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GUIDE TO MENTAL PERFORMANCE IN BASEBALL


“Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.� -

Yogi Berra


Table of Contents Improving Performance – Beyond the Body .......................................................................................... 3 3 Popular Mental Training Myths ............................................................................................................. 6 The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy – Part I ........................................................................................................ 9 T.I.P.S. – Turn Inward for Personal Success....................................................................................... 11 Building Confidence In Sports ................................................................................................................ 12 The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy – Part II..................................................................................................... 14

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Improving Performance – Beyond the Body By Jen Scorniaenchi

Mental Performance Coaching is the segment of sports psychology that concentrates specifically on helping athletes break through the mental barriers that are keeping them from performing up to their peak potential. By focusing on the mental skills needed to be successful in any sporting competition, mental game coaching seeks to achieve the overall goal of performance improvement.

Sports psychology is about improving your attitude and mental game skills to help you perform your best by identifying limiting beliefs and embracing a healthier philosophy about your sport. Below is a list of the top ten ways that you can benefit from sports psychology: ▪ Improve focus and deal with distractions. Many athletes have the ability to concentrate, but often their focus is displaced on the wrong areas such as when a batter thinks “I need to get a hit” while in the batter’s box, which is a resultoriented focus. Much of my instruction on focus deals with helping athlete to stay focused on the present moment and let go of results.


▪ Grow confidence in athletes who have doubts. Doubt is the opposite of confidence. If you maintain many doubts prior to or during your performance, this indicates low selfconfidence or at least you are sabotaging what confidence you had at the start of the competition. Confidence is what I call a core mental game skill because of its importance and relationship to other mental skills. ▪ Develop coping skills to deal with setbacks and errors. Emotional control is a prerequisite to getting into the zone. Athletes with very high and strict expectations, have trouble dealing with minor errors that are a natural part of sports. It’s important to address these expectations and also help athletes stay composed under pressure and when they commit errors or become frustrated. ▪ Find the right zone of intensity for your sport. I use intensity in a broad sense to identify the level of arousal or mental activation that is necessary for each person to perform his or her best. This will vary from person to person and from sport to sport. Feeling “up” and positively charged is critical, but not getting overly excited is also important. You have to tread a fine line between being excited to complete, but not getting over-excited. ▪ Help teams develop communication skills and cohesion. A major part of sports psychology and mental training is helping teams improve cohesion and communication. The more a team works as a unit, the better the results for all involved. ▪ To instill a healthy belief system and identify irrational thoughts. One of the areas I pride myself on is helping athlete identify ineffective beliefs and attitudes such as comfort zones and negative self-labels that hold them back


from performing well. These core unhealthy beliefs must be identified and replaced with a new way of thinking. Unhealthy or irrational beliefs will keep you stuck no matter how much you practice or hard you try. ▪ Improve or balance motivation for optimal performance. It’s important to look at your level of motivation and just why you are motivated to play your sport. Some motivators are better in the long-term than others. Athletes who are extrinsically motivated often play for the wrong reasons, such as the athlete who only participates in sports because of a parent. I work with athlete to help them adopt a healthy level of motivation and be motivated for the right reasons. ▪ Develop confidence post-injury. Some athletes find themselves fully prepared physically to get back into competition and practice, but mentally some scars remain. Injury can hurt confidence, generate doubt during competition, and cause a lack of focus. I help athletes mentally heal from injuries and deal with the fear of re-injury. ▪ Develop game-specific strategies and game plans. All great coaches employ game plans, race strategies, and course management skills to help athletes mentally prepare for competition. This is an area beyond developing basic mental skills in which a mental coach helps athletes and teams. This is very important in sports such as golf, racing, and many team sports. ▪ Identify and enter the “zone” more often. This incorporates everything I do in the mental side of sports. The overall aim is to help athletes enter the zone by developing foundational mental skills that can help athletes enter the zone more frequently. It’s impossible to play in the zone every day, but you can set the conditions for it to happen more often.


3 Popular Mental Training Myths By Jen Scorniaenchi

Many professional athletes work with mental performance coaches to enhance performance, many of whom wished they had developed these skills much earlier in their careers. The problem is, there is a mindset that mental performance training is only necessary at higher levels where there is more at stake. However, many young players are never able to reach their full potential due to mental performance issues and those that are ‘good enough’ to reach higher levels in their sport spend more time than necessary battling performance issues. Even so - every child, regardless of their future goals or their current level, can benefit from mental skills training at the very least to improve their sport experience. A number of myths or reservations prevent adults and young athletes from truly understanding the use and need of sports psychology. Myth #1. “I don’t really get nervous- I’m already mentally prepared,” kids say. Sure - there are athletes that actually don’t get nervous. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer in other areas such as dwelling on mistakes, focus, playing as well as they practice, anger or frustration issues, and of course, being “prepared.” Even if nerves aren’t an issue, any athlete that says they are mentally prepared usually cannot list the sequential steps they take before a game or the specific techniques they use and when. While an athlete may feel prepared, they often have no


concrete plan of attack to deal with both positive and negative events. Myth #2. “I’m playing well right now- I don’t need it” young athletes say. If these kids could learn how to identify the thoughts and feelings that are feeding their success, they’d learn how to harness these thoughts and feelings at a later date—when they’re not at the top of their game. 

