Bottom of the 9th - "F" Words
by Tom Walters
"Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical." -Yogi Berra, 18-time All-Star, 13-time World Series Champ, 1972 HOF
I maintain that the most difficult thing in all of sport is consistency. I've shared that idea with athletes and coaches, teammates and opponents alike. If you know me a little, you know I've shared it with almost anyone who'll listen! The best players maintain performance at the highest level over time. Pretty simple, huh? So what is the difference between a heady player and a head case? I say that courage, confidence, and consistency separate players. That sounds like this edition of
Bottom of the 9th
could have been called "C Words," but I think those three things define the best players. In trying to develop consistency, players work through subsets of the game of baseball â€“ training and teaching muscle skills, and for most, the mental side of the game comes out of confidence gained from their physical training. Pitchers throw bullpens, hitters spend the next five months or more in the cages. Ground ball after ground ball become reps (as we refer to them) and reps become outs during the season. The mural of the catcher on the tarp in the back of the bullpen becomes worn on his knees and at the glove. Tee work becomes music. You can hear, and hitters can feel, the thwack that in spring becomes a well struck ball to the gap. Reps lead to confidence. Round on round becomes squared up, ground balls become routine plays, and bullpens become command.I really like the mental part of the game, and I like Yogi-isms. I've spent enough time reading and rereading Yogi-isms to have pondered them and to ask you, â€œDo you think it's odd that Yogi didn't say that baseball is ninety percent physical and the other half is mental?" If an 18-time All Star and 13-time World Series champion thinks that the mental part of baseball outweighs the physical, isn't that reason to deliberately strengthen the mental part of the game this off season?Greg Riddoch is a former MLB manager, a friend, and a lifetime professional baseball guy. Coach Riddoch (a.k.a. - the Riddler) is a fun loving, light-hearted guy who loves baseball and loves to teach life's lessons through the game. One of my favorite Coach Riddoch stories comes from the Tampa Bay Rays Spring Training in 2009. Coach Riddoch was the Rays' mental skills coach. As he tells it, he had given the team his first presentation and some guys had shown more, and some guys had shown less interest. At that point in his tenure he hadn't sold his ideas as a way to add to your batting average or lower your ERA. Evan Longoria was particularly interested in what Coach Riddoch had to say. Longoria listened intently and came to Coach Riddoch and asked if he could ask a few questions. Coach Riddoch said, â€œOf course, as long as I can ask you a few as well." Longoria agreed and asked a long list of questions. In Coach Riddoch's easy going way, he answered Evan Longoria, question after question. When Longoria finished, Coach asked him if he could then ask a couple of questions. Coach Riddoch's first question was, â€œDid you really go 1 for 20 in last year's World Series?" Sheepishly, Longoria said yes. Then Coach Riddoch asked what changed? The all-star third baseman said that he had gotten to thinking about the weight of the situation, it was the World Series after all! He thought about the crowd and the people watching on TV, this was the biggest stage in baseball and the pressure had gotten to him. That year Coach Riddoch worked with Evan Longoria and developed a stress management technique (code words for mental skill) that helped right-size the game. It involved walking slowly to the plate, exhaling deliberately on his bat and telling himself to "see it and be easy." The "see it" part of his self talk gave Longoria every chance to make a good decision, while "be easy" maintained relaxation that allowed fast twitch muscles to function best. How many times do we see a hitter try to hit the ball from here to New York City and they pull their head, lose their lower half and miss or simply roll it over? Whereas, how many easy contact swings surprise you when the ball jumps off of the bat? Coach Riddoch likes to talk about mantras because those simple reminders really help. Consistent positive mental approach helps head off negative thoughts, it can calm run away emotion and ruturn focus. In 2009, Evan Longoria earned the Silver Slugger as the best hitting third baseman in the MLB. We borrowed Coach Riddoch's mantra at the plate because the best at bats come from "see it and be easy."We spent a lot of time this summer developing a positive mental approach to the game. A positive mental approach to the game involves a positive approach to training, practice and life. God gives us a consistency. He is the perfect model of consistency.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." - Deuteronomy 31:6
This season we talked often about what it takes to play the game with consistency. This is where we came up with the "F words." Baseball is at its best when it's Fun, Focused, Fast, and Free. Faith is the best F word I know! When we play with those F words we can be Freaky! This off season, I challenge you to develop a mantra that is meaningful to you. Mantras become mental reps to build from the bump, crush in the cages, grow in the gym, grow in faith.
"For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11
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