Managing the Moment
By Greg Bach
Young baseball players go through all sorts of frustrating, disappointing and confidence-shaking moments during games.
But amid the strikeouts, bobbled balls and base-running blunders, teaching youth to quickly shove those moments aside rather than lugging that negative baggage around with them all game long is vital for being able to perform at their best.
And have a more enjoyable experience with the sport, too.
“It’s about self-talk control,” says Aaron Weinstein, a performance consultant at California State University – Northridge and author of The Baseball Brain: Mental Game Training for the Developing Ballplayer. “Don’t let something that happened earlier in a game disrupt your thought process and your self-talk and get in your head for later in that game. What I have told a lot of players that I work with is to get upset about it after the game. Baseball is such a game of failure that if you can’t get those things out of your mind during the game, you’re just not going to be successful at it.”
BUILDING BLOCKS: TEACHING YOUTH MENTAL SKILLS
Just like teaching young players all the fundamentals of baseball takes lots of time and practice, the same applies to teaching them the mental side of the game, too.
“It takes time, just like bench pressing,” Weinstein says. “You don’t start lifting 300 pounds the first week you begin lifting. You have to build up to it and then it becomes easier, and mental skills are the same way.”
And when coaches can approach the subject in a fun and engaging manner with their teams, kids are more likely to latch onto its importance and enjoy working on bolstering these all-important skills.
“While it is challenging it can also be the most rewarding and the most fun because what you will see are athletes who start to make strides and grow,” Weinstein says. “But what also happens is they use these same skills outside of baseball, so you are not only developing their baseball acumen and their mental game but you’re also building these life skills that are going to help them no matter what they end up doing going forward.”
So making it a part of each practice can pay big dividends for players on and off the field.
“I think it’s about trying to make it exciting instead of confusing,” Weinstein says. “Connect it to them by explaining that just like we’re going to get better at taking ground balls properly we’re going to get better at controlling our mind and reacting how we need to properly. Basically, of the things that are in our power we are going to recognize that we are in control of them instead of them controlling us. So when you start to see athletes really grab hold of that that’s when it becomes really fun as a coach. You’re going to be able to help some of your athletes become not only better than you ever thought they would be, they’re also going to be more complete human beings, which is really important when we’re talking about youth athletics.”
THE BASEBALL BRAIN
Weinstein spent four seasons consulting with the Cal State Northridge baseball team.
He observed. He listened. He engaged in countless conversations with players.
And he jotted down a lot of notes.
“From the beginning of working with the team I started taking notes on situations and things I was seeing,” he says of what served as the impetus for his book. “I just wanted to put something out into the world and share some ideas that I wish I knew when I was a young player that I thought could help others. Just the idea that there is a mental game to begin with is important.”
The book covers a wealth of information: visualization, goal setting, meditation, breathing, growth mindsets, stress, anxiety, confidence, motivation, and much more. Plus, personal stories from the team are woven throughout the book that give readers an inside perspective on what athletes are dealing with regarding the mental side of competing.
“At the Division One level where I work most of the time, they are all good players and very talented,” Weinstein says. “But it’s who can actually grow and be mature enough to say ‘yes, I blew these first two at-bats but this at-bat right now is the most important and let’s just focus on it and put that other stuff to the side until later.’ If you can start doing that in a repetition it will begin to happen naturally.”
And when coaches can help players grasp these mental aspects of competing early on in their journeys, the possibilities for their growth are endless.
It just requires practice, patience and lots of mental reps to make it happen.
“A young player may say ‘I threw these first two at-bats away and I’m going to try and focus on my third one’ and it may not happen in that game,” Weinstein says. “But maybe the next game he gets a little better at it, and the next game a little better, and then all of a sudden you’ve built a process-oriented mindset where now all I think about is in this moment and I can trust that I’m going to analyze these good and bad moments later on after the game. It just becomes easier over time and when they start to get that and they start to grow that’s when the sky becomes the limit for them.”
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