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.