Geoff Miller

Athletes Who Need To Be Tougher on Themselves

In Tips for Improving Performance on November 19, 2009 at 8:34 pm

How do you get your players to critique themselves when they are getting results, but you know they have work to do if they are going to continue to get those results? A reader submitted this comment and I’ve made some suggestions in this post.  I’ve hit a few main points, but have left some openings for others to contribute their thoughts as well.  I’d like to hear from coaches out there who have dealt with players like Thomas suggests.  Thanks for reading and will look forward to more discussion.

While I appreciate your desire to keep things simple, I believe that there is much more to being mentally tough than you suggest….I have found that one of the biggest problems is knowing what to do when you have some success. Often times success reinforces bad habits. Lots of ballplayers have big unwieldy egos that have actually helped them. Other athletes use insecurity to help motivate them. How do you deal with the athletes who have had reasonable success, who think they have all they need, who have been reinforced for sub-optimal values and psychology but who are arguably not playing as well as they could be if they made some key adjustments?

— Thomas Lerener

Hi Thomas,

I agree that there is a lot that goes into being mentally tough and I believe that everyone’s fight for mental toughness takes its own unique path.  That’s why I’m interested in teaching people how to ask the right questions of themselves instead of following a step-by-step process that might not be right for everyone.  I believe that by asking yourself to find answers to “know who you are, know what you want, know what to do when you don’t get what you want, and know what to do in the meantime while you figure those things out” there is simplicity and also lots of room for individuality.  And I’ve often told players that having a strong mental game is “simple”, but it isn’t EASY.  Taking a deep breath is simple.  So is reviewing your performance every night.  For that matter, throwing a baseball and swinging a bat are simple processes.  But they aren’t easy to repeat unless you work at them.  The same is true for being mentally tough.  It takes practice and it takes a willingness to keep things simple even when our minds are complicating things for us.  How many clichés have you heard about getting “back to basics” or “doing the little things right” when a big game is coming up or someone needs to break out of a slump?

Your question about dealing with athletes who have had reasonable success could be a very interesting discussion topic for our readers and I’d like to encourage everyone to submit your comments on this one.  There are two points that I think are important in dealing with athletes as you’ve described:  to emphasize the review process and to teach honest and accurate self-evaluation.

Review Process

I don’t believe that baseball players review their performances often enough or do so in the right way. When someone has a good game, that’s usually what you’ll hear from them if you ask how they did:

Coach or Parent: How did you do today?

Player: Good.

You might hear the player talk about how many innings he threw, how many strikeouts he had, how many hits, runs, RBIs, etc.  What you don’t hear enough of is a review of how the player did from a process standpoint.  And if the player had a bad game, I commonly hear him say that he doesn’t want to think about it or that he’s just going to turn the page and move on.  By skipping the review process when we don’t get good results, we lose valuable opportunities to learn.  If you ask your players to conduct a full review of their performance on a weekly basis or after each game, you help them develop a sense for critiquing themselves.  In addition, by engaging in post-game review, you can help players eliminate a common thought process that goes on during the game…over-evaluation. When players are struggling on the field, I’ve found that they start asking themselves what is going wrong.  They tinker with their mechanics, they compare each pitch after they have thrown it instead of preparing to throw the next one. When I tell players to save their review processes for after the game, they often find themselves less distracted during the game.


I have found that most people are either too tough on themselves or not tough enough on themselves.  It is rare to find someone who knows how to balance the two.  I would put an athlete as you’ve described, who has had some success and doesn’t think he needs anything else, in the category of not being tough enough on himself.  But I think that self-evaluation can be taught to help athletes on either side of this spectrum.  When you think a player isn’t aware of where he can be better, you need to tell him what you see and then expect him to start looking for opportunities to improve himself on his own.   Here are two simple questions you can have each of your players answer to engage in a review process and develop balanced self-evaluation:

  1. What did I do well this week?
  2. What do I need to improve?

Don’t let any of your players write “NOTHING” as an answer for either of these questions.  If you monitor their answers, you can see which players are taking this exercise seriously and which are either unable or unwilling to engage in honest self-evaluation.  You can also easily see which ones are too tough on themselves and which ones aren’t tough enough.

Ultimately, your players are going to have to want to be the best they can be and to want to do whatever it takes to be that good.  Whether they are scared to admit that they have weaknesses or simply inexperienced and unable to recognize that there are lots more levels they can reach if they fine tune their games and continue to work hard, self-evaluation must be taught for most people because they don’t do it well on their own.  You might expect your players to recognize what adjustments they should make and you might expect them to have their own desire to seek out those adjustments, but if they don’t, then tell them what you see and hold them accountable for telling you what they see in the future until you’re both on the same page.

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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


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