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Pitching Through Adversity… Can You do it?
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Brandon

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April 1, 2012 – 9:47 am
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Z,

You are right, you dont want to be thinking about the freebie war when you are pitching. If you have an attack mentality on he mound, the freebie war basically takes care of itself, so long as your defense has a ” stingy” mentality so to say. Controlling what you can control is very big. For instance, if you make a good window pitch with your breaking ball on an 0-2 count, and the batter changes his swing to hit an oppo flair for a hit, you can’t respond to that with negativity. The bottom line is that you made your pitch and changed swings and did your job, now you have to attack the next hitter.

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baseonballs

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June 19, 2013 – 2:06 pm
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Adversity can make or break a pitcher.  High achieving pitchers can be challenged when they fail or get hit hard.  Learning how to deal with short-term setbacks in order to learn is a tremendous asset.  The Mental Game of Baseball, by H. A. Dorfman and Karl Keuhl is a classic.  A key them of the book is playing from within and learning to set effective goals.  A lot of great examples are in the book.

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baseonballs

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June 19, 2013 – 2:14 pm
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 Dorfman wrote a follow up to The Mental Game of Baseball that dealt strictly with pitching – called The Mental ABC’s of Pitching:  A Handbook for Performance Enhancement.  The book follows a format when topics are covered individually in alphabetical order, such as Adversity, Big Inning, Closers, etc.

Here’s an excerpt from the book on the Fear of Failure.

 

FEAR OF FAILURE

Many years ago, I walked up a dirt road in Vermont, holding the hand of a son who was about to wait for a school bus for the first time.  He would board the bus that would take him to his first kindergarten experience.  As we got to the top of the hill, where we were to wait, I sensed an edginess in him.  He was anticipating what was to come, of course.  I thought I’d short-circuit any possible anxiety.  “This is exciting,” I said enthusiastically.  “Melissa (his older sister) is excited; Mom is excited; I’m excited!”

His reply was matter-of-fact.  “You’re excited; “I’m nervous.”  Indeed, there is a difference.

Nervousness is an excited state grounded in worry, which, in turn, can create a feeling of anxiety strong enough to affect behavior.  If not adequately addressed, a performance anxiety can grow into a pervasive fear.  In baseball, that fear is usually a fear of failure.  Two factors determine the extent to which this fear will adversely affect performance:  the magnitude of the fear and the individual’s coping mechanisms, or absence of them.

Fears are acquired through direct and vicarious experience.  Difficult and troubling situations can have dramatic effects on people, whether they personally go through them or witness others going through them.  The more dramatic the situation, the more likely the person experiencing it is to acquire a related feeling of fear.  From that point, the fear may be maintained and intensified through traumatic memory and a self-defeating anticipation of meeting the situation again.

A pitcher with such a negative expectation is not likely to cope with a performance he sees as threatening, rather than challenging.  His preoccupation is with his feeling regarding the danger.  He is distracted by these feelings and therefore unable to focus on task.  He expects to perform poorly and he does.

A pitcher who knows or believes he is able to cope with (i.e., control) threatening events diminishes his fear of them.  He gives himself a chance to perform well.  Of course, the ideal is for a pitcher to see any situation as a challenge – a joy.  That pitcher knows he has nothing to fear.  He expects to do well, and he usually does.

Well, then, what does a pitcher have to fear?  Getting back to Dennis Eckersley’s pronounced fears, I can list embarrassment and humiliation at the top.  I have experienced pitchers who fear disapproval of a loved one; others fear disappointing people – parents, teammates.  They have a distorted view of their responsibility, just as the more dramatic fears illustrate a distorted view of the individual himself and his world.  All these narrow fears are spokes of a wheel, which has “failure” as its hub.  The important understanding is that these fears are real to these people.  Very real.  Someone who has not felt anything closely approximating such intense feelings cannot empathize – nor even understand, perhaps.

The performance of a pitcher with fear is adversely affected by more than the mental distraction itself.   The body produces an alarm reaction, produced by a number of stressors.  The sympathetic nervous system readies the pitcher for “flight or fight.”  In the first case, the “fighting” will be uncontrolled – panicky and desperate, and ineffective, needless to say.  In the second case, the pitcher will “cave in.”  In either case, the pitcher’s respiration and heart rate will increase, too much adrenalin will surge through him, his muscles will tense, breathing will shorten, his sugar levels rise, blood will move away from the skin surface, so he will lose his “feel” of the ball.  So much for the bad news.

