustrated, angry, impatient, or distracted, but only if you do it. Therefore, keep in mind that all humans are flawed: everyone makes mistakes. Then, maintain your high standards by remembering the words of Coach John Wooden: “Strive for perfection, but never expect it.”

Giving a best effort performance is within your control, but it is not easy. You have to have no regrets about your strategies for creating an ideal state, committing to a great plan-of-attack, and focusing on the task-at-hand. This will only happen if you have a pre-planned checklist of things you do that give you the best chance to achieve these goals. This checklist is called your routine. Honestly, you need three: a pre-game routine, a pre-situational-specific routine, and a gathering routine. Sample routines and strategies for building your individual checklist is the topic for a future article and much individual pursuit of excellence, but keep in mind that if you are diligent and accountable for your actions, you have the power to be successful every time. You can guarantee that you will not only try hard, but also give your best effort one pitch at a time!

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The Greatest Feeling In The World: Peak Performance

Written By Aaron Weintraub For Catchers Caps & Base Coach Helmets and protection!

Peak Performance

“It was the best feeling ever. It was like I could do no wrong.

‘Maybe you can't play over your head at all.
Maybe it's just potential you never knew you had.
—Fran Tarkenton, Football Hall of Famer

Peak performances are awesome experiences. They should be sought, though not chased nor expected. When an athlete improves her mental skills, she increases her chance of having a peak performance and her chances at staying in the zone longer. Leaders are mentally tough not only because they get into the zone more often than others, but also because they learn to “have a good, sh–ty day.” Fortunately, the strategies leaders use to get in the zone more often and perform better when they are not there are the same.

Awareness of what defines a peak performance is useful. Two descriptions of what many people would call an indescribable experience follow:

‘At the peak of tremendous and victorious effort, while the blood is pounding in your head, all suddenly becomes quiet within you. Everything seems clearer and whiter than before, as if great spotlights had been turned on. At that moment you have the conviction that you contain all the power in the world, that you are capable of everything, that you have wings. There is no more precious moment in life than this, the white moment, and you will work very hard for years just to taste it again.
—Yuri Vlasov, World Champion Weight Lifter

‘When you’re in the zone, you have switched from a training mode to a trusting mode. You’re not fighting yourself. You’re not afraid of anything. You’re living in the moment in a special place and time. Athletes in the zone see everything with clarity. They are relaxed, they perform with a quiet mind with no indecision and no doubts. They can almost anticipate what is going to happen. They are totally absorbed.
—Gary Mack, Sport Psychologist and Author

My definition? I believe that a peak performance is an extremely positive experience characterized by the mind and body working in harmony to achieve a process goal. In this experience, the athlete is totally engrossed in the moment; other considerations that could weigh on her mind temporarily cease to exist. There is no fear of failure active in consciousness. The athlete is energized but not anxious, narrowly focused on appropriate cues, and confident. She often feels like time has slowed down.

Confident, Not Cocky

‘Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful.
Conceit is self-given; be careful.

‘You expect success. You respect failure.
—Greg Norman, Golfer

Once an athlete finds herself having a peak performance, she will want to stay there as long as possible. Unfortunately, inherent pitfalls are waiting for her at every turn, trying to bring her back “down to earth.” While she is in the zone, she is, by definition, extremely confident. This confidence is super, but it is easy for her to become overconfident. When she is confident, she is tempted to think that she can do no wrong. She seems invincible, but if she is smart, she knows she is not. When she goes over the edge and becomes overconfident, she actually believes that the game is easy or that she is in some way invincible. Reality will bite her in the backside for this mistake, usually sooner rather than later.

The overconfident softball player makes assumptions and loses her edge. A hitter swings at everything, a fielder forgets to watch the ball into her glove, or a pitcher assumes that this pitch with two outs, nobody on, and the nine-hole hitter up is less important than other pitches. It is appropriate for the pitcher to have confidence that she can have a 1-2-3 inning, for the fielder to expect to catch the ball, or for the hitter to expect to hit it hard, but there is a limit. Knowing where that delicate balance lies is a tightrope act. With humility and alertness, awareness of how to avoid a bad fall can be acquired. This is all part of her learning process for approaching potential.

