One of my favorite teammates of all time was Mike Grady. His positive attitude, work ethic, and ability to go out and get the job done was phenomenal. He would find a way to get batters out, and help us win many ballgames. Now, many years removed from those days I watch him follow his passions creating his pitching school. Just as he did as a pitcher, his attention to details has developed into a masterful creation. When he asked me to contribute some of my experiences for his blog I was honored and excited.
You may already know my past, and the course I have taken. Now, in my tenth year traveling the Country to share my story to High Schools, Colleges, and specifically, college athletes, I have had the pleasure of being the student athlete and now work with Athletic Administrators, and athletes. During that process I have gained valuable insight to so many facets of college athletics. I have been to 40 states and have spoken to some of the country’s elite athletic programs (OSU, Georgia, Florida, Auburn, TCU, and Kansas.) In addition, I have been to several in between.
I will spend as much time as I can covering an array of topics until Grady tells me to stop. To that point, it is imperative I spend time sharing how I got to this juncture in my life. I am a 35 year old married man, with a daughter and a dog. I currently reside in New Jersey and as of July 29th 2015 I will be in my 14th year as a felon, my 14 year with no driver’s license, the 14th year without my best friend, and most painfully, the 14th year her family remains empty without their daughter.
I am a firm believer in getting to the point in life. With that being said, my name is Aaron Cooksey, and at one point in my life I was known as inmate #422208. The most critical component to my story is: I grew up with two of the most caring, loving, and supportive parents any kid could ask for. Lessons learned, some the easy way, others the hard way. They taught me that actions have consequences, both GOOD and BAD. Practice hard, study hard, treat people right, and good things can happen. The opposite? That can lead to a path of destruction.
Understand this: I knew right from wrong, I just thought I knew it all. As a young kid, I was a high strung, super active, and had bright red hair. That alone taught me a valuable lesson. First, I would have a hard time getting away with anything……“The tall red head kid did it”, that eliminates 98.9% of the field. Secondly, if I would stand out I needed to stand out for the right reasons.
In life there are a million things we can be passionate about. For some it is education, art, music, computers, sports, animals, or anything that consumes you. I like to call it the “competitive gene”. I am a firm believer it lies within every person, but as athletes, it fuels us. It is why we love the game.
Competitive Gene: As an individual we live for the very moments where we can step up and take control of a situation when something is on the line. Whether it be the final batter faced, a final shot, defensive stop, or a Walk-Off HR (Sorry pitchers). It is that moment where you can take control. In your head, you cannot nor will not fail. It is the thinking that AS LONG AS I AM IN CONTROL, NOTHING CAN GO WRONG. It is confidence, not arrogance (There is a difference). It is the insatiable need to be the best. A great quality to have when channeled correctly.
For me, it was sports. I tried them all. I ended up focusing on Football, Basketball, and Baseball. From a young age I knew I was highly competitive and 2nd place was no good. From my earliest memories one season intertwined into the next. Before I knew it, I was very structured in my routines. Specifically when I entered HS and each season blended into the next. Summers were jam packed. Football workouts in the morning, basketball summer league in the afternoons, and baseball games at night. I had no time to get in trouble. In fact, I did not do anything wrong in High School. Our code of conduct was very strict. I never wanted to have someone look me in the eyes and say “You broke the rules, you cannot play”. The decision was easy.
The summer of my sophomore year I began to get letters in the mail from schools from ALL divisions in football and baseball. The higher the division, the less of a chance I would have at playing two sports. At that point I thought “What do I want to do when sports are over?” My dream job was to be an elementary teacher. First grade specifically.
I have what some will call an addictive personality. Whether something is good for me, or bad for me, if I want to do it, I will do it. As of the completion of my senior year in HS I only knew this to affect my life in positive outlets (school, sports, fishing, and golf). Soon, that would all change. It took me 19 years to become “A good guy with tons of potential and a decent reputation.” In only 1 ½, I would smear my reputation, hurt hundreds of people, and have to spend the rest of my life trying to make amends. To this day, I continue to deal with the consequences and try to prevent others from making the same poor choices.
