Top 5 Mental Skills for Baseball Players | Q&A with Coach Eric

Today’s Topic: Top 5 Mental Skills for Baseball Players

Hello and welcome.  Thank you for joining in.  I’m Coach Eric Stevenson, a high performance coach at Complete Performance Coaching where we have a handful of amazing coaches who work with athletes and individuals that are looking to reach their highest potential as athletes and performers.

What I’m going to cover today is the five top mental skills I learned as a college baseball player, and hopefully they can also apply to you.  These skills can apply across all different types of sports and areas of performance.  Hopefully you’re able to take away a couple of things and begin applying them in your own performance.

1. Confidence

The first, and I believe the most important skill that I learned through my time in college, is how to have confidence when you’re not performing great.  I did okay when I was a baseball player in high school.  Actually, I was pretty good.  Once I got to college I really struggled.  I didn’t know where to go next, so I spent a lot of time in the gym and in the batting cages.  I thought I would find the answers there, but I hit a wall performance wise and didn’t know where to go next.

Getting Outside Help

Thankfully, I was able to get in contact with a high performance coach of my own.  I learned these mental skills and many more.  I was really able to turn around my career and it led me to want to pursue being a high performance coach myself.

My first key issue was confidence – I didn’t have any.  I wasn’t performing well, I didn’t have any confidence, and because of that and I didn’t know what to do.  As many of you athletes out there know, or former athletes, I do believe that confidence is the key to success.  The problem is – how do we get it when we’re not performing great?

Confidence is super easy when we’re performing well.  We’re at our best, we’re happy, we’re having fun, we’re super confident … but what do we do as athletes when we’re not performing great?

Self-Talk

The first thing I learned to do was manage my self-talk.  What do I say to myself?  What advice do I give myself when I’m not performing great?  Quite honestly when I was in school, my self-talk wasn’t great.  When I was playing college baseball, I was really hard on myself.  My expectations were so high.  I put in all this work, and when I didn’t perform well, I beat myself up.  I didn’t let anybody cheer me up.  It just wasn’t helping my confidence.

I’ll give you one quick example of something that you can do on how to tweak your self talk.  Next time you have a bad performance or bad practice, or you’re struggling learning a new skill, instead of saying, “Man, I stink.  I don’t know why I can’t do this,” reframe it.  Instead, say, “Okay, I’m a good player who maybe just had a bad performance.  That’s going to happen.”

The non-confident person is going to say, “I stink,” where the person who’s trying to build confidence or continue to stay confident will say, “It’s okay.  I’m a good player, I just had a bad performance,” and will brush it off.

Body Language

The second thing is body language.  This is one I had to work on a lot.  If you watch athletes on TV,  even if you watch your own teammates, competitors or performers in your area, I’m sure you’re quick to notice that when they’re not performing so great.  You can see it.  Their shoulders are slumped, their heads are down, they don’t want to talk to anybody.  They don’t want to look at anybody.  They just don’t want to hear it.  That does not help our confidence, that only makes it worse.

What we have to do keep is our head high, keep our shoulders back, and carry ourselves with a confidence, even if we don’t actually have it.  Eventually we’ll get ourselves to believe that we are more confident than we are at the time.

2. Letting Go

Letting go can be really hard for a lot of athletes.  Athletes like myself can be perfectionists.  We want to do everything perfectly.  We put in all this time, all this effort, all this practice – we want to always perform great.  What happens as athletes is we might have a performance that is our best performance of the year, or maybe we have this great performance last year, and what we tend to do is to compare every other performance we have going forward to that standard.  If we don’t have that great performance again, we’re not happy, we’re not content.

The reality is that great performances are going to happen every so often, but you can’t only be expecting or be striving for that performance.  That just puts too much stress on us and if we don’t reach it, we have a tough time letting go of why we don’t get there, the mistakes we made.

Learning from Your Mistakes

As athletes, mistakes are great and we should be making them, but only if we’re learning from them and willing to learn from them.  Mistakes happen all the time.  There is difference between a mentally strong athlete and a mentally weak one.  One is an individual like myself.  Before I learned how, when I would make a mistake, I’d just dwell on it.  I’d say, “This is unfair.  I don’t get it.  I’m putting in all this work.  Why am I not performing better?”

On the other hand, we might have an athlete who might make a mistake and say to themselves, “Okay, where did I go wrong and how can I fix it next time?” or “How can I prevent it from happening again?” or “What can I do to increase my chances from that mistake happening again.”  That’s how you, instead of dwelling on the mistake, let go of the mistake by learning what you can do about it next time.

3. Sticking to the Process

The third mental skill that I learned was sticking to the process.  Now, I know for a lot of you out there, it can be a very cliché comment.  Sometimes we see an athlete get interviewed on TV and the interviewer might ask them about what’s going wrong or what’s going right?  A lot of the answers you’ll get are, “We’re just trying to stick to the process, do our work, keep our head down, go forward.  We’ll just stick to the process, stick to the process.”

As an athlete myself, I wondered why this stick to the process thing is so important.  What exactly are they doing and why is it so important?  What I learned was to do this – this is how I learned to stick to a process.  I thought about what I was doing when performing at my best? What am I thinking about?  What am I feeling?  I wrote all that down. and then after I wrote all that down I realized, “Well jeez, I don’t really think about that all the time.”