The good news is that I have seen a good number of pitchers overcome their fears, and a greater number learn to cope with them so they would not interfere with performance.  The very exceptional, Dennis Eckersley, for example, harnessed their fears and used them to motivate themselves to succeed.

All three processes require what is called “intellectualization.”  The first step is “catastrophizing.”  A player and I would explore the worst possible scenario, the most dramatically “terrible” thing could happen in his career.  The core of his fear.  The intent is to reduce the arousal caused by the perceived threat by distancing the player from the discomfort, through the use of his intelligence, rather than his emotions – the prevailing emotion being fear.  The great golfer, Jack Nicklaus, used the technique successfully.  A pitcher who uses the technique learns that fears tell lies.  They suggest to the pitcher that situations he will face are more difficult to deal with than they actually are.

Iris Murdoch wrote, “Demons and viruses live in every human organism, but in some happy lives never become active.”  But it is possible to deactivate the active ones.  When someone intellectually examines his fears or concerns, he diminishes the impact the emotion can have on his system.  For a pitcher to perform successfully, a “locus of control” must be developed.  Essentially, that was what Walt Weiss did.  I encourage him to live “from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.”  People with internal control are able to cope with fears because they come to understand the fears are their response to – their interpretation of – external events or situations.  They are not inherent in the “outside world.”

Catastrophizing allows them to further understand what Shakespeare expressed centuries ago:  Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.”  What a pitcher invents in his imagination creates more fear than any actual “threatening” situation may cause.  Rational thinking helps combat all this.  It is a reality check.  “How likely to happen is the abysmal failure you fear?”  I have asked countless times.  On a scale of one to ten, ten be the most likely, pitchers’ responses very rarely are above six.  “Then you have an excellent opportunity to take control,” I suggest.

Working toward internal control encourages a person to recognize his own responsibility.  The world at large (baseball in particular) is not waiting to attack or threaten him.  He has something to say about the situation and about the fear itself.  Taking responsibility is admitting to his fear what poet Joy Harjo expressed so well:  “You have choked me, but I gave you the leash.”

“Think about what you want to do, not what might happen to you,” I advise the pitcher.  I tell him the brain can process threatening impulses quicker than it can develop helpful thoughts, so he must learn to give himself time – time to assure thoughtful, rather than emotional responses being brought to the next pitch.  By being pro-active through thought, he will help himself eliminate reactive emotional responses.  “Emotions feed the monster,” I tell him.  “Thought starves it.”

Phillies pitching prospect Ryan Brannan was said to be on a “fast track to the big leagues” in 1997.  Somehow he was derailed.  When Brannan returned to the Double-A Reading team in 1998, manager Al LeBouf, according to the media, “saw an entirely different pitcher.”  Said LeBouf, “Last year when he walked to the mound, he just knew he was going to get people out.  This year he looked scared and confused.  Well, maybe confused isn’t the right word.  But timid.”

The feeling and the accompanying behavior are very common in young pitchers, especially those who experience failure for the first time.  Brannan had not fared well at the Triple-A level the previous year.  He was, said a Baseball America article written by Paul Hagen, “…getting knocked around on a regular basis for the first time in his career.”  That will do it.  I’ve seen it happen many times.

“I think a lot of athletes are really fearful of failure,” pitcher David Cone has said.  “I use to have some fear…”

Most performers walk a plank between a great desire for recognition and appreciation – and a fear of what they believe to be the humiliation and embarrassment that come with failure.  They have a great responsibility within the game being played; they are “center stage” on an elevated stage, at that.  A dirt mound -an island-in the midst of a sea of green.  All eyes are on them before each pitch, all action start with them; all responsibility, they feel, ends with them.  Vulnerability hovers; fear lurks.

I use the plank referred to above as a metaphor when talking with pitchers about fear.  The pitcher and I will imagine a four-foot-wide plank going across the length of the floor of the room we are in,” I say.  “I focus on consequences, on making one false step.  But why should I make a false step, when I can negotiate this plank so easily?  Not because I’m unable to do it, but because fear causes a lack of confidence in my ability to do so, and I freeze up.  I cannot allow “future” to enter my head; I focus on the present–the next step I will take.”

