Part III of our series on College Baseball Coaches and the Mental Game:
Before the 2009 season began, we asked 42 Head Baseball Coaches at Division I universities to help us better understand how the mental game of baseball is perceived and used in college baseball. Our goal was to learn more about how coaches taught the mental game in their programs, the biggest mental game challenges their players faced, and where mental skills training could make a bigger difference in the future.
We asked a series of questions to find out how coaches view sport psychology and where they see their roles in teaching the mental game:
Q: Do you think there are still negative associations with sport psychology? Do you think people still don’t understand what it really is or how to use it? Do you think most coaches think they are responsible for teaching the mental game themselves?
Are there negative associations with sport psychology?
Yes – 15
No – 11
Yes, but fewer now than in the past – 12
These quotes help to explain the current state of sport psychology in baseball:
- “Yes, there are negative associations, but coaches use it whether they call it sport psychology or not.”
- “I am trying to teach the mental game but I don’t know if I am doing it right.”
- “Most coaches are not qualified to teach the mental game but they do it based on what they were taught and what worked for them.”
- “Many coaches are responsible for mental game instruction because there is little access to qualified baseball sport psychologists.”
- “I think many coaches are not willing to embrace the mental side of the game because they do not know how to go about discussing it and implementing into their program. I like to take the responsibility of reminding our players what mental toughness is and making the mental game part of our daily habits.”
- “Whether I want to affect the mental game or not, I do.”
Certainly, there is an element of psychology in coaching…understanding how to motivate players, communicate with them, helping them turn repetitions in practice into automatic processes that they use in games. However, there is disagreement among coaches on where the line is between using psychology in coaching and teaching the mental game. This may be a big key to why it is misunderstood or underutilized.
Q: If you are teaching the mental game in your coaching, where have you learned the lessons you are teaching?
The most common answers to this question involved learning from experience. Second on the list were mentors that coaches had either played for or coached with and learned from when they were assistants. The most commonly referenced books were not surprisingly Harvey Dorfman’s Mental Game of Baseball and sequels, and Ken Ravizza’s Heads Up Baseball.
Look closely at the second most popular answer to this next question:
Q: Can you give some examples of some athletes you’ve had that developed mental toughness over time? How was this achieved?
- Learning from Failure
- Mental Toughness can’t be developed…players either have it or they don’t.
- Overcoming Adversity
- Preparation/ Hard Work
- Different for each player based on individual character factors
- Practice mental skills (routines, intensity level, attitude, positive self-talk) just like they practice physical skills.
- Set standards and expectations that raise level of discipline and accountability.
There is a strong contingent of coaches who believe that mental toughness cannot be developed. A player either has it or he doesn’t. For coaches who do not believe that it can be developed, there must be great importance placed on identifying and measuring mental skills in players as part of the recruiting process and sport psychology consultants can be helpful in evaluating these factors.
For coaches who do believe that mental toughness can be developed, the top two answers, learning from failure and overcoming adversity, are overlapping answers. Coaches believe that players have to fail in pressure situations and extract lessons from them so they will be able to adjust when in those tough spots again. That’s the benefit that experience brings us. Failure was a common theme throughout our interviews and clichés on the topic of failure in baseball are frequent. The best players are the ones who learn from their failures and those players are viewed more often as mentally tough players. Their learning produces correct processes and leads to better results.
Part IV will conclude this series and will be posted next week.
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Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, will be released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:
For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.