While searching for the balance of appropriate aggressiveness, an athlete can help maintain a peak performance by excusing mistakes as part of the normal process of learning her boundaries. The hitter’s poor swing decision (e.g. swinging at a ball or a pitcher’s pitch with less than two strikes) was bound to happen at some point, so she should not let that mistake bother her. She should certainly learn and adjust, but if she is bothered, she is likely to lose that zoned-in feeling. The emphasis of the mistake in her self-talk creates a feeling of concern, which is the opposite of the feeling she has when she is in the zone. Instead, she should maintain the fantastic, confident attitude that brought her to this point by focusing on what she learned and all the things she is doing correctly. Ultimately, she wants to maximize confidence – more is always better – without becoming cocky. She achieves this by respecting the difficulty of the game.

Peak performances are awesome experiences. Despite the fact that they should not be expected, they should be sought. Leaders know how to maximize their chances for successful outcomes on the diamond. They also recognize that the same mental skills that increase the chances for a peak performance also lead to best effort performance even when they are not “in the zone.” Their goal is always to play the best possible at this point and time, and leaders do this by creating an ideal state, committing to a plan of attack, and focusing on the task at hand.

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Illusions of Confidence or True Learning

Written by Aaron Weintraub

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Illusions Of Confidence Or True Learning


When discussing why we do it that way, leaders are unimpressed by the answer, “Because that's the way it's always been done. ”

“It is a sad fact that most practice, even at the highest levels of sports, is merely mindless, low grade exercise and not consistent with practices that could be called maximally effective training methods. ”

Smart teachers adjust the old saying “practice makes perfect” into “practice makes permanent” or “perfect practice makes perfect.” Indeed, practicing a skill wrong will make a person better at doing it wrong. Practice must be designed with quality in mind, as opposed to quantity. Two great repetitions will cause an improvement; 102 bad repetitions will not.

Leaders coach themselves. They know they are good, and they know why they are good. They take advantage of coaches and teammates who can help them coach themselves more effectively, but they always try to find answers for themselves first. The mental laziness of dependency on others for answers is foreign to them.

Leaders design their own practice effectively. Skill development is not assured just because execution is better after a number of repetitions; true learning requires retention and transfer. This can only be measured by performance at a later time and preferably in the game context. Proficiency at a drill is not the goal; leaders work to get better in the game. Their goal is not to look good, but to be victorious in competition.

For example, some hitters look like superstars hitting the ball hard until they get into the game. Unfortunately, if they do not know how to get their pitch in the game with good timing, this skill in practice will not transfer. There are many superb batting practice hitters who cannot hit .250 against decent pitching. Leaders design practice wisely, making sure that it avoids illusions of confidence and leads to positive outcomes against quality competition.

When designing practice, the stage of skill acquisition is important to consider. At the earliest stages, props and aids to indicate how to do something can be very helpful. So can keeping conditions constant. These strategies can also be motivational for more advanced performers by allowing them to achieve objectives. Unfortunately, they have very little true learning potential beyond the early stages of skill acquisition.

Other practice design issues will directly affect the rate of true learning in the brain. Will skills be practiced in parts or wholes? Making practice like performing requires execution of the whole motor program at once. However, fixing a mechanical flaw can often be best achieved by identifying and working on the precise part that is flawed before integrating the adjustment into the whole movement. Will practice be massed or distributed? Massed practice means repetition have little or no rest between them, so the motor program does not have to be re-planned on each repetition. For advanced performers, this means that the repetitions after the first one in massed practice often have little or no learning value. If a practice segment will work on skills A, B, and e, will they be blocked (AAA, BBB, eeG) or variable (A, B, e, B, e, A, B, A, G)? Again, the motor programming required to work through the contextual interference within variable practice usually makes this practice design worth the extra effort.

An athlete gets an illusion of confidence when she makes an improvement in practice that is hollow because there is no retention or transfer. Often, she is dependent upon external factors such as a coach's instructions to execute the skill. If she learned new skills, which cannot be truly defined until later, she will be able to execute these skills under pressure and use her learning as part of effective adjustments.