As a baseball player, when I would get into the batters box, I would just be stressed.  I would be thinking to myself, “Man, I need to get a hit or coach is going to sit me,” or “I really need to perform well,” or “I can’t let my teammates down,” or “I can’t let my parents down,” and none of that was helping.

When my process then became when I perform at my best, what do I do?  I get in the box, I take one deep breath, I think about hitting the ball back up the middle, and I look at a certain point on the pitcher’s shoulder, and that was it.  The more I could just come to the plate and have that same process every time, the easier the game was and it took a lot of stress off me.  It took away a lot of nerves and anxiety and a lot of thinking about results.  If I struck out, great.  I’m going to come back the next at bat and go through that same process again.

If I hit a home run, even better, but still, when I come back into the box, I’m going through that same process over and over again.  Sticking to the process will increase the chances of getting the results that you want. Okay, so that was number three.

4. Relax

The fourth skill in the top five mental skills that I learned was to relax.  This one can be fun. Athletes, I know we have a tough time relaxing.  Parents maybe even have a more difficult time relaxing.  You put all this time, energy, and focus on the performance of the athlete, but a lot of times it’s hard to relax because you want that result so bad.

Being in the Zone

I work with a lot of elite athletes, and when I talk to them, I say, “When you had your best performance of your life, what were you thinking at the time?  What were you going through?”  Almost 90, I’d say even 100% of the time, the response is, “Well, nothing really.  I was just kind of in the zone.”  We hear, in the zone, or flow, and, “I was just kind of letting it happen.  I wasn’t thinking about the past, I wasn’t thinking about the future, I was just kind of letting my muscle memory take over.”

The funny thing is, we have coaches or parents or even athletes say to themselves , “Oh, I need to work harder,” or “I need to try harder,” or “I need to really press right now.”  That just doesn’t work.  If athletes are at their optimal performance when they’re just relaxed and letting all the practice and letting all their muscle memory just take over and let it happen, then the only answer is you have to be relaxed if you’re expecting to be successful.

How to Relax

One way to help you relax is by breathing.  I know a lot of times the games or performances can speed up and it can get really difficult.  There may be a lot of pressure depending on the situation, and that’s okay, that’s good.  That means you’re into it and you’re excited about it.  If you know relaxing helps and you want to relax, you just have to take a nice deep breath.  Focus on that breath, and stick to the process of what you can do right now to perform at your best during this moment?

Another thing we can do is visualize.  Visualize not only being successful, but also visualize the work it takes to be successful.  I know a lot of people just talk about the visualization of, “Oh yeah, visualize yourself with the trophy,” or “Visualize yourself being successful,” but also visualize yourself going through the process.  That makes it a lot easier as well.

5. Have Fun

The fifth and the final skill, and this one is kind of self-explanatory.  It shocked me how much I needed this and I actually didn’t have it at the time, and that’s to have fun.  Of course you think if you’re playing a sport you’d be having fun.  I remember the coach asked me, “Eric, are you having fun still?”  I thought I would just give a quick response back, like, “Yeah, of course I’m having fun.”  After all, this is a sport I’ve loved my whole life, and I’m playing it in college, but that’s not what happened.

They asked me the question and I actually took a minute to think about it.  I said, “Well jeez, I’m not performing well, I’m kind of frustrated with everything happening, am I still having fun?”  I wasn’t sure at the time.

Then the next question was, “Well, can you perform well when you’re not having fun?”  The answer was no.  You have to be enjoying what you do and you have to be having fun in order to expect to perform at your best.  This is clearly important and it’s often overlooked when I ask athletes if they’re still having fun.  I’m actually quite surprised at some of the answers that I get.

Three Questions

Here are the three questions that I ask myself and three questions that I ask athletes to ask themselves.  The first question is why are you playing the game?  For me it was that I grew up playing with my older brother and my dad in the backyard.  My memories of going to the park or meeting up with the kids in the neighborhood and just having so much fun are memories of the best days of summer.  That’s why I play the game and it reminded me of how much I really liked it.

The second question is what do you love most about your sport?  Is it success?  Do you love the trophy and winning?  Maybe you just love the process of getting better every day and improving every day, every year?  Do you love the camaraderie or making new friends?  For me personally, I loved improving as an athlete.  I loved getting better every day and working on new things.  I got to see myself improve as an athlete.

The third question I ask is what has your sport given back to you?  I got my best friends from the sport, I got my competitiveness from the sport, and I learned how to deal with failure.

Just by asking these three simple questions, I was able to, and hopefully you’re able to realize how much fun it is in the sport or in the athletics that you do and why you do it, and hopefully continue to do it as well.

That’s it for my five top mental skills.  If you have any questions, please feel free to email me and I’ll get back to you when I can.  If you are interested, and if you haven’t yet, go ahead and go to completeperformancecoaching.com/schedule and schedule a free 20 minute consultation with myself or one of our amazing coaches Complete Performance Coaching.

Thank you for tuning in, we’ll talk soon.

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