Baseball Psychology

Baseball Psychology Is A Ten Minute Read by Performance Psychologist David Barracosa On The Mental Aspects Of Baseball

There Is A Lot Of Psychology In The Sport Of Baseball

Introduction

This article will focus on the mental side of baseball (or Baseball Psychology) by exploring its mental challenges. I will also take a deep dive into some of the different approaches that we, as performance psychologists, tend to use a lot when working with our growing number of baseball clients. As with all of our articles, if you have any comments or questions, please add them at the bottom. I will endeavour to reply to every single one within a few days.

Why Is Baseball So Psychologically Challenging?

Since joining Condor Performance, I have worked with hundreds of baseball players at all levels of the sport. This has allowed me to see how individuals react to the challenges thrown their way (literally and metaphorically) and determine what works and does not work in strengthening performance.

Analysing baseball performance and determining player strength is a big deal in baseball, maybe more so than any other sport. If you have already seen the movie Moneyball, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If you have not seen it, you should.

Through these practices, baseball has become obsessed with statistics. This obsession has filtered down into the mindset of the players. These stats, as important as they are, are outcomes, and the players only have some influence over them. As explained in far more detail in this article by my colleague Gareth, an ‘outcome focus’ can and usually does distract from the process.

The other aspect of baseball that makes it so tricky psychologically is how much time the players have to think. Of course, there are other sports similar to this—think golf—but baseball’s relatively slow pace compared to many sports is a massive hurdle from a mental point of view.

Process, Process and Process

This means a significant part of improving any baseball player’s mindset is shifting their attention away from being statistically motivated to being process-orientated. Statistics muddy the waters. Focusing on them means trying to control too much of what happens in the game.

This generally leads to overthinking, concentrating on the wrong stuff and a drop in motivation. All of these factors are the kryptonite to consistency, which wants to be the goal that we are all striving for. Of course, this is true for many sports, but baseball is particularly susceptible to an obsession with outcomes (both large and small).

It’s How You Handle The Stats!

Many people might be reading this and thinking that statistics are crucial. To an extent, this can be true. They should be seen as clues to potential improvement.

Most stats assume too much and don’t represent the cog in the machine that we have the most influence over. Statistics are the taste of your favourite meal, whereas processes are the recipe that allows you to reproduce that taste repeatedly. I am much more interested in knowing whether we executed the recipe correctly.

In baseball psychology terms, I’m more interested in knowing that you approached the plate aggressively and followed your pre-pitch routine.

In a statistics-only (mostly) frame of mind, we can get distracted from the essence of baseball: skill execution and enjoyment. To put our best foot forward in the contest, we want to be focused on the present moment, routine-based, and active with our processes. Strengthening these three mental skills will help take any baseball player’s performance to the next level.

Psychological Flexibility and Baseball Psychology

Focusing on the present moment aligns with the primary approach in the sport psychology consulting we do here at Condor Performance: psychological flexibility.

Focusing on the past can generate an internal experience of frustration, disappointment and regret. The future can provoke stress, anxiety, and worry.

These can distract or cause an individual to rush, which is not the mindset we want to have. Baseball is a stop-start sport, which means there is a clear distinction between the present moment and this pitch.

This pitch is the only one from a mental toughness point of view. As a pitcher, it’s the only one I have influence over throwing. As a hitter, it’s the only one I can look to hit. And as a fielder, it is the only one I can make a play on.

All the previously thrown pitches are done and cannot be changed. All future pitches are irrelevant because we have no idea what will happen. It’s this pitch (and only this pitch) that matters.

Repeatable Routines Are Key

We can increase that present-moment focus by making it routine-based. When the play pauses, there is a small window for all players to reset. Having repeatable routines can help by ensuring the players use actions to ready themselves for the next play.

Think of David Ortiz at the plate or Craig Kimbrel on the mound as exaggerated but practical examples of having a routine before every pitch.

Irrespective of what has happened, the routine is roughly the same and ensures a mental state of readiness.

Once we have readied ourselves and locked in that focus, we give ourselves a better opportunity to land a punch in this contest. Baseball comprises split-second decisions and moments, so being primed for these moments is a core aspect of mentally strong baseballers.

I see players who often alter their intentions based on previous events. The most common is a tendency to play conservatively when things have not gone their way. Here are a few classic examples:

  • Let a ball drop in the field instead of laying out for it.
  • Not throwing an off-speed pitch when there’s a runner on third.
  • Waiting for the pitch rather than looking to attack it at the plate.

In these situations, we have drastically reduced our chances of showcasing our strengths and skills. If this sounds like you, get in touch, and we’ll see if we can help you through one of our 1-on-1 sport psychology monthly options.

Staying True To Our Processes

Staying true to our processes is designed to help us be aggressive and look to command the moment. Getting caught focusing on something else means we lose that command. We begin to play like we have something to lose instead of playing like we have something to win. Playing to avoid mistakes instead of creating success becomes a habit. We catch ourselves worrying more about the opinions of others than the pride we have in ourselves.