In such a situation I could develop what Ambrose Bierce called “a sense of the total depravity of the immediate future.”  I could become an entirely different “walker,” as Ryan Brannan became “an entirely different pitcher.”  But it would all depend on my ability to cope, to concentrate on task, albeit not as naturally relaxed as I had been.  But perhaps I am able to “unnaturally” coach myself across the plank with positive, functional directives.  With controlled thought and breathing.  “Easy? Of course not,” I admit to the pitcher.  “But I refuse to believe that pitching poorly is comparable to falling into the Grand Canyon.”  Thus far, they have all agreed.  Subtle catastrophizing.

A few pitchers have told me that coming to terms with the inevitable failures that result in baseball is like coming to terms with death.  Dennis Eckersley, most emphatically.  “It’s like dying out there,” he said to me, referring to giving up a game-winning hit–a blown save opportunity.  But Eck always resurrected himself, which is a tribute to his greatness.  He approached the next opportunity with vitality (“vita” = life), not with a death rattle, despite his fear.  I have had the good fortune to witness, as well, closer Robb Nen’s growing ability to do the same.  These two outstanding performers intellectualized three major considerations:  first, a closer, being human, must fail sometimes; second, the “failure” may be in not accomplishing a desired outcome, not necessarily in executing pitches poorly; third, failing at a task–failing to execute-is not the same thing as “being a failure.

For some, happiness is the absence of Murdoch’s demons and viruses.  For me, in my experience with players, happiness is the vanquishing of them.  Facing up to fears is an initial step in vanquishing them, and poet Lucille Clifton puts that step above happiness.  “Honor,” she wrote, “is not not acting because you are afraid.  Nor is there honor in acting when you are not afraid.  But acting when you are afraid, that’s where honor is.”

I feel it is important to mention “fear of success” before concluding this entry.  According to many fearful pitchers, the consequences of failure are embarrassment and humiliation.  However, those who fear success fear responsibility beyond their perceived capability.  Though pitchers in each category arrive at the same point of limited self-confidence, they have traveled different paths to get there.

When Jeff Musselman pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays, he admittedly, “feared my next game after I’d pitched well.”  He turned to alcohol to escape those fears.  “I was fine after I pitched poorly,” Musselman recalls.  “But if I won, I’d think, “They’re going to expect me to do that again.’  I couldn’t handle that kind of responsibility.”

He learned to, after having taken care of his drinking problem by attending AA sessions regularly.

Nelson Mandela has expressed the view that “our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond our measure.”  Or, as in Musselman’s case, management might expect the pitcher to be so.  Whichever the problem, the symptoms are the same as they are with fear of failure.  All fears create feelings based on unrealistic and/or distracting anticipations.  The problem usually develops at a more rapid rate than the solution.  But the time spent on that solution is time well spent.

What the Pitcher Should Do…

  • Know first and foremost that the “fear of failure” is very common in athletes, though very unpleasant
  • Understand that “fear of success” is just a variation on the theme of “fear of failure” and that, though they are situationally different, they are psychologically the same:  a problem based on self-doubt and eventual failure.
  • Learn to be aware of irrational thoughts based on consequences of failure.
  • Define “failure” the term as a failure to reach a goal or accomplish a task, rather than attaching to himself the personal label of being a failure.
  •  Recognize what does and does not constitute failure in his performance, meaning that results do not indicate performance failure.  Poor behavior and execution do.
  • Understand that fear impedes judgment.
  • Thoughtfully script out a list of rational thoughts to replace the irrational.
  • With self-discipline, practice repeating the rational, fear-confronting thoughts, preferably aloud, if alone.
  • Remember that habit is powerful, and it is therefore important to create the good habit of acting fearless, despite the feelings of fear.
  • Learn to focus on the next performance, irrespective of physical symptoms of fear, thereby detaching himself from emotions and attaching himself to planned behavior.
  • Adjust arousal created by feelings to a level desire for effective performance through deep breathing and by visualizing past successes on the mound.
  • During competition, develop a “will to bear discomfort,” by focusing on the delivery of the next pitch, rather than on his feeling.
  • During difficulty, coach himself with positive, functional directives and appropriate arousal adjustment–up or down, based on whether the “system” is signaling “fight” or “flight.”
  • Reward himself for good behavior, despite the existence of bad feelings.