That’s just one of the lessons they’ll learn if they embrace mental training. The term "mentally weak" implies there is an inherently defective or temporarily fragile mental quality in an athlete. This is not a helpful or accurate statement, as many elite athletes who are quite mentally strong still seek the services of sport psychologists on a regular basis. This is one of the most pervasive and damaging of the many myths about sport psychology. Why does Jose Bautista continuously work with a batting coach? His game is not "weak or broken". He works with a coach so he can continue to improve, and to minimize any backsliding. The same is true with athletes who seek the services of sport psychologists. They want to improve their mental skills. Myth #3- “I already talk to my kid about thinking positively, why do I need someone else to do that?” parents say. It is always critical that parents are involved in helping develop and nurture the techniques their young athletes are learning to implement however, the emotions involved between a parent and their youth athlete can sometimes stand in the way (please read other posts on this topic here). Moreover, having a cognitive,


conceptual understanding of sport psychology is important, but this alone is not sufficient to help an athlete consistently perform under pressure. The principles of sports psychology need to be individualized, adapted and utilized in a very detailed and systematic way in order to be effective. Many people think positive thinking and visualization are the crux of sports psychology, and perhaps these are among the bestknown interventions, but they are only two of many approaches to improving sport performance. There is no single technique or modality that works equally well across the board in sports psychology, for all athletes, for all issues. Just as the field of medicine has various specialties and modalities to address the multitudinous issues that patients present, sports psychology has an array of interventions that can be customized to adapt to the wide variety of psychological issues athletes face.


The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy – Part I By Jen Scorniaenchi

Have you ever thought to yourself before a baseball game or practice, "this is going to suck" or “this is going to be a tough one” and then after the game or practice has ended you find yourself thinking "I'm glad that’s over - what a tough one!?" You MUST be psychic, right??!! Nope - False. The only reason the game or practice actually turned out to be tough or “sucky” is because you told yourself it was going to be that way before it even started. There was no truth to the statement "this is going to suck" until you made it come true. This is an example of the self-fulfilling prophecy and would not fall under the category of "good mental training". Robert Merton, a 20th century sociologist, actually coined the term "self-fulfilling prophecy". In his definition, in the book Social Theory and Social Structure published in 1949, the prophecy or prediction is false but is made true by a person’s actions. In the modern sense the prophecy has neither false nor true value, but is merely a possibility that is made into probability by a person’s unconscious or conscious actions. Baseball is a sport that is particularly susceptible to self-fulfilling prophecies. Most situations you will ever be in can be visualized ahead of time and as such you have a choice to either predict success or failure in your actions. So as a baseball player this is a skill that you will have to practice very hard to work in your favour. I must admit, I am often times my own victim of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If I tell myself I am not good enough then I


constantly feel that way. Knowing that I can easily succumb to such a phenomenon, I've become more conscious and aware of the messages I am sending myself. Perhaps it can be perceived as selfishness, but sometimes you just have to focus on yourself before others. I have found that the more I focus on all that I have done, instead of all that I should have or could have done; I am more at peace with myself. I encourage the same frame of thinking with my athletes. I have not "cured" myself or all of my athletes fully - it is an on-going practice. But I, and they, can certainly tell the difference since we have begun listening more closely to our hearts' reactions instead of our heads' reactions. While definitely grasping the idea that feeding ourselves good energy helps to expel good energy, my athletes will still find themselves thinking negative thoughts and then believing them. Why?? Well I am going to leave that for Part II of this blog, so please stay tuned for that.


T.I.P.S. – Turn Inward for Personal Success By Jen Scorniaenchi

People are often asking me for tips for better performance. Whether it is nutrition tips, mental focus tips, stress management tips, or tips for putting it all together. This is my job- to be a resource, a guide, a coach to ultimate performance. However, all that I can do is give you the tools that you need, share my knowledge, and support you along the way with guidance and detail. The actual WORK comes from you. YOU are in control of YOU. The only things you can control in this life are your own actions and perceptions. Yes, I can help teach you how to change those perceptions and habits and the skills and strategies you need for optimal performance but only YOU can make the changes come to life. I constantly remind my athletes of this. Just because I give you a guide does not mean it will magically work- YOU have to make it come to life. Own it… embrace it… follow it. Results will happen- period. Outside noise, outside influences, outside stress, etc… will NEVER change- I repeat NEVER change. Don’t waste your time trying to change others or circumstances- focus on what YOU can controlYOU. So, the moral of the story here is, the most important piece of information I can possibly provide an athlete is perhaps the biggest TIP of them all….Turn Inward for Personal Success. All that you can become as a baseball player will come from inside of you when you are ready to dig in deep to retrieve it.


