Baseball Magazine

Focus Inward - Focus Outward

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard
I have done many posts on the mental side of playing baseball.  If you are a fan of sports psychology, you probably know that much of what is done in the field is based on trying to get players to avoid distractions in order to focus on only those things that are important to the task at hand.  There are an unlimited number of distractions out there but they really only come in two forms - external and internal.  External distractions may come from coaches, parents, fans, statistics, visual and auditory stimuli, and umpires.  Internal distractions could be related to a player's perfectionism, negative thinking, focusing too much on past and/or future events, and internal physical issues like “butterflies,” increased heart rate, and rapid breathing.
It’s important for players to know that every player gets distracted to some degree.  Each player tends to get more distracted by either external forces or internal forces.  One of the jobs of a sports psychologist is to pinpoint how much the player is being distracted and where those distractions are coming from.  When that occurs, strategies can be learned to help the player minimize those distractions, wherever their origin, in order to focus more attention on what’s truly important for their success.  To admit you get distracted by things is not a sign of weakness.  It happens to everyone.  The key is to find the source so that techniques can be used to limit their negative effects.  To asses how you might be getting distracted, click HERE

Focus inward - Focus outward

Ryan Howard performs his personalized visualization
technique done prior to every one of his at-bats.

There are many strategies out there that might be suggested but here is a general technique that tends to produce pretty good results.  If a player thinks he is being distracted by external factors then he should focus on something internal.  If he is distracted by internal forces, he should focus on something external.
Let’s say a pitcher is a bit of a pessimist and tends to react poorly to adversity by beating himself up with phrases like “You stink” or “I’m so stupid, how did I walk that guy” or “That’s it, I’ll never be any good.  I should just quit.”  When this player catches himself starting to talk to himself that way, he can quickly focus on something external to “get out of his head.”  Reading the words on the baseball, counting baseball seams, brushing the dirt off the pitching rubber, rubbing up the baseball, and filling in the hole on the mound could be examples of this.  These physical, external actions transfer the players focus to something outside the mind as a quick way to stop the downward spiral of negative thinking.
Let’s now say that a batter catches himself being distracted again by something external like crowd noise, where his parents are sitting in the stands, his average posted on the scoreboard, etc.  He could quickly use a strategy that focuses his attention on something internal.  One way he could do this is to close his eyes and focus attention on his breathing pattern.  He could also visualize the pitcher’s delivery and him executing a perfect swing that results in hard contact.  Closing his eyes shuts out the external distraction and allows the player to counter with more useful images and thoughts related to his task.
Like any other skill in baseball, the fundamentals of these exercises need to be practiced.  Even though it may take a while for each individual player to find techniques that best suit his strengths and weaknesses, the results tend to be well worth the effort.

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