9 Ways to Play Well Under Pressure in Baseball
By Tony Abbatine, Founder, Frozen Ropes
Two outs, bottom of the ninth and the bases are loaded. The crowd is loud and you are stepping to the plate. We have all been there before or in similar pressure situations. How do you let your talent shine and avoid having your performance sabotaged by nerves and anxiety? You need to ensure the following “Showtime” tools are in your tool box the next time your heart rate climbs and your mind starts to wander! Here’s 9 tools for you!
1. THE POWER OF OXYGEN Use a deep belly breath or a slow shrugging of the shoulders to relax your upper body. Remember calmness in and tension out as you take slow breaths in between pitches or prior to stepping into the batters box. Trying to hear yourself take slow, quiet breaths is a great way to calm your insides. Breathe in relaxation, breathe out stress!
2. FIND YOUR POWER SPOT Do the thing you do when you are feeling great and under control (For example, Michael Jordan had the tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth when he was about to take his game to another level). Ask your teammates and coaches about the personal body talk you give off when you are performing well. The key to the power spot is to use it when things are getting tight. It might be the way you twirl your bat or the neck twist between pitches or the licking of the lips while you are getting ready to hit. Whatever makes you feel good and drive the confidence level up should be the power spot you activate during any game crisis.
3. STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE
All players have a pre-pitch routine they follow. Stay with your routine (touch the plate, fiddle with your batting gloves, adjust your helmet) throughout the game so your mind is convinced that each game situation should be treated the same. Staying with your own pre-pitch routine (the same goes for the pitchers and infielders) develops confidence and allows your game performance to become consistent.
Create your own personal pep talk. Your personal pep talk should be a simple, positive phrase that becomes the last message your mind receives before the pitch. “See the ball”… “I am the best”…“Trust”… “Slow down”…“Quick hands”… “Easy and early” -- are all examples of a hitter’s self-talk phrases. Just the way you learn not to swing at bad pitches, you must learn not to choose bad thoughts.
5. WALK THE WALK
No matter how nervous or anxious you may be inside, never let the opposing team sense that you are defeated or losing confidence. Keep your head and shoulders up and maintain eye contact with the pitcher as much as possible. Enter the batters box with a winning swagger and let all those watching believe that you are the greatest hitter in the universe at the moment.
6. PLAY LIKE YOU WERE 6 AGAIN
The first team that relaxes typically wins. Remember when you played T-ball and you had no care in the world and you never got caught up with the need to excel? When you go back and play the game like a little boy, all good things happen. Your moves become natural, you smile more and you’re less concerned about results. The next time you get caught up on the importance of the game, shake yourself and revert back to the days when you chased butterflies in the outfield and nothing was that serious!
7. USE YOUR TOILET AND FLUSH
You need to learn to quickly get rid of parts of the game that you don’t like; the first at-bat strike out or the early inning error. Create your own personal toilet on the field and learn to flush away the negative act that you need to let go of before it affects the rest of the game. Learn to flush quickly and often during the game so your focus level and thoughts stay in the present.
8. YOU ARE WHAT YOU SEE
Imagine the line drive (or should we say “frozen rope”) in the on-deck circle or your text book swing approaching the opposing pitcher’s best pitch. Your mind is a powerful machine; make the images as real as possible and your body will try to copy the image.
A powerful acronym standing for Analyze, Flush, Confidence back up. After each missed pitch or wild pitch thrown, go through a simple thought process of thinking about what you just did and how to improve on it, learn to flush the bad result out of your head quickly and then believe that you are the greatest hitter in the universe as you await the next pitch. Practice the tools described in your team practice and individual skill training. Tools that have never been taken out of the tool box have little chance of working in games. Confidence comes from trusting your preparation and sticking to your routine. Remember to play the game with your eyes, not your thoughts.
Tony Abbatine is the National Director of Instruction at Frozen Ropes, one of the country’s leading programs for baseball and softball instruction with facilities nationwide. Abbatine also serves as a consultant to several Major League Baseball teams. Visit www.frozenropes.com.