Baseball Magazine

"Don't Think, You'll Hurt the Ballclub!"

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
Ever hear the phrase "don't think, you'll hurt the ballclub!"?  Although I understood the point of the phrase, it never truly made much sense to me.  Have any of you ever tried to stop thinking?  Let's try.  DO NOT think of a purple elephant.  I bet the image of a purple elephant entered your mind.
My point is that you cannot turn your brain off.  It's impossible.  What great players do better is control what thoughts they have and when they have them.  Pete Rose was famous for saying that when he stepped into the batters box, he just tried to "see the ball and hit the ball."  However, I bet he gave a lot more thought to hitting outside the box though.  
Many players in baseball have trouble controlling their thoughts during games.  Some minds drift towards irrelevant things, some focus too narrowly and are unaware of things going on around them, and some have "paralysis by analysis" which means they over-analyze everything and find it tough to take the proper action.  They are too busy thinking about what to do instead of doing it.  All of this is especially harmful when hitting because the timing of recognizing a pitch, its location, and deciding whether to swing or not all needs to happen in a fraction of a second.  
So how do great players manage their thoughts so that they can manage to play?  A big part of the answer is called compartmentalization.  In the baseball context, compartmentalization involves two parts.  It is the ability of a player to keep certain thoughts in the proper place and also the ability to go to the correct compartment at the right time.  Here's an example.

All players go through tough times.  The great ones
manage their thoughts about it differently.
(UPI Photo/Bill Greenblatt)

Two players have arguments with their girlfriends prior to a big game.  One player is able to temporarily set aside or place any thoughts related to this argument in the "girlfriend compartment."  He mentally locks it away until after the game.  He knows it is irrelevant to baseball and is able to set it aside so it does not get in the way of the thinking he'll need during the game.  If he strikes out at the plate, he grabs his glove and makes the plays the same as if he hit a homerun because he locks his hitting thoughts away and taps into his fielding compartment for the correct thoughts on defense.  
The second player carries the argument into the game and cannot focus on what he needs to do.  His playing suffers as a result because he's trying to think about the game but the thoughts of the argument are still there as well.  His mind is divided and he cannot concentrate fully on the relevant stuff.  He strikes out and then sulks on defense leading to a couple errors as well.  Thoughts about his poor performance then carry over into other activities off the field and the process spirals him downward.  
The moral is that both players had the same thoughts.  However, the first player was able to set them aside (compartmentalize them) in order to perform the next task.  The second player carried every thought with him at all times.  It's easy to see how the second player can become distracted and frustrated.
I know what you're thinking.  This all sounds great but what can a player actually do to improve at compartmentalizing?
Check back tomorrow because that's my next post!

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