The strength of our processes ultimately comes down to how we practice. If we reinforce our processes and routines in that space, they will appear in a game. Think about throwing a bullpen or taking batting practice; often, it’s about volume and repetition. Make sure your routines are embedded in your preparation.

Diversity in Team Sports

Diversity in Team Sports Is A Great Thing!

Diversity: A Definition

As one scrolls the internet, one sees numerous definitions of diversity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines diversity as the ‘practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.’

Down the road, Cambridge defines diversity as a ‘situation in which many different types of things or people are included in something.’

My favourite definition, however, is from Ferris University in Michigan, United States. They state that diversity is ‘the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.’

The point is that diversity is multifaceted. It’s both visible and invisible. Michigan and the others could also have added personality, values, interests, and other attributes.

Why Embrace Diversity in Team Sports

Diversity is about the visible and invisible characteristics that make us different. These differences allow us to see the world differently from the others in the locker room. Handled correctly and professionally, these various perspectives are highly advantageous.

The NSW Government and the international consulting firm McKinsey found that diverse workplaces produce better outcomes across many areas. The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport also found that diversity in team sports enhances performance. In addition to improving performance, diverse teams lead to the following:

  • Increased productivity.
  • Better decision-making.
  • Improved team member well-being by ensuring everyone ‘fits in’.
  • Greater innovation.
  • Creative problem-solving.
  • Healthy and constructive conflict

Sports teams that embrace diversity enable a wide range of perspectives and experiences. When individuals from different backgrounds come together, they bring unique ideas and approaches to training, strategy and problem-solving. This can lead to more creative solutions and innovative tactics and give the team a competitive advantage. But it’s not just diverse backgrounds. Diverse sports teams value the contributions and differences of everyone, from the most junior rookie to the seasoned campaigner; they respect each other, see differences as strengths, and challenge biases.

Bringing Unity To The Sports Team And Community

We live in an increasingly global community. Play by the Rules, developed by the South Australian government, highlights that 25% of the Australian sporting population is born overseas. 50% have one parent from another country, 260 languages are spoken across sports teams, one in five has a disability, and over 50% are women and girls. The sporting landscape is extraordinarily gender, culturally, and linguistically diverse.  

Diversity in team sports fosters a sense of unity and mutual respect among team members. By working alongside individuals from different cultures, races and genders, athletes can learn to appreciate and celebrate differences rather than letting them create barriers. This can improve team communication and foster a more cohesive unit. Enhancing diversity within the team enables the team to more broadly reflect the community it represents, increasing engagement and buy-in of fans. Diverse sports teams can become role models for inclusivity and acceptance. Athletes from under-represented groups can inspire others to pursue their dreams and break down stereotypes. 

Diverse Teams And The Neuroscience

Embracing diversity does not come naturally. While our conscious brain knows its importance, our unconscious brain quickly categorises input to avoid mindful thinking, save energy, and increase efficiency. Our brain prefers the familiar and has an unconscious bias to like individuals who look, sound, and act like us. Those who are not like us can be registered as a threat. This happens within 200 milliseconds of meeting someone.

Our unconscious bias significantly limits our ability to empathise with others and embrace diversity. The good news is that self-awareness, education and curiosity can counter this pre-encoded condition of our brain and challenge our predisposition. 

To overcome cultural differences, language barriers, and unconscious biases, sports organisations must prioritise education, communication and training programs that promote diversity and inclusion. 

Being Excluded From The Team

Dr Kipling Williams from Purdue University, Indiana, highlights that being excluded threatens our fundamental human needs, such as belonging and self-esteem. Being excluded activates our pain system, and the pain we feel is experienced in the same part of the brain as physical pain. While physical pain feels different, the networks processing it in the brain are the same. Feelings of exclusion from the team are likely to cause performance to suffer, impacting well-being, engagement, feelings of worthiness, and even our immune system. 

Diversity on the world sporting stage (using gender as an example)

A great example of diversity in world sport is provided by looking at gender differentials. In 2019, European Parliament research found that 85% of sports media coverage was devoted to male athletes. At the same time, men wrote 90% of sports articles. But is the tide changing in terms of public and, by association, media interest?

In 2014, the Matildas (Australia’s Women’s Soccer Team) drew 2,583 fans against Brazil. Fast-forward less than ten years, and at the 2023 World Cup, the Matildas drew 75,784 at Sydney’s Stadium Australia—a far cry from the 2500-odd who showed up to watch them a decade earlier.

In 1991, about 500,000 watched the Women’s World Cup matches live. That number grew to 2 million in 2023. The men’s World Cup attracted 3.4 million in 2022. The women are catching up. Disappointingly, women’s prize money for the cup is still a quarter of men’s. 

In Conclusion

Diversity in team sports is a powerful force that can drive success, unity and positive change. It also reflects the increasingly diverse community we all live in. By embracing differences and creating an environment where all athletes feel valued and respected, sports teams can unlock their full potential and achieve greatness on and off the field. Embracing diversity and a more inclusive sporting culture can lead to a brighter future for all sporting codes and the communities they represent. 

