HELP! My talented baseball player is underperforming & I don’t know what to do.
You consider yourself a passionate baseball parent. You spend countless hours on road trips, traveling to your son’s games and tournaments. Nothing excites you more or puts a bigger smile on your face than seeing your child play well and be happy. You’ve seen him perform at his best many times in the past, and it’s incredible to watch.
But for some reason, those moments of greatness are happening less and less often these days.
You’ve probably had more than one tense car ride home asking him, “What happened?”
His answer is, “I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it.”
You provide him with all the resources needed to be successful on the field.
He has the best bat, glove, and training aids there are. He’s taken all the lessons with a great instructor. He loves baseball, he’s a great kid, and he works as hard or harder than any other kid out there.
Unfortunately, for some reason, come game time, he just doesn’t perform up to the level you know he can.
Why is he underperforming?
That confident player you know is gone, as if his talent just disappeared. Everyone’s frustrated and upset. Now what? There’s too much potential to walk away, but it’s heartbreaking to watch him keep feeling like a failure.
The fact is that nearly every athlete will encounter a similar feeling at some point in their career, no matter how skilled they are or how far they make it.
It’s a common feeling, trust me.
I was that kid myself. I have experienced it all. Halfway through my college career I truly believed I lost all my talent. I nearly gave up the game altogether. Thankfully, I didn’t. I was able to rebuild my confidence and find the talent I thought was gone.
Here’s how to get through it.
Step 1: Find Clues – Why is this Happening?
Clue number one was that I put too much pressure on myself. The first step I had to take was to ask myself, “When am I at my best versus at my worst?” This seems simple, and it should be. You can learn a lot by asking this question.
I learned during fall practice when we scrimmaged our own team, there was no pressure. There was no winner or loser, no expectation, and no parents. Everything was laid back and fun, but there was still a college pitcher on that mound throwing 90mph in my direction. The level of difficulty was the same as the regular season, but for some reason, I hit .400 in the fall season and typically .200 in the spring. I knew there was something here and I needed to figure out what.
Step 2: Learn what to do about it (Find a way to relax and have fun)
After taking a closer look at step one, it was clear where the problem was occurring. When the pressure was on, when results mattered, when people were in the stands, when there were expectations of me, I stunk. What was I going to do though? I couldn’t just ask everyone to leave, ask to turn off the scoreboard, or ask my coach or Dad to stop yelling at me. Instead, I needed to simulate an idea in my mind to make it feel like this was just another relaxing fall scrimmage. I knew what I needed to play at my best, I just didn’t know how.
Step 3: Learn how to do it (Train my mind with techniques and strategies on how to forget about everything but that baseball)
I needed to train my mind to treat a regular season game as if it was just another fun relaxing fall ball game with all my friends. To do this took a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of focus.
When you ask an athlete what’s going on in their mind when playing their best, they usually respond with something to the effect of, “Not much, just letting the game come to me.”
Ask any athlete what their mind is like when they’re playing poorly, and almost 100% of the time they will tell you its crazy brain with just too many thoughts. They’re thinking a hundred different things at once and can’t control what thought comes next. Typically, a lot of negative thoughts come in, such as, “What if I strike out?” or “ I need to get a hit or throw a strike right now” or “I can’t let down my team, coach, or my Dad.”
To the Dad reading this, your son wants to make you happy and impress you, and that also puts a lot of pressure on him.
It’s all normal.
If any of those negative thoughts above sound familiar, don’t worry, you’re in the norm. The human brain is wired to think negatively and is filled with “what if’s.” Training to rewire this thinking is what I did and something you can too.
Working with baseball players is tough, mainly because the game is built on failure. You’re expected to fail nearly seven out of ten times and still be considered a great player. No other sport can say that or even profession for that matter. We know a baseball player can be so hard on themselves. Nearly every game they’re going to fail more than succeed and yet they still beat themselves up over a poor performance
The key is training the mind to focus on the process and to stay in the present moment. This might sound easy, but it’s not. MLB players spend hours working on their mental approach because they know how important it is. When an athlete does not have a plan at the plate, on the mound or in the filed the more difficult it becomes, especially the older they get. Not just a plan technically, but a plan mentally. When to take that breath, think something positive, do something to let go of the mistake, etc.
I use a checklist with my athletes to make sure they know what to think, when to think it, and to remember what works. Once they become completely focused on this plan, all of the pressures of the game seems to fade away. If they can think about the process, they won’t have the energy to think about the pressure, result, or failure. If a plan isn’t in place and they fail, it becomes increasingly difficult to get out of that slump. In the words of one of my favorite quotes, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”