Geoff Miller

Mental Skills Manual Part VIII: Developing a Routine

In Tips for Improving Performance on March 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Routine

A routine is a developed set of behaviors that is followed and practiced on a regular basis so it can be relied on as automatic once it becomes permanent.  This definition fits perfectly with our goal to know what to do without thinking about it and to be able to do it when it counts.  You practice a routine so you can count on it to feel comfortable in the toughest of times, when you need to get the most out of your ability.  You should have three different kinds of routines to help yourself perform under pressure:  In-Game Routines, Pre-Game Routines, and Off-Field Routines.

In-Game Routines

Every player should have a routine that he can use between pitches or innings to help him through pressure situations.  An in-game routine should include taking a centering breath to reset and relax, doing a quick visualization to emphasize the process and take focus away from results, and should be paired with a key word or phrase that helps the player reinforce the play he wants to make.  This routine should take three seconds or less and should be able to be performed while standing behind the rubber, with one foot in the batter’s box, or a step behind your normal playing depth in the field.  The routine should be practiced as often as possible until it becomes second nature and then should be used whenever it is needed, if not on every pitch.  The sequence of breath and visualization may be different for different players.  Try different combinations until you get a comfortable feel.

In-Game Routine examples

Pitcher:

  1. Get ball back from catcher, take deep breath while looking at the ground to wipe slate clean.
  2. While exhaling, think about key word (eg. Easy, slow, loose, on top, etc) that is most important to getting the process right.
  3. Your key word should create an image that you can see and feel of executing a perfect pitch.

Hitter:

  1. Get sign from third base coach.
  2. Use key words to prepare for the pitch (eg. Quick hands, read and react, etc.)
  3. While settling in to the box, picture the pitch that you can drive in your zone, take a deep breath, and relax grip on the bat.
  4. Focus on pitcher’s release point by the end of the breath.

Infielder:

  1. Between pitches, step back a step or two from where you normally position yourself.
  2. Take a deep breath and look at the ground to reset.
  3. Picture the play happening the way you might anticipate from the pitch sequence and history of the hitter and pitcher match up.
  4. Use key word to prepare for the play to happen.
  5. Look in for sign and make adjustment as you get to ready position.

Superstition vs. Routine

Superstition is a part of the game of baseball.  Everyone knows that you don’t step on the foul line or that you don’t talk about a no-hitter while it’s in progress or that you keep wearing the same shirt if it gets you out of a slump.  There can even be some genuine merit to having a superstition or two.  For example, if wearing your lucky shirt helps you stay in your comfort zone, then it’s a good thing.  But a routine and a superstition are not the same.

A routine is process-oriented, can be practiced (and therefore, strengthened), and has enough flexibility to it that you don’t have to depend it to be successful.  Superstitions have more to do with randomness (like our discussion on luck) and the danger in having a superstition is that you end up building it into a self-fulfilling prophecy…it comes true because you believe it will come true.  If you believe that you can’t hit without your special batting gloves and you don’t have your special batting gloves, then you are going to talk yourself into not hitting in order to prove that you need those special batting gloves.

There is nothing wrong with having a few superstitions, but make sure you know the difference between developing a routine and depending on something other than your ability and effort to determine your success.

Pre-Game Routines

Another name for pre-game routines might be PREPARATION routines.  Any routine that a player uses from the time he arrives at the ballpark to the time the game starts should be considered a pre-game routine.  And relief pitchers and bench players who enter the game after it has begun should have their own “pre-game” routines to help them prepare to join the action.

Pre-game routines help players get the most out of their early work, their BP, their sidelines, and their strength workouts. Every player should develop a routine that includes thinking about what he expects himself to do in today’s game, what he needs to do to be ready to play, and what he wants to accomplish in his work leading up to the game.  Remember that our mental game equation is: Know what to do and do it when it counts.  By structuring pre-game routines, you give yourself a better chance to know what to do when it counts.  Your pre-game routine is like studying and the game is the test.

The exact elements of a routine are not as important as having one that works for you.  Coaches will provide direction for structured routines within a sideline session or a round of BP, but every player should take 5-10 minutes before leaving the clubhouse or find a quiet place where he can take some centering breaths and think about what he wants to accomplish.

Off-Field Routines

Every one of us has a life that goes on outside the game.  We all have family, friends, relationships, and finances to deal with and sometimes our personal lives can interfere with our professional lives.  More appropriately, it can feel like our jobs are distractions that keep us from dealing with what’s really important when a crisis comes up.  Developing an off-field routine can help create some separation between baseball and everything else.  Here are three strategies that can be used to stay on top of personal issues and remain focused on baseball while at the ballpark:

1. Set Boundaries

The best scenario for setting boundaries is to completely take care of your personal matters away from the field.  Tell family and friends that you can’t take calls after 3pm on game days or tell them not to call you at all on days that you pitch if you find that you’re not able to fully concentrate on your start.  Turn off your phone when you get to the park and don’t turn it on again until the game is over.  If you have a real crisis on your hands, check your phone once after BP and then set a pre-game routine to help you transition back into game mode.

2. Make Transition Time

Just as you’ve set boundaries for focusing on your profession, you should fully involve yourself in your family and pressing needs when you’re at home.  This makes is easier to tune out the outside world when you’re playing.  But you need a routine to help you transition so you’re ready to work when you get to the park instead of thinking about other things.  The simple act of spending 10 minutes doing nothing before you leave to go to the field or sitting with your eyes closed and taking slow, deep breaths can help you start your “work day” without bringing baggage to the field.

3. Create an iPod Playlist

This should go along with your transition time or could be the first pre-game routine you have when you get to the clubhouse.  Or it could be both.  Create a playlist that gets you focused on playing ball or one that just helps you relax before you leave for the field.  You might listen to a favorite song or two to signal that your personal time is ending and then start thinking about the game as you drive or walk to the stadium.  Or you might get to the clubhouse and listen to a song or two at your locker before getting dressed.

Click Here for Part I of the Manual, which offers an Introduction.

Click Here for Part II of the Manual, which begins the unit on self-knowledge.

Click Here for Part III of the Manual, which discusses Comfort Zones, Confidence, and Keeping it Simple.

Click Here for Part IV, introduction to goal setting.

Click Here for Part V, goal setting continued.

Click Here for Part VI, Dealing with Failure.

Click Here for Part VII, The Role of Luck.

If you would like to receive new posts from The Winning Mind in Baseball by email, please CLICK HERE.

Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, was released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:

For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at miller@thewinningmind.com.

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