By Eric Johnson
As you advance through baseball levels, a common phrase you’ll hear is that the game is “moving faster.” And it does. Players are quicker, balls come off the bat faster, and pitchers throw harder. If you want to keep playing, you have to be able to think faster to recognize and understand situations. Your ability to stay focused and think on the field can result in a 90-foot victory for your team on your base-paths or a big out on defense.
A huge part of being able to play at the next level is the ability to be “present.” This means that you have to be able to be completely focused on the current situation, and not dwell on any past or future plays. Your last at-bat, your last play on defense, or the hitters your team is sending to the plate next inning can’t come into the equation. On the mound, you can’t be thinking about your pitch count or the last hit you gave up or the reliever in the ‘pen. You have to be totally focused on the present moment. Here are some tips to get there.
Recognize when your mind wanders. The best players think about how they think. Learn to recognize when your mind is wandering. Start calling yourself out on it. Pay attention to when and where it happens. Recognizing when you’ve lost your ability to be present is a huge first step. You can’t fix something unless you realize that it’s broken.
- Find a focal point. A focal point is something that you can look at during the game that will remind you to stay focused. With practice, you can use a focal point to tune out distractions. It should be something that is in every single park, for instance a foul pole, scoreboard, or base. Choose just one point and make it yours. When you look at your focal point, you can force yourself to let any other thoughts go. Practice looking for just a second at your focal point and then refocusing completely on the game. Do this over and over until it is easy.
- Take a deep breath. It may sound too simple or stupid, but it absolutely works. It will help your mind slow down and focus. Use your breath correctly (slowly and in control) and it can be your greatest tool on the field.
- Use your senses. If you’re still having a hard time coming back and focusing, choose something that you can feel with your senses. It can be focusing on the dirt beneath your feet, the bat in your hands, or the hat on your head. Practice connecting these sensations with refocusing.
When to Refocus
These tools can be used as often as you need them. Some hitters use their focal point between every pitch. Some pitchers use a deep breath in between every hitter, or even every pitch if it’s a big situation. Defenders can use their breathing or a focal point to focus on the way the situation has changed pitch-by-pitch or hitter-by-hitter.
Start by understanding yourself and finding out when you need to focus. Try implementing the tools one at a time to see if they help separately or all together. The more you practice, the easier it will be to use them. Every player can benefit from using these tools. The mental game is a huge part of college ball. Be prepared to embrace it and find a way to use the mental game to your advantage.