The Mental ABC’s of Pitching:  A Handbook for Performance Enhancement, pp. 103-109.

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June 20, 2013 – 11:36 am
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ADVERSITY

Adversity is, at the same time, a formidable test and a stern teacher.  The confrontation with difficulty, problems, or failure introduces people to themselves.  Henry Fielding wrote that “adversity is the trial of principle.  Without it a man hardly knows whether he is honest or not.”  Whether he can pass the test and learn from the experience.

During the course of my daily talks with the team before stretching each spring training, I’ve invariably included the reminder, “If you want to know who I am, watch me when things aren’t going my way.”  That’s an indicator I always use when observing others, when observing pitchers during competition.  Unfortunately, many fail the test.

Lucretius wrote, “Look at the man in the midst of doubt and danger…It is then that true utterances are wrung from his recesses…The mask is torn off; the reality remains.”

Here’s a recurring reality:  A pitcher is sailing along with a two-run lead going into the sixth inning.  He gets into trouble; the score becomes tied.  He’s scuffling.  He “needs an out.”  Two men on, two out.  He makes a pitch and gets a groundball to short.  The shortstop boots it.

I cannot count how many times I’ve seen the pitcher come unglued in this circumstance, or one similar to it.  His responses to an adverse situation–the disappointment that comes from thinking he had closed out the inning, only to have an error committed behind him–takes him out of his game, away from his approach, into a fog of frustration or anger or self-pity.  If I had a dollar for every pitcher who failed to finish that inning, I’d have a wallet thicker than this book.

The pitcher’s behavior was revealing and unacceptable.  His ego took over.  His thoughts centered on himself–on what was happening to him–instead of on the situation and what he could make happen to improve or remedy it.  Circumstance controlled him and he took on a victim’s mentality, giving himself no chance to “get the job done.”  Typically–my wallet gets fatter–the pitcher would invoke, “Here we go again,” instead of, “Here I go.”  Therein is the difference between being the hunter and being the prey.

Some of the indicators I’ve witnessed at such times were:  immediate drop of velocity, over-throwing, terrible body language, complete loss of interest and energy–quitting.  Courage and discipline were not in evidence.

It should be mentioned here that all of us, at one time or another, meet with adversity away from the field, as well.  The serious illness of a family, for example, can be a terrible burden and distraction.  At the ballpark my advice to players in such cases has been simple and direct.  First, it must be determined whether the player should be elsewhere.  Is there something he can do to remedy the situation or solve the problem?  If so, then I encourage him to stop agonizing about what to do and fulfill his responsibility.  Do what need to be done.

If there is nothing that can be done–no immediate control the player can exert over the adverse circumstance to improve it–I try to help that player concentrate on what he should be doing at the field.  That is, functioning professionally and effectively during a complicated time.  Easy to say, hard to do.  How many times will the reader see these words on these pages?  If he had a dollar for every time….

A pitcher may feel ill himself–or tired–before and during competition.  The best competitors pitch effectively even when they are not at their physical best.  Actually, the body most often will provide the pitcher what he asks for if he wants to “win the war.”  The body’s sympathetic nervous system kicks in as compensation for the fatigue or illness.  A “battler” will get an extra adrenal charge.  Everyone who has ever competed can remember a day (days!) when, though he felt terrible, his performance was wonderful.

When facing adversity, a choice must be made.  Will it be fight–or flight?  “Tough” pitchers will last longer than tough times.

What the Pitcher Should Do….

  • Recognize that he will inevitably be faced with adversity in his professional and/or personal life, rather than ignoring or denying that eventuality.
  • Consider, philosophically, that an adverse circumstance is a challenge, rather than a threat.
  • Be self-assertive, rather than self-pitying.
  • Think of possible solutions, rather than the problem.
  • During competition, think about what to do, rather than give in to how he is feeling.
  • Recognize what is happening; get off the mound; gather his thoughts; coach himself with positive self-talk–“C’mon, attack the strike zone,” Good low strike here,” “Throw through the target,” or whatever MANTRA the pitcher chooses.  All this, rather than forfeiting his internal control to adverse external factors of the moment.

The Mental ABC’s of Pitching:  A Handbook for Performance Enhancement, pp. 3-4.

