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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The power of a routine

Most players at the major league level have rituals or some sort of routine they go through prior to games.  Some might put on their uniform the same way everyday.  Others might eat at the same times on game days.  Hall of Famer Wade Boggs was famous for his pre-game rituals.  Although some might scoff at these rituals and call them mere superstitions, sports psychologists have long advocated the use of rituals to help players prepare both physically and mentally prior to competition.  For players just starting out with this type of strategy, it can be benefitial to create a chart like the one below in order to map out a game plan with regards to rituals and help improve the mental side of the game.  Having it written down can allow the player to follow it more easily and then tweak it over time to find the right pattern that feels right and gets results.  The example below comes from the book The Psychology of Coaching Team Sports by Larry Leith.  I highly recommend it.  The chart below has three columns.  The first is the ritual.  The second is what the player hopes to accomplish by doing the activity and the third provides a player with an alternative plan in case the original activity doesn't work.  All three columns are important parts to the process so don't skip any.  Plotting information that has been personalized by the player provides a feeling of control for those that might struggle with negative thoughts and a lack of confidence.  Without a plan of attack, some players' thinking starts to spiral downward rapidly when pressure arrives or anxiety sets in.  Having something to look at and follow allows the player to do something productive to relieve this pre-competition stress and stop the downward spiral.  I know at times in my career I would have benefited from something like this.  Give it a try!

Baseball Pitcher Before a Saturday Game
Ritual / Activity
Desired Effect
Plan B
Night before – listen to CD of relaxing music
Relaxed, at ease, no worries
Watch a movie; play a video game
Morning – wake up late, smile, repeat positive statements, such as “I feel good, I’m ready to go.”
Maintain relaxation, feel good, feel awake, not thinking too much about the game
Read morning comics, listen to “pump up” CD
Check equipment bag one last time
Put mind at ease
Build sense of preparedness
List things practiced since last start.
List improvements since last start.
20 minutes alone for positive imagery and mental rehearsal of specific pitches
Confident, clear about pitching strategy for each batter, mental practice of pitches
“STOP” spiraling and TIC-TAC to regain positive focus
Rewind and adjust as needed
After arriving at competition site, start slow warm-up routine in OF 30 minutes prior
No stiffness, feel loose, feel strong, getting prepared
Find other suitable location as needed; Adjust routine to focus on unexpected stiffness, long toss
Complete bullpen routine
Develop feel for every pitch in wind-up and stretch; command
Positive self-statements, Nobody wins in the bullpen
Put jacket on, drink water, sit in dugout, visualize pitches to opposing lineup, breathing exercises
Short rest, relax heart rate, mentally rehearse first batter, inhale positive energy- exhale negative energy
Adjust breathing technique
Pre-inning warm-ups:
Feel for the mound
Adjust mound as needed, Positive self-statements
During game – use positive self-statements
“Throw low strikes”
“Way to pitch” “You’re doing fine”
Maintain focus, maintain confidence, stay in the zone, adjust
“STOP” spiraling 
 “TIC-TAC” when needed

* STOP & TIC-TAC are strategies to address spiraling

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