“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!
|Aaron Weintraub holds a B.A. from Emory University (1993) and a M.Ed. from the University of Virginia (2000). He served as an assistant baseball coach for 13 years before starting www.CoachTraub.com, a consulting business whose mission is to over-deliver value on goods and services designed to help you win the mental side of the game. He works with teams and individuals, adding clarity to help them get what they want for their sport. CoachTraub.com also runs camps and clinics and has an online store.Weintraub is the author of Coaches Guide to Winning the Mental Game (Coaches Choice, 2009) and An Elite Athlete’s Manual for Training Mental Skills (self-published, 2011). He lives in The Colony, TX with his wife, Nicole, and their four children.|
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