The best tool a baseball player can have is a strong mind. Most players would agree the mental aspect of baseball is harder than the physical aspect. I once sat down during a junior college practice with Scott Elarton (big league pitcher from 1998-2008) and asked him what the biggest difference between each level of pro ball was? His answer surprised me, it wasn’t the velocity of pitchers or the strength of hitters or the crowds but the understanding of knowing you belong at each level of the game. He said, ” I saw some of the best athletes with the greatest tools in Double-A, but they never made it because they weren’t mentally strong.” At the time, it really helped me develop and educate myself on what will make me better mentally on the field. I truly believe that talk changed me from an average competitor to a mentally strong bulldog.
What’s a bulldog? A bulldog is someone that never allows negativity to cloud their mind, they are always in attack mode and locked in on the task at hand. When the opposing team scores or their team makes an error, the emotions do not keep a bulldog from being ready for the next play. They understand they will fail and fail often but know how to overcome that failure quickly.
Having this mindset is what all ball players should strive for. I was great at this my sophomore season, it was my best season in college by far but like I said, “baseball is a sport with a lot of failure.” I lost that mentality after blowing my first save in my college career during my junior season against our rivals at home in front of one of our biggest crowds. I gave up back to back home runs to lose the lead. Looking back I should have chalked it up to a bad day and stayed with my routine that got me my success. However, the game got the best of me and I decided to change everything and anything to make sure that would never happen again. I went from bulldog to lost puppy. I made mechanical changes, routine changes and eventually gave up on my dream of playing pro ball a year later because the failure was too much for me. One game or one play can eat at you and ruin your mindset if you allow it to. At Rogue, we try to teach our guys how to avoid this.
Mental training is often overlooked in high school but heavily emphasized in college and pro ball so we are trying to implement it as much as we can. Our main tool for helping our guys cope with failure is a strategy called release and refocus. Doing this connects a physical movement or gesture with the release of a negative thought, then refocusing on the next task in a positive mindset. Recreating how the brain thinks is a larger task than incorporating a physical movement, so linking the body to the brain to release and refocus embeds the mental routine into the physical. The best example is the physical movement of unstrapping your batting gloves to release the bad call the ump just made combined with a deep breath, once the mentality is back to neutral or positive strap them back up, refocus and you are ready to go again.
This strategy helps give the guys a tool to use and develop in a way that makes sense to them. Instead of just telling them to be mentally strong, we try to provide them ways of accomplishing that task. It’s something they can work on between every repetition at practice, whether it’s in the cage or during a bullpen; if the rep was a failure, can they succeed at clearing their mind for the next pitch or ground ball? Then once failure happens in a game they aren’t surprised and lost but have their routine of release and refocus to fall back on. It is not easy but it is crucial to becoming a successful ball player.