The Mental Game? What is it?

Last month, I spoke at the Stanford University baseball camps on back to back weekends to pitchers and position players on the topic of the mental game.   

As I often do, I started off by asking them (them being athletes who want to play at Stanford or the D-1 level enough to fly from all over the country) “Who has ever heard of the mental game?” I’d say about 90% in attendance put their hand up.   

Then, I asked, “How many of you actively work on your mental game” Maybe 5% kept their hand up. Then, “How many of you have ever been taught how to work on your mental game?” About the same. 

My last question: “How many of you invested more than two hours on your mental game all of last year?”  Zero hands remained up. In speaking with over 200 campers over the two weekends not a single athlete (who, again, wants to compete D-1) could honestly claim they’d invested more than two hours in the very thing that most dictates how they perform.  

The mind tells the body what to do

An athlete may have a Major League body and skill level (or a D-1 or Varsity) but if they are still depending on a Little League level mentality that’s been left behind to figure it out … what are the odds that athlete performs at the level their body is willing and able to perform at?  

Is it their fault that they aren’t investing time in perhaps the most valuable asset they have? Absolutely not. You can only know as much as you’ve been taught

If you’ve never been taught you have the ability to control your thinking;

you have the ability to think the right thought for the situation; 

you have the ability to build yourself up rather than continue breaking yourself down; 

If you’ve never been taught it’s possible to improve your thought life, why would you ever think to try?  It seems simple.  Even, a given. Yet, when ZERO hands out of 200 campers go up … maybe it’s not such common sense after all. No one ever taught me these things. Maybe my dad tried. But I didn’t listen.  I didn’t need it.  So I thought. 

I want to make sure you don’t walk away from your career in the same boat.  Had I known that I was in control of all of my thinking, things could’ve been different. Maybe. 

Sport Psychology is still in it’s infancy and often carries the stigma that “there’s something wrong with me if I need to speak with a Sport Psych.”   

Fortunately, 28 of the 30 Major League baseball teams are breaking down that stigma and now employ at least one Full Time Mental Strength Coach, if not an entire staff. This alone shows professional sports adopting the importance of the mental game. The trickle down effect to the college and high school levels and finally the individual is on the rise, too.   

Why? Everyone wants an edge. The mental game is the edge everyone thinks they know about … but few are exercising. Why? They don’t know how. YET.  

I often open my speaking engagements with this video from Evan Longoria and Ken Ravizza on the valuable impact investing in one’s mental game can have on one’s athletic career.  It’s an 11 minute clip but well worth the watch when you make time.   (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCH4zelZFNk&t=1s )

 I don’t use this video to shorten the amount of time I get to speak. Instead, I use it to gain buy-in from athletes who think they got-it-all-together, so that when I speak–they listen.  Most athletes hear; few actually listen. Even fewer do something with the information they’ve heard. 

When athletes begin to listen to the benefits of building a strong mental game (and take action), they realize how much they’ve craved an answer to the various reasons they defeat themselves before the opponent ever gets the chance.   

Here are a few things we went over in our 45 minute sessions at Stanford. To athletes who’ve taken to the mental game, these are now ABC’s. To mental game beginners– these are calculus. And that’s okay, everyone has to start at the foundation. 

  • Identity: If you don’t know who you are, you’re likely to become someone you’re not. Sport is what you DO… its not who you ARE. Learning to separate ourselves from our performance is huge in building and maintaining our self-worth.
  • In/Outside our control: We only have so much mental energy to work with in a game. Are we focused (giving our attention to) on the appropriate things?  
  • Emotional Stoplight:  Red, Yellows, Greens:  How’s your self-awareness? Do you know what gets you in the zone (greens) and what takes you out of it (yellows/reds)? Do you know how you feel and what you’re saying to yourself when things are starting to fall apart? More importantly, do you know how to catch yourself from self destruction and return to thinking and playing your best … IMMEDIATELY?
  • Routines and Imagery: These are the backbones of confidence. Preparation is the greatest form of confidence, a well of belief before it’s is ever needed. If you expect to feel good once you’ve succeeded a bit, what happens if you never have success?  Imagery and routines fix this by making so called big moments all just moments.

 When I say these are the foundations, they are.  And it’s just a small sampling of the foundations. But it’ll take us the rest of our lives to master the foundations.

We change, we grow, we sometimes regress, too.  The nice part is, we have the opportunity to work on these foundations every moment of our lives. Not just on the playing field. Remember, it’s a privilege to control our thought lives and we can get better at it each day. One moment, one decision, at a time. 

High School baseball tryouts and Spring Training are coming up in a few weeks. Tomorrow I will send out a piece on how to mentally prepare for them.  I will also be sharing with you about an opportunity I’m opening up for those desiring to be accountable to consistently getting the most out of their current abilities this season every time they take the field. 

Dedicated to your thought life,

Ray