During my senior year of HS I was fortunate to be a part of 3 fantastic teams, well, two fantastic teams. Basketball was a blast despite our record. I would call our team a version of the “Bad Boys” with very little offense. I was primarily a rebounder, and dirty work kind of guy. Maybe averaged 10 points, and 10 boards a game. It kept me busy and in shape between my two loves; Football and Baseball. Either way, each team was unique and filled with talent, personality, and truly great guys. After weighing a number of options, I decided to stay close to home and play two sports at University of Mount Union. Sensational football program, and an average baseball program, which I saw as a great chance to make them better. In addition, the elementary education program was superb.
I will never forget my visit with Coach Kehres of the football team. I was in his office January 1999. He tossed his National title ring to me. I caught it, and looked at it, as he said, “Do you like that?” Goes on to tell me I can have a chance to earn 4 of those under one condition: YOU DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP WITH DRUGS AND ALCOHOL WHEN YOU GET ON THIS CAMPUS. I HAVE SEEN IT TEAR A LOT OF ATHLETES DOWN. My reply, “Coach, I don’t even drink or do drugs. That will NOT be an issue for me.”
It was set, I was going to Mount Union to play Football and Baseball and become an elementary education teacher. At this point in my life all was perfect. That does not mean I did not face obstacles and challenges. I never looked for the short cut. Always knew I could persevere through it. I would soon face my biggest obstacle ever.
Coming in part 2: How one poor choice started a vicious cycle of addiction and the consequences it has had.
Written by Ryan Nordquist, Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator, Davis and Elkins College
"Baseball is ____ mental and the other half is physical."
POP QUIZ: Before reading, I want the reader to take a second to fill in the blank for this quote. Search it on Google or feel free to answer it yourself.
As you may or may not have answered, Yogi Berra claimed that the game of baseball is "90%" mental. I always ask players and fellow coaches this all the time and never always get this answer. But the answers I get always drive home the importance of the mental game in baseball; 75, 80, and even 100%. My question to the reader now is if that much of the game is mental, how much are you or your players working on the mental game? If the mental game is that important to performance, is it being worked on it just as much (if not more) than improving physical abilities?
As a junior in college, I had the opportunity to meet Brian Cain for the first time after he visited Baldwin Wallace to speak to the student-athlete body. I could probably write an entire book about the impact that day has had on me. And is an experience I would suggest all coaches and ballplayers should be seeking. It was the first time I had learned how the mental game can improve your actual performance. As a student of the game, I have spent much of the last 6 years studying and learning how to become a master of the mental game. There is so much more to learn, and the quest to become a real life "Mr. Miyagi" will probably never end. But I hope that by sharing my own thoughts on the mental game, you find little takeaways that help become big building blocks for your career or program.
The W.I.N. Approach
In this game, there is a constant pressure to perform. As a coach or player, you should learn to expect and embrace this pressure. Baseball is a game with no media timeouts or halftime to go into the clubhouse, calm down, and figure out your next game plan. The constant demand to perform in baseball presents itself every pitch of the game. This leaves no time to let how you feel in a given moment dictate behavior for the rest of the game. With the W.I.N. Approach, a player and coach will learn to focus on the concept of What's Important Now.
The most important time for a baseball player is the 15-20 seconds between pitches. It is the only time a ballplayer has to himself and in this short period of time, his thoughts will dictate his following actions. Staying in the present moment means being a fierce competitor from one pitch to the next, treating each as its own individual challenge. The time between pitches is your time to get back into the present moment after a bad call or error. A player who competes in the present moment is one that does not let past results dictate future performance. It is impossible for this to happen when your only focus is on the next pitch.
At the 2015 ABCA Convention, Vanderbilt University head coach Tim Corbin discussed, "the game of baseball rewards you on its own time." This means that you can work harder than everyone in the country and things are not always going to happen the way you want. Every offseason, guys put in thousands of swings, hours of mirror bullpens and countless amounts of time in the weight room. And then at some point in the season they will face the ultimate test of mental toughness when things do not go their way. How do they handle it?
