Consistency is such a difficult thing to maintain in all sports, but it’s especially true for baseball pitchers.
How many times have you heard a coach or a sports announcer talk about pitchers ‘losing their head’, ‘being in a slump’, or ‘having the wrong attitude’?
These are all saying, in one way or another, that the pitcher’s game is suffering psychologically. But what are the factors that lead players to have mental problems when pitching and how can players combat it?
Fatigue, fear, reinforcing bad habits, losing games, injuries, and distractions can all throw pitchers off their game and even the best players in the world are vulnerable to these problems.
Discipline is key to fighting off bad form. Pitchers need to remain focused and calm in order to get the most out of their performances and avoid falling into psychological traps.
So how can pitchers develop the mental side of the game and stay disciplined throughout the course of a season?
We’ve put together this list of mental training tips to give baseball players the edge at the pitching mound and maintain good form.
This is what people mean when they talk about “getting psyched” or getting in “the zone”. This is a mental state at which you find a balance between being motivated for the game and calm enough to perform well.
For some players, it takes listening to their favorite music before a game to get them in the zone. Others may require a moment of silence and mediation.
Some players will carry out other pre-game routines, both mentally (such as visualization – more on that in second) and physically such as technique warm-up with a throwing target. All these contribute to help them achieve this state of mind.
Another key part of mental preparation is adopting a positive mental attitude. This is essentially self-belief. Pitchers need to go into each game knowing that they are going to be successful and knowing that they are going to get strikes. Having a positive mantra that you can repeat to yourself before going into a game is one of the best methods of preparation that helps eliminate any doubts.
One of the very best psychological techniques that you can train yourself in is visualization or mental rehearsal. If you can imagine yourself throwing the perfect pitch, feel the movements and conjure a realistic image of yourself performing well, it will pay back dividends on the field.
Visualization also has great value when it comes to preventing injuries – if you can visualize perfect technique and get an idea in your head of how it will physically feel when you throw the perfect pitch, you’ll be able to do it right every time in reality.
This promotes proper mechanics and will eliminate the chances of damaging your arm, elbow and shoulder.
The ability to focus is important for any task whether it’s preparing for a school test or even watching a movie. It’s all about ignoring distractions and at a ball game there are plenty. Peripheral movements, sounds, smells – all of these things can trigger distractions and throw you off your game.
When you’re stepping up to pitch, imagine that it’s just you and the strike zone to remove the crowd, the coach, the hitter even and you’ll be able to keep calm as if you were practcing in your own backyard.
How can you increase your ability to focus? There are a number of ways to help improve it, but not many of them have anything to do with baseball!
Taking up chess is great way to train your mind to focus. It also helps you start thinking ahead, which is great when it comes to developing a strategy and game plan for your pitching. Juggling is also a great method of brain training and it’s great for your hand-eye coordination.
If you can conjure the feelings you felt during a particular win or an excellent strike you’re positivity will get boosted along with your self-confidence. The knowledge that you have and can win games and strike hitters out is an incredibly useful tool in bringing good form.
Take It One Game at a Time
Some players thrive under pressure, but for others it can be all too much and they can choke in big games. If you’re playing in a important game, forgot about it.
Treat it the same as you would any other game. Stay calm, relax, mentally prepare the same as you would for any other game and get yourself in the zone and you’ll have no problems.
You can even take this one step further and take it one pitch at a time. If you can see each pitch as an individual goal that you need to acheive, you remove the pressure of the scoreboard and really focus on the task at hand – preventing the hitter from scoring runs.
Being positive can refer to any number of things, but what we’re talking about here is developing and nurturing a positive mental attitude and using it to your advantage.
Eliminate the use if the words can’t and won’t. If you step up for a pitch thinking ‘I can’t throw the ball too far to the left side’, your brain will only process ‘throw to the left side’ so you need to cultivate positive thoughts. Tell yourself ‘hit the catcher’s mitt’.
Also tell yourself ‘I can do this’, and ‘I will do this’ and you’ll soon find yourself winning way more games. Negativity only breeds fear and this is really unhealthy for pitchers. Self belief is the key to unlocking your potential.