Many athletes seeking to get to that next level seek, out hitting instructors, pitching coaches, fielding specialists and speed and conditioning coaches. Yet many overlook the most important “muscle” of all....the brain! While technically not a muscle, it clearly can be exercised, trained and strengthened through proper technique.
In no way am I saying the other things are not important, but that the brain is just as important. If you look at any of the things you do in any sport, your brain controls all of it. Even the decision to improve your skills is done with the brain as a starting point. In fact all real change first occurs in the brain. But so many people never look at it that way.
One of the first things a great athlete learns to do, is how to speak to themselves. Whether they realize it or not, they have made a decision not to accept anything less than championship effort. Great athletes also speak to themselves in positive reinforcements only. They avoid phrases like “I can’t” or “I’m no good at it.” They also never try to push responsibility off to other people or things for their failures. Whether consciously or subconsciously, they decide that phrases like “I won’t quit til I get this right” or “I’m not great at it YET” are far more likely to get them results, than giving up or blaming someone else, because they ARE IN CONTROL.
I’ll give you an example. If a player says “I just can’t hit that outside pitch” or “I can’t throw that far” they’ve already given themselves an excuse so when they fail, it was expected and it’s no big deal because they knew it wasn’t going to work out for them.
As for the players that constantly blame umpires, conditions, coaches or teammates, if you knew you weren’t to blame, there is no reason to hold yourself accountable or be upset at yourself....because you never did anything wrong!! And so, the negative pattern or behavior continues along with the continued pattern of frustration and placing blame. It becomes a vicious circle of failure until the thought process changes.
One of the phrases I pass along to players regularly is, “If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right again.” The greatest of all athletes understand that losses and failures happen, but they aren’t permanent. And it’s how you handle those failures and losses that define you as a player and not the losses or failures themselves. In fact, the best athletes don’t even look at losses as failures if they can learn from them and ultimately improve their game.
An effective technique is positive self talk. Positive self talk along with learning to have external self confidence are huge emotional boosts to most athletes. There is a fine line between confident and cocky, but that’s why so many of today’s star athletes seem to be very arrogant. Ask yourself, if they didn’t think they were the best, would they be?? If you think you will lose, you’ve already lost before you have stepped on the field!
Some effective ways to “workout” your brain include reading positive affirmations of your goals daily. Keep a notebook and write down big goals for your season. The goals should not be unattainable but somewhat lofty and they must be positive. “I will have a batting average of______ by the end of the season,” “I will reduce my strike outs to ______this season, “I will command my pitches effectively and hit all my spots.” What the brain believes, the body will achieve.
Another effective technique is visualization. The player should see themselves in whatever situation they are trying to improve (hitting, fielding, pitching etc) and see themselves succeeding at it. But it must be realistic visualization. You should make it as real as possible, from hearing the crowd, to smelling the freshly cut grass and seeing the pitcher windup and deliver the ball, then you step into the pitch and feel it connect with your bat and watch as it sails over the fielders heads. Or whatever your success entails MAKE IT HAPPEN IN YOUR BRAIN FIRST!
One of the greatest things about mental training and young athletes, is often times it can have a much faster and even better results than with older athletes because there are less bad habits and self doubt that has to be overcome! I teach many of these techniques to athletes of all ages but I see the best growth with players from 12-16. The reason? They haven’t become so worried about what others think, and haven’t decided what will work or won’t work, they just give it an honest effort and the results can be astounding.
I had an average, ok fielding, 15 year old who had been playing Fastpitch for 8 years. Nothing special, good kid but not an athletic standout. Her parents told me she could never hit off a pitching machine. Sure enough, she was an ok hitter and rarely made contact when using the machine. I decided to talk to her about it during a BP night. Her answers were “the balls just don’t come out right,” “I can’t match up the arm motion with when it really comes out,” “it’s too fast or too slow!” I had a talk with her about how assigning the blame to the machine or the coach was giving her an excuse. And she was telling her self it was okay to fail because nothing was in her control. The week before I had given her a book called “The Mental Game of Baseball” by H.A. Dorfman. I give this book to many of my players. She went back in for another round of BP and did just as poorly. That’s where this story should end if she decided not to be open to truly fixing her “problem”. That night about 10PM I got a phone call from her mom. On the car ride home, she had been griping about practice and how the “crappy” machine was used and she hit horribly again. That’s when her mom said she went silent for about 5 minutes. When she spoke again, she said, “Coach Greg and that book said If I want to get better I have to stop blaming anything besides myself. If I want to get better, it’s up to me to do it, Only I can fix it.” Her mom said she didn’t say another word the rest of the way home. Mom sent me a picture days later of her sitting at the table with a highlighter reading the book. She said in her bedroom were Index cards stuck on her mirror about what she was going to do. The following week we had the machine out again. She had absolutely the best round of all the players that day. She came over to me and said, “I’ll never let that machine scare me again, I’m a hitter” Not only did she turn her offense around, she made her HS varsity team as a freshman and was named defensive player of the year for the HS team. I can’t tell you why or how she did it, but she will tell you she learned how to think like a ball player. That was just over a year ago and she now carries herself with a quiet confidence that true ball players have. I could give you a dozen stories just like this including a young man who I coached that is now playing in the minor leagues that was almost cut from his HS team as a senior.
THE DIFFERENCE IS IN THE BRAIN......Great athletes learn to think differently.
Resources if you’re interested:
“The Mental Game Of Baseball.
A Guide to Peak Performance”
Take the baseball out of the name and it’s perfect for softball players. I’m currently searching for one geared just for Young ladies.
Todd Herman. www.Thepeakathlete.com
Coach Quinn: Currently the hitting coach for a baseball program that is nationally ranked. He calls baseball and softball “Family Sports”. He has over 40 years playing and coaching experience. His wife was an all state and all met pitcher, and his oldest daughter was a high school fastpitch player. He has a stepson who played college baseball and making an appearance in the Collegiate World Series and has now gone on to be a college coach himself, and his youngest daughter is a short stop who wants to be a college fast pitch player playing in a nationally known program and is being recruited by several schools as a high school sophomore. Coach Quinn has been at his current school for 12 years where they have won two conference championships, and two state championships. As a player he was a catcher ,and third baseman. Coach Quinn and his wife are also in the Washington Metro Area Slowpitch Softball Hall of Fame as players.
Coach Quinn has provided hitting instruction to the Firebirds organization and can be reached at email@example.com.