Building Confidence In Sports By Jen Scorniaenchi

I am often approached by athletes and parents wanting to know how they can “gain more confidence.” Unfortunately, confidence is not something you can buy in a store, get from reading a book, or even by someone else’s praise. Improving YOUR confidence takes work by YOU. The great thing about confidence is that it is a bi-product of mastering many other mental skills- and that is where I always start with my athletes. The more we mentally practice our sport and build our coping skills the more confident we become. Confidence lies not only in an athlete’s belief in their own skill but also their confidence (self-efficacy) to cope when things don’t go as planned . It is through learning a combination of both coping skills and mental preparation that athletes tend to see their performance- and confidence – soar. Here are some things to remember: Remember that confidence fluctuates. Even major league baseball players experience peaks and valleys when it comes to confidence. It is important to recognize that when your confidence is low it is not forever- as long as you work at focusing on something more productive like improving a skill; your confidence will restore itself. Focus on yourself, not on others. Instead of thinking about how well your teammates or opponents are doing, think about your own performance and how you can improve.


Focus on day-to-day success. Don’t simply count the amazing double play, strike out, that huge home-run, or even a win as your measure of success. This is setting you up for a confidence pitfall. Instead, focus on even the smallest successes or things you do well EVERY day you train or play. Concentrate on the process, not outcomes. When you focus on your performance instead of the outcome of a game you automatically become more confident because your focus is directed at something YOU can control. It is possible that you could play the best game of your life and still lose. Yes, you may still feel disappointed or upset that you lost but your confidence will remain intact because you focused on your performance and gave it your all. Focus on what you’re doing right. Even in the midst of your worst possible game there is SOMETHING that you are doing right. That simple shift from dwelling on mistakes to finding something positive has a bigger impact on your mental and physiological state than you know!


The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy – Part II By Jen Scorniaenchi

In Part I we: ▪ Introduced the term "self-fulfilling prophecy" ▪ Discussed the implications of it to baseball players, specifically in its negative from ▪ Left you with the question of "Why do we still think negative thoughts as well as believe them??" So......WHY?!?! Well, as you know, this life is not meant or designed for us to go at it alone - we have to coexist with others, whether it be friends, family or our baseball teammates. The more 'others' there are, the more perceptions and thoughts come into the picture. It is very possible that others' words, actions, thoughts, and perceptions of you lead you into self-fulfilling behaviors. If you're constantly told you're not good enough or weak, you begin to take on that role consciously or unconsciously. The way to prevent self-fulfilling prophesies is simple: don't make any negative predictions at all. Any kind of pre-judgment of events and people (including you) should be strictly avoided. Easier said than done! I have been working with my athletes on something I call "notice and ease" notice the negative thought, and try to ease away from it...and perhaps towards a positive one. It's NOT easy. I repeat it is NOT NOT NOT easy. Sometimes cursing or throwing your baseball helmet or bat feels so much better. But like anything, it is a


process. And in time, I have seen chronically negative athletes shift towards a more calm and positive state both on the field and in life. Something so simple like a thought can have so much power over us. Do what you can to disinfect your own thoughts and try not to get hung up on the thoughts of others - especially when it is negative towards or about you. I have quickly learned that once you have willingly fallen into a certain "category" - even if you don't want to be there or don't believe you belong there - it is very hard not to conform or surrender to it. So don't let negativity - whether it is thoughts about yourself, thoughts about others, or judgments of you by others - dictate the day you'll have, the person you are, and the life you live. Get your baseball mental training on the track to success. YOU dictate You!


Jason Taulman Dedicated to the development of young players through strength and skills training, Jason currently conducts lessons, camps and clinics at Sparta located in Fishers, IN. As a player, Jason began his post-high school career as a walk-on pitcher for St. Joseph’s College. Over his 4 year college career, Jason gained 12 mph in velocity through hard work and training to develop into a standout pitcher, graduating with a degree in Elementary Education in 1995. That same year, his baseball team was crowned Great Lakes Valley Conference Champions. He spent five seasons as a professional pitcher, playing with the Sioux Falls Canaries (then of the Northern League) and also with the Lafayette Leopards, who participated in the MidAmerica League (1995) and Heartland League (1996-98). In 1998 Jason pitched the first perfect game in modern day independent minor league history, which earned a feature story in Baseball America. In 1997 he was a Heartland League all-star, and in 1995 was named a Mid-America League all-star by Baseball America. His 1995 and 1996 squads were also league champions. Jason began his coaching career spending three seasons as a coach in professional baseball, serving with the Ohio Valley Redcoats of the Frontier League and the Lafayette Leopards of the Heartland League. Later, as pitching coach at Butler University, his pitching staff (which included current Minnesota Twins pitcher Pat Neshek) led the Horizon League in pitching stats in 2001 and 2002. After his first stint at Butler, Taulman went to Ball State University to serve as pitching coach, and subsequently earned a Master’s Degree in Physical Education (Coaching specialization). In 2003, Ball State was the Mid-America Conference West Division Champions. Jason later returned to Butler to coach for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Over the years Jason has coached over 30 players who have signed professional contracts and dozens more who have earned college scholarships.


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