First, say that three times fast. Ok, thanks, that was just for my entertainment. So, let's dive in. Sounds too good to be true, right? Let’s take a closer look. If you’ve been to a few lessons with me, you’ve probably heard me talk about envisioning the movement, picturing how things will feel when executed correctly, and speaking positively to yourself. To your dismay (talking to my pitchers), I’m not quite as crazy as you think.
Research on this topic can be difficult. How do you measure if what you’re THINKING is actually producing corresponding results? I know I’ve received some eyerolls from my suggestions, but ponder this: It works for your exams. Right? Don’t you repeat things in your mind? You receive information in class (like a lesson) and take it home to study (practice) to prepare yourself for the test (game). Most classes don’t have a physical component, so it’s all mental training. Why wouldn’t this be a necessary aspect of training for a sport?
“The internal images that a person has of himself/herself tend to motivate and guide his/her overt behavior.”
There are some interesting studies on the effects of “mental” training which is endorsed by neuroscientists and sports psychologists. This can encompass creating a calm, relaxed environment, positive self-talk, envisioning the task, as well as the end result of you actually accomplishing it as desired. Studies done as early as the early 1980’s have shown that simply envisioning the physical activity literally creates a corresponding muscular response! That means if I have you think of taking off for the pitch by exploding from the push leg, your quad and glute muscles should actually contract. Granted, it won’t be as dramatic as if you’re actually pitching, but that’s still working on muscle memory. It’s like creating a really good draft of your pitch before crafting the final product— you have to examine everything that needs to happen physically to perform this movement.
Side by side, physical practice in athletics will always be more beneficial than mental practice; however, visualization can absolutely have benefits. For one, it’s less of a time commitment—you can do it in a crunch pretty much anywhere you are able to focus. Also, it’s free. You don’t have to rent space or schedule it. Not only that, but when you play a reel of you performing as intended in your mind, it creates an environment for success. Studies show that spending three to five minutes at a time is optimal—it’s hard to focus that hard for longer than that.
Not surprisingly, more experienced athletes tend to notice better results from visualization. This makes sense. You know the pitching technique I teach is technical though simple- do you think someone in their first or even second lesson could really picture doing the movement completely perfectly?
Just as performing Tincher Pitching® in your mind before a pitch is beneficial, have you considered the consequences of negative thoughts? Have you ever worried about hitting a batter with your screw ball and then actually hit the batter with that pitch? Guess what? I could have predicted that outcome! Your brain focuses on action. I’ve said before it’s best to tell yourself positive affirmations—this doesn’t mean think about sunshine and rainbows-- I mean tell your body TO DO things. When you focus on NOT doing things, you actually tell your brain to focus on doing what you’re trying to avoid.
“If players have experienced pressure situations in their mind and handled them effectively, they will be more likely to confidently handle the same situations if they arise in real life.”
Ever heard of “fake it ‘till you make it?” Listen, I don’t expect you all to jump out of the gates with a champion mindset. Some have it, some don’t, and some learn it. If you’ve had consistent negative experiences in game situations, it can be really challenging to pull your head out of that fog and produce the results you KNOW you’re capable of. What do you have to lose trying this? I bet we’ve tried it in a lesson, and I bet it’s worked! Why not take a few minutes a few nights a week and just really REALLY focus on creating this scenario. Visualization is best practiced in a relaxed state and also by experiencing the entire environment. Imagine the smells, hear the sounds, and feel the feels. Most importantly, you have to have the pressure. Imagine bases loaded in a critical situation with a full count after throwing three balls. Create your pitch start to finish and pinpoint your moment of relaxation. That could be when you bring your ball and glove hand together. At that moment, tell yourself to breathe, and really feel present in the moment. Picture the push, the fluidity, the power. If you’re focusing on movement, create that experience as well. See the desired outcome and feel the happiness of success.
Hey, I know. Weird. Different. And trust me, I don’t believe this replaces any physical effort. BUT, if practicing visualization could actually positively impact your performance especially in game situations, wouldn’t you be willing to try it? What do you have to lose? As far as the research goes, there are no negative consequences to trying this technique. BUT, you CAN gain confidence, mindfulness, and enhanced muscle memory among other benefits.
Here’s a few tips to get you started. We’ve done this in lessons. If I’ve ever told you to get set, and imagine yourself throwing this pitch exactly how you’re supposed to and feeling what you need to feel, then congratulations! You’ve practiced visualization. Now, take it to the next level! They day before your next lesson or as you prepare for tryouts, try it! Maybe three nights a week, take five minutes before you go to bed. Sit still. Put your phone on SILENT (no vibrations) or airplane mode (you can do it, I believe in you!). Take ten deep, slow breaths with your eyes closed. Now, create the scenario. It’s absolutely more effective to do the visualization in first-person (from your perspective on the mound- NOT from the perspective of a spectator watching you). Think about the muscles you’ll use. Actively engage from top to bottom—feel the key muscles we emphasize in lesson one at a time- squeeze, and release. Now, feel the breeze, feel the dirt under your spikes, and smell the grass in the outfield. Imagine your eyes focusing in on your catcher. Hear the other team shouting chants, trying to throw you off. Imagine a rough scenario—someone just hit a dinger off of what’s normally your best pitch. Your coach calls the same pitch. If you end this inning now, your team wins. Picture your feet on the pitching rubber, feel your glove and ball hand come together. NOW BREATHE. Deeply. YOU are in control. EXPLODE. Feel the load of the push leg, feel it explode enabled more capable by your glove movement. Imagine your loose arm whipping through as the push leg fires and using your body to create that moving pitch that once defeated you. See it fire out and break at the exact right moment.
YOU are responsible for your outcomes. Try this out, and let me know what you think!
1. Newark M.D., Thomas. 2012 October 22. Cases in Visualization for Improved Athletic Performance. Retrieved from <https://www.healio.com/psychiatry/journals/psycann/2012-10-42-10/%7B...edf3f4f52%7D/cases-in-visualization-for-improved-athletic-performance
2. Shiekh, Anees A. and Janssen, Jeffrey J. Imagery in Sports and Physical Performance. 1994 Baywood Publishing Company, Inc. Amityville, New York.