Diversity At Condor Performance

Huge credit needs to go to our General Manager, David, and Founder, Gareth, for insisting on diversity as they have slowly added to the team of sport and performance psychologists here at Condor Performance. We have the broadest range of genders, locations, ages, sporting knowledge, and ethnic backgrounds of any sports psychology consultancy we know.

The advantages of this are both internal and external. Within the team, these differences allow for some fantastic brainstorming and professional development. Externally, those contacting us to work on their mindset and mental toughness have many options when considering which type of psychologist they may want to work with. If you’d like to chat with someone about how one of our diverse team members could help you with your performance, get in touch via this form.

Self-Compassion In Competitive Sport

Self-compassion can be as simple as keeping a gratitude journal.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is understanding our pain and demonstrating kindness and care towards ourselves. It involves accepting our flaws and shortcomings. Self-compassion in competitive sport is not the same as complacency. Athletes may worry that demonstrating self-kindness following a mistake may make them complacent or lazy. However, research has shown that self-compassion usually does the opposite. It makes us more honest with ourselves and more motivated to follow our goals. Self-compassion involves having an inner voice that resembles a blend of a kindly coach and your closest teammate. 

What is Self-Criticism?

Self-criticism involves an inner voice that evaluates and scrutinizes oneself harshly and punitively. A tendency toward self-criticism can result from strict parents, peer pressure at school, and demanding authoritative figures. Self-criticism can result in strained relationships, as people who are highly self-critical may withdraw from connections or constantly voice their inner harsh critiques, which can be taxing for the receiving person. Self-criticism can also distract individuals from progress and self-improvement. Research has demonstrated that self-criticism reduces athletes’ self-regulation, emotional recovery, stress management, and performance.

Is Self-Compassion In Competitive Sport Common?

Athletes frequently believe that self-criticism is required to prevent complacency. There is an expectation of toughness and a common belief that harsh criticism is vital to motivate improvement. Self-compassion is growing in momentum as an empirically based mental skill. Since 2004, growing research studies have demonstrated that self-compassion in sports leads to better outcomes and psychologically healthier athletes. 

Is Self-Compassion In Competitive Sport Beneficial?

Athletes constantly put themselves in physically and emotionally demanding situations. They regularly experience setbacks, whether it’s a missed goal in a penalty shootout or an extra second in a 200-meter sprint. If athletes treat themselves less punitively and put mistakes in perspective, they can experience adaptive coping and a healthier stress response. 

Research has demonstrated that individuals who are kinder to themselves have less fear of failure. When an error does occur, they are more likely to try again. Athletes who demonstrate self-compassion have more adaptive thoughts, emotions, and behavioural responses to stress. Self-compassion has also been found to increase athlete’s motivation to learn and grow.

What Does Self-Compassion Look Like?

Self-compassion involves three main facets:

  • Self-kindness,
  • Common humanity and
  • Mindfulness.

Self-kindness involves treating yourself as you would a good friend. Self-kindness encourages self-warmth and acceptance rather than a critical or disparaging inner dialogue.

Common humanity involves the recognition that mistakes are a common part of human life. This helps us acknowledge that everyone is in the same boat and that life’s challenges and personal failures are all part of what it means to be human.

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and not letting our thoughts drift off to the future or the past. It involves a curious, nonjudgmental stance.

Techniques for Greater Self-Compassion

Several techniques can help athletes to develop their self-compassion. These include compassionate letter writing, compassionate imagery, self-compassionate thought records and encouraging self-compassionate behaviours. These practices involve expressing concern, non-judgement and genuine caring towards the self. It requires sensitivity to one’s pain and suffering. It includes sympathy for one’s struggle. Thought processes may shift from “I always make mistakes, I’m a terrible athlete” to “everyone makes mistakes, I work so hard, and my mistakes are an opportunity for me to learn”.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy techniques can also help people let go of self-criticism. Athletes who fuse with a harsh inner dialogue can be so focused on their thought patterns that they make even more mistakes. This often facilitates a nasty cycle of distraction and continued errors.

Defusion is a process that allows individuals to see thoughts for what they are, a string of words that we can choose to pay attention to or not. Thoughts do not have to be necessary or accurate, nor do they need to be threatening. They cannot boss us around, and they are not reality. When one recognizes this, one can get some distance from one’s thoughts and be present in the moment, which leads to improvement in one’s chosen sport.

Self-Compassion In Competitive Sport

Athletes can insert “I notice I’m having the thought that” in front of their self-critique. Or they can sing their self-critique to a catchy tune. They can imagine their harsh judgement being spoken by a funny cartoon character like Sponge Bob Square Pants!

How Can Coaches Help?

It should come as no surprise that sporting coaches are best placed to foster self-compassion in athletes or prevent it. And guess which coaches tend to be better at the former? Yes, those who practice S-C on themselves. If you are a sporting coach and want to learn how to do this, amongst other mental skills, fill in this quick 10-minute questionnaire. One of our team will be in touch with your results and basic details about how you can start working with one of our performance psychologists/sport psychologists.