Another illusion of confidence forms when the drill is easier than the competitive situation. Batting practice is a prime example, as many hitters want the batting practice pitcher to throw straight balls down the middle of the strike zone at a medium speed. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what the pitcher will be trying to do in the game. A leader does not complain when the batting practice pitcher throws a ball; she appreciates the opportunity to practice her swing decision. She uses variability of practice to enhance learning by encouraging her batting practice pitchers to “mix it up,” throwing pitches with different spins and speeds, including some that are slower than what she will face in the game and some harder (or simulate this by moving closer). Also, she does not worry that her confidence will be shot if her last swing of the round did not produce a line drive. Instead of asking for one more pitch, she uses her time between rounds to think about making effective adjustments.

Applying the principles of motor learning (brain pathway development) listed above is not as difficult as it may initially sound. Application to tee work is a great example, and this is a practice situation that is often made to be too easy. Hitters often practice with the ball placed in the middle of the strike zone, but this will not make her better at hitting the pitches on the comers. However, practicing on (or off) the comers will transfer to improved skill at hitting the ball down the middle. Some hitters will read this and think, “okay, but I just use tee work to get my back loose.” Why not loosen up and get better, faster, at the same time? Leaders use tee work to get multiple repetitions practicing the swing that they want to use in the game.

Leaders want to work at and just beyond the edge of their ability level, not well within their comfort zone. They actually practice getting jammed by an inside pitch by putting the tee farther back in their stance than normal. It is not that they want to get jammed, it is that they are realistic and want to have a fighter's chance when inevitable challenges occur. They practice being early on the outside slow pitch by placing the tee outside and forward. They practice hitting off-speed pitches even during tee work by sometimes slightly separating the stride from the swing (for all locations). Also, they take the time to move their feet or the tee so that they can hit the low outside pitch on one swing and the high inside pitch on the next swing. Such a variable practice schedule improves learning. Perhaps they were taught this, but perhaps they just assumed it to be so because they noticed it was harder this way. The logical rule is true: harder is usually better! And by the way… when leaders finish their tee work, their back is loose!

Leaders make practice as much like the game as possible. Scrimmages accomplish this goal fairly well, but there are physical limits and risks that often prohibit scrimmaging. During drills, leaders imagine that it is a scrimmage or “real” game and go game speed. Infielders imagine a fast batter-runner going down the line so that they will not have to do anything faster than normal when they face that blazing runner in the game. For team defenses, leaders in the infield do not “cheat” while practicing bunt coverages or first and third situations. Even though they know what is going to happen next, they see the play, then react, which causes their like decision making to different possibilities to be as close to the same as it will be in the game as possible. Of course, it is impossible to make practice exactly the game, but leaders strive for perfection by controlling the variables that are available to be controlled.

Leaders are creative and figure out ways to make practice relevant. They use the games to identify weaknesses, and then they design drills to focus on turning those weaknesses into strengths. For example, a hitter notices that she is swinging at pitches she would rather have taken. She also notices that her timing is either early or perfect, but it is seldom late. She uses this information to identify a need for greater patience in the batter's box. Then, she persistently asks, “How do I get more patience?” She might ask teammates, coaches, and the internet. She might study hitters who seem to be good at this skill. She might go stand in the batter's box without a bat while her pitcher teammates are throwing bullpens and have pretend at -bats, really swinging an imaginary bat, if appropriate. She could then evaluate her swing decision and timing for this practice. She might try as simple a strategy as saying “be patient” to herself as the final pre-swing thought. She might add a deep breath to her routine just after getting the sign from her third base coach. She will try several of these and other strategies until she notices timing mistakes are significantly reduced in frequency and half of the mistakes that remain are late.

Leaders learn skill that will serve them in many situations by practicing with a determination to get better, faster. Practice would not be practice to them without attention to details, creativity, and hard work. They work to develop a true confidence, not the illusion of confidence that comes from performing an easy drill effectively. They are not satisfied with being good without knowing why they are good. They constantly look for answers about what works so they can repeat it anytime. They get so used to working just beyond the edge of their current skill level that this becomes their norm. They seek out practices that would make others uncomfortable and likely to complain. Of course their attitudes about practice are contagious, so because of their competitiveness and maturity, leaders help build a culture of excellence.