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June 20, 2013 – 11:44 am
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baseonballs said
Adversity can make or break a pitcher.  High achieving pitchers can be challenged when they fail or get hit hard.  Learning how to deal with short-term setbacks in order to learn is a tremendous asset.  The Mental Game of Baseball, by H. A. Dorfman and Karl Keuhl is a classic.  A key them of the book is playing from within and learning to set effective goals.  A lot of great examples are in the book.

 

My favorite chapter in The Mental Game of Baseball is  the third one, on expectations.  Eric Davis, who first played for the Cincinnati Reds, is given as an example near the end of chapter 3 of a young player coming into baseball with high expectations.  He was a 5 tool player that some say was the best that they had seen since Willie Mays.  Davis is quoted with a very sensible response to those who gave him high praise when he first came into the league:

“I don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations.  You can’t play that way.  I’ve heard nice things about me before.  It’s tough when you’re a young guy and everyone expects so much from you.  All of us have to learn.  Even when you’re a success, everything is a learning process.”

I remembered Davis from when I was younger, but I did a little more searching about him.  Interestingly after he retired from baseball, he wrote a book – Born to Play:  The Eric Davis Story – Life Lessons in Overcoming Adversity on and Off the Field.  The jacket cover of the book has the following:

“In this richly detailed biography, Eric tells the of the story man behind the uniform. Again and, again, Eric has confounded the skeptics who thought he wouldn’t get out of the ghetto, wouldn’t become a star player, wouldn’t come back from injuries, and, most recently, that he wouldn’t survive cancer.”

“Fueled by strong faith, a loving family, and almost superhuman power to see the good in adversity, Eric has again and again exceeded all expectations. Along with the triumphs have come overwhelming tragedies as he watched his beloved older brother join a gang, fall prey to the streets, and die just as Eric was battling cancer.”

The last 2 paragraphs in Chapter 3 in The Mental Game of Baseball are among my favorites.  They help me, too, define what success is in my life.

“…That’s why it’s so important to distinguish between goals and expectations, as we have tried to do.  The player who can understand the difference between where he is reasonably trying to go, as opposed to where others want him to end up, approaches his game from the right direction.  He takes the initial responsibility of charting his own course.  He then observes his movement and makes the appropriate adjustments, knowing where he is, knowing where he wants to be, knowing how to get there.  One specific step at a time.  He’ll be more relaxed, confident, and effective player as a result.”

 “He will never be a failure.  He will find out just how good he is and work at being that good consistently.  In doing that , he’ll become a better player – a happier one, as well, for he’ll know he did his best.  We think he’d call that personal success.”

 

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June 21, 2013 – 11:26 am
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“Mets’ Pelfrey Tries to Stick to Mental ABCs of Pitching” – The Wall Street Journal

http://online.wsj.com/article/…..538.html 

Dorfman died in 2011 at the age of 75.

From the article:

“…taught him to forget his failures quickly, to pitch with his mind free of all the self-doubt and self-loathing that once over him.”

“It used to be where if I had one bad start, you might see it a little bit in the next start, because it would carry over.”

“As soon as a runner would reach base, he would lose concentration.”

“There were times when I would have a bad game and I couldn’t talk to my wife…..”

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June 21, 2013 – 12:23 pm
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GATHERING

“Gathering” is a term meaning just what the image conjures up:  a drawing together–a getting together of something.  For a pitcher, gathering means getting himself together.  His thoughts, his self-talk, his attitudes, his focus.  In a word, his composure.  What gathering is not is the “waiting for everything to be all right.”  Gathering is the process of a pitcher making himself “all right.”  It is the taking charge of oneself and one’s circumstances.  It is another moment in time when a pitcher takes responsibility for himself and his performance.

The process is not all that elaborate.  It has been alluded to throughout this book.  “Gathering” allows the pitcher the time to remind himself to get back to his approach.  During the process, he provides himself with whatever stimulus he needs to refocus on task and take charge of his thoughts, by using keys or “triggers” that quickly get him “back on his mental track.”  The duration of the process should be in proportion to how far off the track he has gone.  Though it should not be a prolonged process, it must be long enough to allow the pitcher to calm and control himself.

After a young and talented minor league pitcher had a rare good outing recently, he told me he “finally had himself together out there.”  He did not have to be expansive.  I knew “where he had come from.”  Prior to that performance, he had struggled with “keeping himself together.” because of thoughts that separated him from his task.  He had been worried about his recovery from an arm injury.  He had been burdened by the expectations that come with having been a high draft choice.

