Yesterday’s post talked about a player’s need to compartmentalize their thoughts in order to focus on the right things, at the right time, for the right amount of time. We all know some people who just seem to never let things get to them. They're level headed and can transition between multiple tasks seamlessly. Other people we know fly off the handle at a moments notice and have a very tough time shaking bad events that occur during their day. So how can a baseball player improve in this area and be more like the latter example? Here are some strategies for coaches and players that may help:
Problem Jar – This is something a coach can put in the locker room or near the bench. If a player has something weighing on his mind, he writes the issue on a piece of paper and places it in the jar. This mentally and physically symbolizes the player getting rid of the issue for the time being.
Pocket it – This is the same as above but instead of a coach organizing it with a jar, the player writes the problem down on paper and then places it in a pocket of his street clothes. The problem and all the negative thoughts associated with it stay there until after practice or the game.
Exit sign - Many locker rooms already have this type of thing. They place a motivational sign over the door that players exit through on their way to the field. Players sometimes tap it on the way out to remind them that they are about to enter practice or a game and need to leave problems they are having in the locker room. The wording of the phrase can reflect the need for this as well.
“Work zone” sign – Similar to the exit sign but this can be placed in a player’s locker or in a dugout to remind players that they are expected to be there physically and mentally.
Sign-in to practice – Coaches can do this by putting a clipboard in the dugout or on the bench. Physically signing your name when you arrive to practice lets the player know he is officially at practice now and needs to conduct himself as such both physically and mentally. If the player is not mentally ready, he doesn't sign-in.
Change your clothes, change your mind – This is something people do all the time without recognizing it. They come home from school/work and immediately change into something more comfortable. Usually when they do this the mental stress of their day subsides because the changing of the clothes represents a changing of roles and thoughts. Players can use this as well. Taking off their school clothes symbolizes the effect of “taking off” their stress from the day. As they put on their uniform, the player gradually shifts his mind into proper baseball focus to the point where when he is fully dressed in his uniform, his mind is fully clear of the baggage from his day and completely focused on baseball.
TIC – TOC. This strategy helps players recognize when their mind is drifting during competition and then helps them get back on track. Remember that great players have many of the same thoughts as distracted players but the great ones refocus quicker. When a player recognizes that his focus is drifting to something irrelevant, he says the word “TIC.” It’s important that he hear himself say it as opposed to just thinking the word. Saying it helps to snap him out of the distraction. He then says “TOC” when he regains his focus on what he should be focusing on. Saying these two words a lot is a positive thing because the player is finally recognizing how many times he gets distracted and can finally address it in a positive way. Other cue words might be “DELETE,” “FLUSH,” “LET IT GO,” and so forth. A player should create words or phrases that are personalized and unique for them.
Note: You may have noticed that many of the strategies involve a physical action that helps the player compartmentalize and get refocused. Sports psychologists will tell you that if a player is distracted by internal things (negative thoughts, irrelevant thoughts, etc) the player should shift their focus to something external to “get out of their head.” Writing something down, tapping a sign, taking off clothes, putting on a uniform, and saying TIC-TOC out loud along with other methods like fixing batting gloves and tapping your spikes with the bat are all examples of this. Every player should come up with their own technique to help themselves “get out of their head.”
If external distractions are the problem – yelling coaches, parents/girlfriend/scouts in the stands, etc. – it’s beneficial for the player to focus internally. Visualization, imagery, breathing exercises, etc. are all good for getting the player to focus less on external distractions and more on their inner (hopefully positive) thoughts.
Click on some of the links at left under the category “Sports psych” and search for more suggestions for players and coaches.