Baseball is no doubt a game of mental toughness. The players who have great mental toughness understand that putting a good swing on the ball does not guarantee success every time. Growing up in a family of hunting woodsmen, I have learned that hitting and pitching is a lot like shooting a gun; you prepare your shot countless times, have your scope dialed in for the big shot, then draw your weapon to take the shot you've prepared for all season. But once you pull the trigger, anything can happen and you are never guaranteed a successful shot. In this situation, a hunter has control of all the things leading up to the time of the shot. This is exactly what a hitter experiences at the plate and what a pitcher experiences after he lets go of a baseball. He has control over his approach, his thought process, and using the physical skills he has developed over the course of his career and offseason. Great players understand although a successful average means failing 70% of the time, they can still compete 100% of the time. Pitchers: how many times have you had your mind right, knew what you wanted to do, executed your pitch, and then a hitter goes down to fight off our “perfect pitch” to short right field for a single? It happens. Just as it does when you throw a mistake and sneak one by a hitter. In baseball, you have to have the ability to move on from the bad AND the good to stay focused on the next pitch.
So now you failed. You put your best approach and your best present moment mindset to work. You worked a 9 pitch count, hit a line drive down the line, and the third baseman made a great play to throw you out at first. Or you got a quick 0-2 count, threw your best out pitch and a hitter goes down to fight it to short right for a single. What now?
In Brian Cain's first book "Toilets, Bricks, Fish Hooks, and PRIDE" he discusses the similarities between playing baseball and approaching traffic lights. Every pitch and every play is the same as coming to a yellow light; you have a chance to speed up and take your chances running a red light or you can slow down, gather yourself, and wait to go on green. The game of baseball is constantly played in a yellow light scenario. You respond to every situation with a red light or green light approach. Mentally tough competitors slow the game down by controlling their thoughts and controlling what they can control (green light). The mentally weak competitor approaches a tough situation with a narrowed vision while speeding up and leaving him prone to compounded mistakes (red light).
A few years ago, ESPN ran an E:60 segment on Evan Longoria and the life changing impacts the mental game has had on his performance. If you are still on the fence about the mental game, as I have learned many are, please watch the Evan Longoria E:60 and I am confident you will see things differently. If you are looking to add the mental game to your approach or your team's culture, I think you should also understand that this is not a magic potion to peak performance. It is also not something a player or coach can just turn on and off. It is a lifestyle that has to become part of your everyday routine.
I am currently reading Brian Cain's "Mental Conditioning For Baseball.” The biggest piece of advice I could pass along from what I have learned and continue to learn is that in order to improve, you must constantly educate yourself. Below are a few other books to get you started and on the right track to becoming a master of the mental game:
About Coach Nordquist:
Currently serving as assistant Baseball Coach and recruiting coordinator at Davis & Elkins College. Previously, I spent 6 years at Baldwin Wallace University. Four years as a student-athlete and two as an assistant coach. During my time as an assistant, we were fortunate enough to win the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship in 2014. Prior to becoming a college baseball coach, I coached American Legion Baseball for my alma mater Alliance High School in my hometown of Alliance, Ohio for four seasons.
Looking to receive instruction from college coaches? Go to www.nordquistcamps.com today to get registered for Nordquist Camps event. This is a great opportunity for student-athletes of all ages that are looking to play baseball at the next level.
Upcoming Nordquist Camps Event Schedule:
August 12-15 (Alliance, Ohio)
Youth Camp of Champs and All Star Game
August 16 (Alliance, Ohio)
Northeast Ohio High School Showcase Camp
2016-2019 High School Graduates
For more information regarding baseball or camps (registration, discounts, etc.), follow Ryan on twitter at @CoachNordquist or email NordquistCamps@gmail.com.
Coach Mike Grady
Coach Grady has 10 years experience working with pitchers of all ages through private and group instruction, including 6 years experience as a college pitching coach. This blog is dedicating to helping pitchers of all ages improve their game.