During his previous performances, the young man seemed to act out every symptomatic behavior of a distracted athlete.  The behavior worsened each inning–with each hitter, actually.  The outings were relatively brief. 

The story has been “told” before.  The major point in this telling is to emphasize how the pitcher allowed his performance problems to continue and to grow.  He stood on the rubber and watched as the snowball rolled down the hill.  The pitcher’s remarks after the snowball had impacted and stopped:  “I didn’t know what was going on out there.  I mean, I didn’t have a clue.  Before I knew it, I was gone from the game.”

It has been said before, many times.

Pitchers must have a clue.  One must know something is breaking if he is to keep it from shattering.  He must know it is broken, if he is to fix it.  The “step” off the mound is the first step a pitcher should take in searching for a clue.  The stepping off the mound gives him an opportunity to gather his thoughts, to stop the rushing that comes in times of adversity, to stop himself–and to coach himself–until he is ready to execute a pitch with proper focus and purpose.

The development of this habit is essential.  For a time, a pitcher may need someone to provide a reminder, by giving the pitcher whatever “key” he wishes to use.

When working with pitchers on gathering, I encourage them all to step off the rubber.  “Separate your environments,” I say.  By getting off the mound, the pitcher moves to a place where he can coach himself.  Where he can gather himself.  This is difficult, near impossible, to do on the rubber, since the pitcher, in that environment, is physically readying himself for the next pitch.  I also tell pitchers that they are two different people on the ballfield.  One is the performer; the other is the coach.  On the rubber, he is the performer; off the rubber he is the coach.  The more coaching necessary, the further from the rubber he should be.  Off the back of the mound, facing toward center field is my place and posture of choice.

Getting there is that first step in getting himself together.  By separating himself from the place where trouble has formed, the rubber, he has put himself in a place where the solution can be formed.

What he does when he is there is the other part of the gathering process.

Different pitchers have different techniques.  Pragmatism tells us what works is true.  Some pitchers, unhappy with the execution of a particular pitch, come down off the front of the mound and take a circuitous route back, gathering themselves as they go (e.g. Kevin Brown).  Some have even squatted behind the mound, when “getting it together” requires more time and thought (e.g. Al Leiter).

Gathering, then, is the physical and mental action that, first, allows the pitcher to “get away” from what is going on by getting away from the rubber and/or the mound.  Second, gathering is the internal action of calming and slowing down thoughts and body, so as to be able to use all the self-coaching techniques available to the pitcher.  For example, deep breathing, positive task-directed self-talk, mental reminders addressing focus “keys” and to provoke aggressive, controlled execution.  The process of gathering allows the pitcher the time and the environment for making mental adjustments.  It allows the pitcher to “stop the snowball,’ before it gets rolling down the hill.

What the Pitcher Should Do….

  • Understand the process of gathering allows him to make the mental adjustments required to stay in control of himself, i.e., his thoughts and behavior.
  • Understand that gathering helps break a tempo that is working against the pitcher and for the hitter.
  • Develop a routine that serves him well, first making sure to get off the pitching rubber and/or the mound.
  • Understand that by “separating his environments,” he allows himself to break tension, moving away from the point of distraction to a point of instruction.
  • Recognize that he has two roles:  he is a pitcher and he a is a coach.  And that pitching takes place on the mound and rubber, while coaching takes place away from them.

The Mental ABC’s of Pitching:  A Handbook for Performance Enhancement, pp. 119-121.

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June 21, 2013 – 1:42 pm
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COURAGE

One of my pat introductions to a pitcher I’m meeting for the first time goes like this:  “If I tell you that you’ll be successful if you give me two tings–intelligence and courage–and you tell me that you can only give me one of them, which do you think I’d ask for?

The answer is too often, “Intelligence.”  Those who so reply, I advise that throwing a baseball aggressively does not take all that much intelligence.  I find that for many, it does take a greater degree of courage than they seem to have.  It is, perhaps, understandable.  But it is not acceptable, if excellence as a pitcher is his goal.

I further explain that whatever “smarts” a pitcher may have is negated by his lack of courage.  If a pitcher acts out his fears, he forfeits his intelligence, since he behaves emotionally, rather rationally.  He loses a doubleheader.

