Mental Preparation is Crucial for Success
Success is never easy in any sport with the game of baseball arguably the most difficult of all. The skills of throwing, hitting and fielding require great precision that takes many years with perfection never a real possibility. Each year a player advances up a level in baseball, the mental preparation of a ballplayer becomes a greater need. By the time a player reaches the professional levels, the mental preparation is more important than the physical one to some extent. The best coaches are constantly working on the mental aspect of the game as well as the physical and realize that one without the other is a recipe for failure.
Most successful baseball players would say that the elusive success begins with confidence. Confidence is the inner peace in an athlete that allows them to believe that their skills are sufficient for the job at hand. It has a tendency to come and go in most ballplayers. The more times they have that self-assurance the easier it is for them to relax and concentrate, two important ingredients to get in the zone.
The next important key to having the mental preparation to succeed comes with the development of a mental routine. Some may say that is superstition with athletes, but it mostly involves creating some mental daily cues for games and even before each pitch of that game. The mental routine of professional ballplayers is a twenty-four-hour process, where players review the events of the past game, analyze them to see where they could have improved, before moving on to getting ready psychologically for the next game.
All of the mental preparation players do, leads to the ultimate goal of maximum focus once the game begins. The ultimate goal is what was mentioned earlier – getting in the zone – the mental state where players can slow the game down in their heads and react efficiently without seeming to ever have to think of what they are doing. That state of mind is another elusive thing for many, but something players can work to achieve.
Coaches can help players achieve the mental preparation necessary for advancement in the game. Here are the in-game techniques you can try to help your players stay in the moment and develop concentration.
Mental Preparation tips coaches can try
- First, and foremost, develop players physical skills, so they have an initial chance at success.
- Remain quiet during plays and limit pre-play instructions.
- Give simple preparation tips like, “Who wants the action (ball) coming to them?” or “Ready positions, everybody.” These are OK because they are helpful for keeping players’ minds in the present, without diverting attention.
- Never threaten or intimidate. Focus is easier when people enjoy what they do. Enjoyment is hard when players cannot relax due to intimidation and fear of messing up.
- Encourage players to talk about the game between plays and when on the bench.
- Ask questions at practice and before and after games about different game scenarios. That mental challenge will help players understand their responsibilities, think for themselves and develop solid instincts.
- Help players develop a plan and a process to achieve it.
- Insist that players trust their abilities and their preparation without thinking of any possible negative outcomes of their actions.
- Assist players in learning to anticipate various situations. Correct in-game decision making is more likely after thinking of all possible scenarios before the next play.
- Keep players strong. You must help kids and parents realize the importance of being rested. Tired athletes have mind distractions, which can lead to mistakes.
- Help players keep their mind in the present, without thought of what has happened or could happen. The phrases “It’s over” and “Forget about it” should be at the tip of the coach’s tongue.
- Ask players to repeat what you just said. Knowing they may be called to repeat any tips helps players remain accountable and in the present.
- Have players speak to themselves of what they plan to have happen before the play. This voice helps players’ visualization skills.
- Explain that their mental game improves with practice just as the physical skills can. Asking players to try to increase their concentration an extra minute at a time is a good start.
- Help players learn to use positive self-talk after plays, so they do not beat themselves up after mistakes.
The best coaches remain calm under intense game conditions and after mistakes. Playing is easier for youth when they don’t have a fear of letting you down. Grilling and condemning players after gaffes hurt their concentration the next time.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is now available. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 120 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.