Mental Training Tips to Improve Baseball Performance
One of my favorite quotes from the great Yogi Berra states, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” While it may be a phrase that makes the head cock in wonder, it reveals the importance of baseball mental training.
Nowadays, the mental side of sports is being given much more attention. Athletes are coming to realize how significant having a strong mind is to their overall success.
Baseball, much like golf, is a game of waiting. One of the toughest things on the mind is having to wait. Why? Because it opens you up to thinking.
Another famous quote by Yogi Berra says, “I can’t think and hit at the same time.”
Once again, this goes to show how important a well trained mind is to a baseball player. You have to be in the moment, focused on what you’re doing in order to hit your best. In that specific situation, all you’re focused on is reacting.
You cannot be thinking about how much you’d like to get a hit, whether or not your hands are in the right position, and so on. But not thinking those things isn’t easy, either.
Which is why baseball mental training is crucial to your success. Through the development of mental characteristics and skills, you will gain the strength to use your mind to your advantage, and control it when the need arises.
How to mentally train for baseball is often not as clear as simply hitting off the tee or going to the field and taking ground balls. Which is why, in this article, I’m going to show you four mental training tips for baseball you can use to improve your game.
Tip #1: Practice Mindfulness
When we think about the quote used above, about how you can’t hit and think at the same time, that raises the question as to how do you go about quieting the mind?
During a game, your mind is likely full of many racing thoughts. This is especially true if you have a tendency to grow anxious and fearful. Now these thoughts aren’t inherently bad…but they are distracting you.
So, you must work to center your attention on what you’re doing in this present moment. That means locking in on the pitcher and readying yourself to react.
To get to the point where you have such control over your focus (as it’s your focus which is traveling into the future that often leads to anxious thoughts), you can use a training method known as mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the state of having your awareness completely in the present moment. Getting to such a state must be trained. That way, when you’re stepping up to the plate or eyeing down the batter from the pitcher’s mound, you’ll experience mindfulness.
To train this skill within yourself, it is suggested you take up the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Here are the steps you can use to train mindfulness meditation:
1. Get into a comfortable position with your back straight.
2. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes to start with.
3. Close your eyes and let your breath deepen.
4. Focus on your breathing. Notice the rhythm of each breath.
5. When your attention drifts onto a thought (which it will), simply return it onto your breath.
That act of noticing your attention drifting and then redirecting it back onto your breath is where training mindfulness takes place.
Tip #2: Use Mental Rehearsal
Baseball is a game of failure. Even when you are statistically performing well, you’re likely to be failing the majority of the time (with hitting at least).
This makes it common to adopt fear of failure, self-doubt, and many other unhelpful ways of thinking which do nothing but harm your overall performance.
Instead, what you must do is proactively work to build your confidence.
Now how is confidence built? Well, there are a few ways, but one of the most powerful is seeing yourself succeed. That experience and memory works to grant you the trust that you will be able to perform well again in the future.
Developing such memory is often difficult, especially if you’re in a slump, or can’t seem to find the strike zone recently. This can even happen in the field, when the last few balls that have been hit your way in games have resulted in errors.
What we can make use of is a mental training tool for baseball known as mental rehearsal. Also referred to as visualization, this is the practice of imagining yourself performing in your mind. In other words, you are mentally rehearsing your performance.
Due to the reaction in your brain, new neural connections will be made and a similar response will occur as though you had hit or thrown in real life. In doing so, you can create the memory of success you need for increased confidence.
Follow these steps to perform mental rehearsal:
1. Get into a quiet location and sit down/lay down.
2. Close your eyes and take ten deep breaths to calm your mind.
3. Create your scene (go into great detail here).
4. See yourself succeed and most importantly, feel successful!
Through the consistent use of mental rehearsal, you can instill a memory of success and increase your confidence on the field. And more confidence equals greater performances.
Tip #3: Set Performance Objectives
Having a clear idea of what it means for you to be successful is not often thought about but of incredible value.
As a baseball player it’s easy to get caught up in broad ideas of success. For example, you may say, “I want to get a hit today.” But then you get a bloop hit, and somehow don’t quite feel like you had a good game.
How come? Didn’t you do what you said you wanted to? Well, yes…but not exactly in the way you wanted to do it.
This leads to perfectionist thinking and never feeling good enough about the way you performed.
Setting performance objectives allows you to clearly define success. More than that, though, it actually helps you perform better.
Where do your performances take place? In the present moment, of course. Therefore, that must be where your focus is centered.
When you’re worried about striking this next guy out, getting a hit, or making a good throw, you have automatically taken yourself out of the moment. Those are byproducts of the process.
Performance objectives give you something within the process (that’s part of the present moment) to focus on.
To set performance objectives you want to always be sure they are 100% within your control. Then, set a physical objective that has to do with your technique, and then a mental objective that involves your mindset and attitude.
Tip #4: Practice Breath Work
Nerves can easily get the best of you during a game.
I can remember many at bats where my entire body was trembling due to how nervous I was. Not exactly the best state to be in when you’re eyeing down a pitcher ready to throw a 90 mph fastball at you.
Within mental training for baseball, there is a technique we can use in the moment to reduce nerves, and calm the mind. It’s simply through focusing on your breathing.
Your breath is one of the most underutilized tools you have to increase performance. When used correctly, it can increase focus, motivation, and calm your nerves.
Yet…when you are stuck taking shallow breaths, the opposite occurs.
Breath work involves taking meaningfully deep breaths that are under your control. To do so, there are specific counts to use.
Here are a few different counting techniques you can use for breath work:
1. 5-10: breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of ten.
2. 4-4-4: breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four.
3. 4-8: breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of eight.
Honestly, the exact numbers you use matter less than the intent you have to slow, deepen, and control your breath.
There is no denying the importance the mental game has on your performance as a baseball player. However, it’s not always the easiest to understand and make use of in training.
It’s clear how to improve your hitting; you go and take swings in the batting cage. If you want to be a better pitcher, you’ve got to strengthen your arm and increase your accuracy.
For the mind, what can you do to actively strengthen it so that it becomes an asset to your game?
Through the use of the four baseball mental training tips listed above, you will develop a stronger mind, leading to greater performance on the field. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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