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


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.

Author: David Barracosa

David Barracosa is one of the most sought after Performance Psychologists in Australia. Based in Sydney (New South Wales) he works with sporting clients from around the world via Skype and FaceTime video.

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