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Pressure or Opportunity?

old-timerHow many of you have been in a position to win the game in your final at- bat? You know, 2 outs… bases loaded… your team losing by one run in the last inning. The other team changes pitchers as you step up to the plate. The “Big Kid” moves from first base, saunters up to the pitcher’s mound and starts throwing fastballs that look like BB’s streaking to the plate. How would you handle this situation?

Most kids will look at this situation with “Fear”: Fear of failure, fear of striking out, fear of being hit by the pitch, fear of letting his teammates, coach and parents down. There is nothing to fear. The game has not changed, it is still “see the ball, hit the ball”. The fear is created in the mind, it is a choice the player makes. He can choose to fear the situation or relish in the opportunity to win the game for his team. A conscious choice is made based on what he perceives the situation to be.

The poor player will look at this situation as a “no win” position; “That pitcher is a horse, look how fast he is throwing that ball. There is no way I can hit that. Man, this stinks… why did they have to put him in when I was coming up to bat?” All of that negative self talk does nothing more than perpetuate the likeliness of failure for the player. He is preparing himself to fail and justifying that failure in his mind. This is the wrong mental approach to hitting in any situation, let alone one like this.

So, what is the right mental approach? Positive self-talk is one of the most important ingredients to success in any sport, or life itself for that matter. If you believe… you can achieve! Don’t just say; “I can do this.” Believe you can! Take a moment to stand in the on-deck circle and study the pitcher, visualize hitting sharp line drives to the outfield every time he throws a warm-up pitch. Say things like: “Cool, I’m going to win this game!” See your teammates jumping up and down with joy. Joyful anticipation is the proper mental approach in these situations. You “get” to go up to bat and win the game. That is cool. Winners want to be in this position. Winners don’t fear failure… they anticipate success!

Armed with the proper mental approach, what about physical symptoms that can impair your performance? In the above situation the poor player with the improper mental approach actually initiates physical responses in his body that virtually put him against greater odds to succeed. His fearful and negative thoughts can create slower reaction of his muscles. He has created a tension level so high that his movements and reactions are stiff. This is the “choking” referred to by sports announcers on many occasions. The pressure felt by the poor player results in indecisiveness, impaired eyesight, jumbled thoughts (mostly negative), hyper breathing. None of these symptoms is helpful to the player.

By contrast, the good player looks at this situation in a totally different light. He is excited about the challenge to win the game. He anticipates success and practices the proper thought process to guarantee him the best opportunity to succeed. He creates an inner environment that puts him at ease. Everyone has the choice to do the same, they can choose to fear the situation or accept it as a challenge. The winning player has that inner control of his thoughts and emotions.

The winning player may step up to the plate in the above situation and immediately fall behind in the count, 0-2. By stepping out of the box and gathering himself mentally, he still believes he can succeed. A deep breath, positive thought and self statement; “focus on the ball, hit it hard somewhere”, can go a long way toward success.

A good practice to get into for a hitter is to find a “safe zone” to focus on, when the challenge gets greater. This “safe zone” should be something that will always be there, your bat for instance. Nomar Garciaparra uses his batting gloves. He loosens and tightens them repeatedly as he gathers himself mentally. Most hitters step out of the box, take a deep breath and focus on the barrel of the bat as they regroup their positive thoughts. Whatever the action, the purpose is the same; to reinforce the belief that they will be successful.

In conclusion, remember that you create your own tension by choosing to place pressure on yourself. Fear of failure is the number one reason for this pressure. You make the choice to “fear”. You can just as easily choose to enjoy the challenge of the same situation. Practice the proper breathing and positive self-talk, develop a “safe zone” to focus on and you will be well on your way to the winning player that wins the game more often than not.

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