The Latin cor means “heart.”  To have courage is to have “heart”; that term is heard often enough around ballparks.  To many, it implies fearlessness.  But that is not the point of courage.  To have courage is to act bravely in spite of the existence of fear.  Dennis Eckersley has exemplified courage for as long s I have known him.  Here is a pitcher–a man–who fought and won the battle against alcoholism, and who announced to the world that he was terrified of failure–of public embarrassment and humiliation should he perform poorly.  The strategy was clear to him.  Essentially, he said to himself, “If I don’t want to fail, then rather than acting out what I feel, I will act out what I know will help me to succeed.”  And he did; he was a consistently aggressive as a pitcher.  And courage was evident in that consistency, which he expressed irrespective of circumstance.  As a recovered alcoholic, Eck recognized that it is himself a person abandons when he acts out his fears.

Courage is facing fear and “spitting in its eye.”  Trying to avoid danger, as so many pitchers do by trying to avoid contact, is not an effective strategy.  Nor does it bring safety.  Rather, as has been said earlier, it almost guarantees failure.  The advantage a pitcher has over the hitter is lost.  The feeling of vulnerability is reinforced by the lack of courageous behavior.  Dennis Eckersley’s behavior pre-empted his feelings.  As a result, fear dissipated; courage prevailed.

Courage allows the pitcher to express all his other qualities; acting out of fear suppresses them.  Stifles them.  Challenging fear elevates behavior and elevates the man.  It even seems to elevate the pitching mound.

To not have fear is to not require courage.  Remember earlier the words of some pitchers:  “No brain, no pain.”  The implication is that one is blessed who doesn’t know enough to be afraid.  Yet some people would wonder at a discussion of pitchers–professional pitchers, at that–being fearful about playing a game.  But all people have fears, whether hidden or exposed–whether an athlete or an accountant.  Since one’s emotional system is the source of one’s fears, the environment and activity is less significant than a “game” to a spectator, but it can be quite a bit more to a participant.

Courage is more than acting against fears.  For a pitcher, courage is required to act against fatigue.  Performance that reflects a “feeling” the pitcher has of being tired also reflects a “giving in.’  If “fatigue makes a cowards of us all,” as Vince Lombardi suggested, it behooves as a pitcher to be in shape.  But well-conditioned pitchers may still work hard and enough to become tired.  A courageous pitcher does not let a decrease in his level of physical energy diminish the level of his mental energy.  Tired muscles should not be allowed to surrender because they are being “led” by a tired mind.  “Sucking it up,” as pitchers say, is an expression of courage.  Satchel Paige used to brag that the more tired he became, the more effective he became.  Self-indoctrination such as that makes bravery easier to come by.

As discussed in an earlier section, battling through adversity also requires courage.  “Losing one’s heart” is really “giving one’s hear away.”  Not an act of courage.  Having everything seemingly going wrong during a performance tests a pitcher’s mettle.  Umpires’ calls, errors behind him, lack of good stuff,” general bad luck–all can be included in the test.  The strong of heart fight through it.  They pass the test.

Whatever the circumstances may be that might “threaten” a pitcher, whether it be starting a “big game,” facing an imposing hitter, coming into the game in a crucial situation, the resolution to stay with his aggressive approach and the courage to act it out will make a “winner” of the pitcher, irrespective of the results.

All the qualities of a pitcher are better able to express themselves when courage clears the way.  Talent armed with bravery becomes a formidable combination, as I tell those pitchers I meet for the first time.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many pitchers disappear from professional baseball because they could not so arm themselves.  The words of Sydney Smith apply exactly, “A great deal of talent is lost in this world for a want of a little courage.”

What the Pitcher Should Do…..

  • Realize that courage, by definition, allows for the existence of fear.
  • Understand that a pitcher’s attempt to avoid “danger” is focused on fear or caution and will most likely produce whatever he is trying to avoid.
  • Recognize that a fear has an emotional basis, whereas a plan of attack a rational one.
  • Integrate a rational, aggressive plan–approach–into behavior and fear is pre-empted by the courageous act.
  • Know that behavior is entirely within his control, and that courageous behavior is a “winner’s” behavior.
  • Identify the situations or circumstances that challenge his courage, so, forewarned, he is forearmed–and better able to face up to these fears or worries.
  • Understand that courage allows talent to express itself.

The Mental ABC’s of Pitching:  A Handbook for Performance Enhancement, pp. 82-84.

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