WINNING MENTAL ATTITUDES
At all levels of baseball, team and individual attitude play an important role in achieving excellence. A sound demeanor, temperament and approach to the game spell success. When a professional or college scout asks about a player the first thing they question is his make-up. What kind of kid is he? They already know he has talent; they want to find out that if they invest their money will he have the temperament to stick it out. Does he have good character, how well does he react under stress, does he have the capacity to learn, is he intelligent and is he coachable.
When you look at many major league teams, the ones that have a reputation of doing well year in and year out, understand that this goes beyond mere talent. Throughout their organizations they settle of nothing less than the best possible attitudes. It starts at the top and filters down. They exude a quiet confidence from their instructional teams all the way up to the big club. If a player doesn’t fit the mold of their philosophy he is quietly traded. No fanfare, just gone. Thank you, see you later. Talent alone is never enough in a long season.
There are many instances of losing attitudes; jealousy among players, lack of respect for the coaching staff, lack of knowledge and teaching, and a “Me First” disposition.
A winning attitude is not just about keeping score, it is a code of conduct and a way of sports life.
“Show class, have pride and display character. If you do, winning will take care of itself.” — -Coach Paul (Bear) Bryant.
This kind of winning attitude can be instilled in baseball teams at all levels, from LL to HS to college. Two things: coaches have to originate it and players have to take a lot of the responsibility for it.
Let’s look at how we instill a winning attitude in amateur baseball teams.
STARTS WITH THE COACH- his overall philosophy and approach to the game.
- Gives proper direction. The coach sets the example for his team. He sets the tone. He demands a lot from himself and from his players. A good coach treats the game seriously. He understands how the game is supposed to be played and he communicates that message to his team. By way illustration, the coach sets a good example by:
- Dressing correctly. When playing on a regulation field the coach will be in a matching uniform and the uniform is worn correctly.
- Not letting personal faults or weaknesses (drinking, smoking, etc) known to his team.
- Works tirelessly on the field. There are no lazy good coaches.
- Is always early for games and practices.
- He makes sure they are in top condition. Strength conditioning, agility drills, sprint work and running are all necessary components of conditioning. “Baseball Shape” requires that players perform at their best in the first inning as well as in the last, and even the last inning of a double header.
- He molds them as a unit. He teaches his players to respect each other. They don’t have to especially like each other but they must respect each others’ abilities. They do things together; field maintenance, stretching and form running, long toss, strength and conditioning, prayer before games, travel together and even at times- study in the library together.
- Teaches and conducts practices at a high level. As we have often said, a good coach is a good teacher. He knows that to bring the best out of each player he must give every bit of knowledge at his command. He demands a high intensity level at all practices. He wants the same attitude in practices as in games. Games are won at practice. It starts even with the way they dress. Practice uniforms should be just that- uniform; shirttails in, caps on right, and proper socks. We have sent players home for the right shirt. “Where’s your gray shirt, Jay? It’s dirty, Coach. Go home and get it now, Jay. Wash it every day if you have to.”
- Talks with players after every practice and game. We take the players down the foul line in the outfield and have them sit while we talk to them. And they can stretch their legs while they listen to the coach. You can never stretch your legs too much. This is a great time and place to convey information to your players. You can go over mistakes at practices, great plays in the games and you can give them information about the next day’s agenda. Always leave on a positive note. This is very good teaching time.
- Coaches do not question umpires’ calls from the dugout. There is a proper way to ask an umpire what he saw.
Teach your players to confront and understand failure.
- Teach that the game is based on failure. As an example Rod Carew made an out 7 out of 10 times and he is in the Hall of Fame.
- A pitcher may throw his best pitch and the hitter drives it 400 feet. A pitcher must understand that he did his job. Sometimes you fail even though you did a good job.
- Understand that there are certain failures that are not acceptable and they are mental ones. Physical errors and miscues are a part of the game but mental ones should not be tolerated. And lack of effort, fear and failure to compete are in that same category.
How to learn from failure.
- Keep the attitude that from every failure you will get that much better at a skill.
- Play the game with your head up and on your belly- not on your knees.
- Don’t give in to that “Good Try” syndrome. It is not enough to try. You must develop the attitude that you WILL do it. It is easy to wallow in “GOOD TRY.” If you hear and become comfortable with “good try” enough, it will put you on the road to mediocrity. I think it starts with the coaches and parents in youth baseball. Many have been guilty of it. “Oh, good try Johnny.” The player takes solace in the fact he failed but he “tried.” Too much of that and he will never be able to rise above it. Sometimes you convey a more constructive message by not saying anything.
- How to act when you fail. You must maintain a positive demeanor even when you fail. Don’t give in to negative body language- slumped shoulders and bowed head. The beauty of baseball is that there is always a next time.
- “It does not matter how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get up” — Vince Lombardi
- “The road to success is built on failure. It is a mistake to suppose that men succeed through success. Precept, study, advice and example could never have taught them so well as failure.” –Samuel Smiles.
- ON-FIELD BEHAVIOR
- It is important not to get caught up on the other teams’ trash talking. That takes you away from your focus. “The best answer to answer to anger is silence.” — Unknown.
- Hustle on and off the field at practices and games.
- Never display any action that shows up an umpire or questions his calls. We established a rule that our players are not even allowed to look at an umpire after a call. There is no umpire baiting from the dugout, from players or coaches. Questioning a ball-strike call is considered begging. Tell you kids, “You play- he’ll umpire.”
- f you strike out don’t kick the dirt, don’t throw your bat or helmet and don’t run back to the dugout. You didn’t run up there.
- Don’t cheer loudly when your opponent makes a mistake that allows you to advance or score. Understand that the proper way to win games is with your bats. Everybody makes mistakes so don’t get all excited when your opposition does.
- Teach the parents how to act n the stands. Much of what you teach your players should be communicated to the parents.
- Infuse your players with a touch of class. Teach them to be above the crowd. These are life lessons you can give your players. Help them to understand that.
SELF-CONFIDENCE AND BELIEF IN YOUR ABILITIES
- Develop a positive conviction in your abilities. Get rid of limiting and self-defeating talk. Shred words and phrases like, I can’t, or don’t or never. “I’ll never hit the ball that far, I’ll never throw that fast, we can’t beat those guys.” These phrases will limit your performance. Instead think of phases like, “I am, I can, I will.” It takes some effort to get rid of the negative thoughts but it will be well worth it. Take these steps.
- Recognize the areas you wish to change. Understand the negative words and thoughts you have been using in the past.
- Write down the positive phrases and words you will use to replace them. Make them simple and easy to visualize.
- Write them in the present tense. “I am a winning pitcher.” “I can drive the ball up the middle.” “I can take this left hand pitcher to the opposite field.”
- Sit alone in the quiet of your room and program these thoughts into your conscience- your inner voice. Say them aloud. Don’t be afraid that it won’t be cool if someone hears you. This is important stuff. You have to understand that this will work but it will not work overnight. It takes time to change old habits. Don’t let doubts creep in and don’t give up.
- “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” –William Shakespeare.
- Remember that you are what you think and you are what your believe.
- Baseball is played one pitch at a time. Not one out at a time or one inning at a time but one pitch at a time. There is a lot to teach. Good teachers help their players to advance in baseball as well as in life.
Coach Tim Kafer