of the Week
Read the following list of words. Say the color of the word instead of the word itself. For example, if you see this: RED - say "blue" (the color of the word) instead of "red". See how fast you can do this whole list:
RED GREEN YELLOW BLACK BLUE RED BLACK
GREEN RED PURPLE GREEN BLUE YELLOW
BLACK PURPLE RED GREEN BLUE YELLOW
PURPLE YELLOW GREEN BLACK RED BLUE
What you just experienced was left-brain / right-brain conflict. Your right brain saw the color but your left brain insisted that you say the word. The conflict made this activity cumbersome, slow and often frustrating. You have been forced to be this way because it is how you learned how to read. You have read this way for many years and it is ingrained in you. Your left brain first wanted to say the word, but then it analyzed the color. Meanwhile, your right brain knew all along the color, but was dominated the whole time by the left brain trying to do a simple right brain job.
How does this apply to baseball? First, let’s look at common right / left brain traits. The right side of the brain is where many subconscious functions are. Right brain functions and traits include imagination, circular motion, creative thoughts, flowing thoughts and actions, and rhythmic movement. The left side rationalizes and analyzes. It is linear, dogmatic, practical, and logical. Things like counting and verbalizing are left brain activities. Things like focusing on images and movements are right brain activities.
A baseball player wants to be a right brain player as much as possible. The problem is that our left side makes easy jobs hard. How can we develop a system to put the left side at bay? How can we keep the left side quiet long enough to get the right side to carry out the baseball task? As baseball players we need balance. We still need the left brain to stage the event (the pitch, the fielding play or the swing) but then need to "turn it off" just long enough to carry the event out - a right brain activity.
Baseball is the most "on" then "off" again sport. Left brain, right brain, left, right...etc. The problem comes when the left side won't shut up. It can be distracting – just like the colored word samples above. You can practice the words above over and over and train your left side to tone it down and let your right side get to work. You still need your left side to verbalize (even if just in your own head) the color at the end. True (learned) balance will eventually occur. The same is true with baseball. We practice and practice until we get to a point where the right side is flowing and the left side keeps track of the things it needs to. Then comes all the variables in a game that takes us out of the flow. In exchange, we get the slower left sides dominating attempt to play the game. The left side can't just sit idle and allow the situation to self correct. It starts chattering (self talk) and slows everything down to the point where the at bat or the pitch is lost (thrown away). Yogi Bera’s, “You can think and hit” at the same time is actually very profound.
What the player needs is to develop a system that will put him in the right mindset where he can let his natural ability play the game undistracted when it needs to. The players that develop such systems and that also have the physical ability keep getting to advance to higher and higher levels of baseball. Even those advancing faster than others can use some help in the development of this part of their game. Such development is beyond the scope of this introduction to right-left baseball. The “how to” will be discussed in future articles.
The 3 R’s of Pitching
Realize the basic premise that the pitcher has the advantage. This is the foundation for a successful pitcher. Hitting a baseball is said to be the hardest thing to do in all of sport. The pitcher needs to remember that. "If the swing by a right-hand batter is seven milliseconds (.007) too late, the squarely hit ball will sail foul past first base." - Robert Adair, a Yale physicist who has studied the science of baseball, referring to a 90mph fastball.
Recognize when you, as the pitcher, lose your focus. How do you avoid a big inning? You avoid it by recognizing that you have been taken out of your game and only then can you adjust and refocus to the task at hand. Many pitching plans include some avoidance of "the big inning". It is easy to talk about, but after one of these "big innings" takes place, the pitcher usually only understands it when reflecting back on it after the game and on the chaos that surrounded him while it was going on. The pitcher needs a thought-stopping cue from himself to help recognize that he has lost his focus. It is important to do this so he can pitch in the present and not in the past. The thought stopping cue could be as simple as "STOP", or "play in the now".
Refocus to the task at hand. Once the pitcher "snaps out of it" and concentrates on the present, then he can pitch to his potential and win the situation. The pitcher who analyzes and frets on how all those guys got on base will not be able to refocus into the present to do the job. A routine or mental cue can help with focus. The pitcher needs to let it flow and let the right side of the brain take over. He can only do this if the mind in clear and free of distracting thoughts. Here is an example of how a pitcher can get back into the now by letting his left brain guide him and set his right brain up for the actual pitch. Use the dirt circle of the mound as the positive / negative ground. Whenever he catches himself being negative he goes into the grass. At that time, he can tell himself anything he wants, he can worry about all the runners, the errors and walks that got them there, whatever he wants. However, the second he gets back onto the dirt he is positive and ready to get the next guy out! A routine like this combined with some proper breathing can get the pitcher to stay in a positive, non-distracting mode. Hopefully he spends most of his time in the dirt and stays in the now.
Every pitcher needs a plan. There is not one pitcher in the history of baseball that has gone through his career, let alone a season, or even a game, without adversity. No matter how good a pitcher is he will face dilemmas in games that he needs to have a plan for. It is too easy to say, "Be a bulldog, go get them". Sure successful pitchers have bulldog characteristics and competitive success models built in that they do not even know about, but there is no need to analyze that. It is the pitcher's past experiences, successes, and failures that have given him those built in characteristics. It is the future challenges that the pitcher will face as he progresses to higher levels of competition in his career that he needs the above to help advance his success rate.
Cognitive Advantage Program
While sitting in the dugout, I have seen many players throw wrinkled raisins. I will explain, but first let’s leave the dugout for a few minutes and step into my office.As you read this imagine you are walking into my office just down a hall leading out a door through the back of the dugout
Much of what goes on in a baseball player’s head is at a subconscious level. Let’s take hitting as an example. There is more failure than success for hitters at every level of play. A .300 hitter fails 7 times in 10 yet makes millions of dollars in the Major Leagues. At what other profession can you fail that often and be considered great? Each hitter has to create his own system for dealing with the failure. Those that cannot handle all the failure don’t make it. Much of the system each player creates is not at a conscious level.
Human beings are very visual in the way they take in information. We have been programmed that way from day one. Babies learn to read adult’s facial expressions way before they learn to understand language. As we grow up, our body language “reads” are not always noticed by our conscious self. Yet they affect the way we react.
I once read about a study that was done in a college setting. They had the subjects come down a long hall and go into a room where they had to put words together to make sentences. For example, 2 words “wrinkled” and “raisin” might read something like this: The wrinkled raisin sat in the sun. The purpose of the study was to see how the word task affected behavior. It turns out that the subjects after completing the word tasks walked down the long hall as if they were old. After all, both words had to do with being old. The second part of the study had two separate groups. One group was given passive words while the other group was given aggressive words. This time the subjects had to get checked out at the end of their work. The problem was that there was a staged conversation going on with the checkout person. The subjects that just finished with the passive words would wait up to 10 minutes before breaking into the conversation while the aggressive word group would break right into the conversation. How could a bunch of words affect behavior so much? As it turns out, it is not just words that affect our behavior, but visual clues do as well. I have termed bad visual clues (body language) or words that take players out of their game – wrinkled raisins.
Now let’s go back into the dugout and check out a guy hitting – come on!
As you read this imagine you are in the dugout watching this:
Joe just struck out, watch his body language as he walks back to the dugout. See how he is walking slow, head down, shoulders rolled in? Poor Joe. Jackson is walking past him – he is the next hitter up. Joe just threw Jackson a wrinkled raisin and Jackson does not even know it. It is not fair to Jackson that Joe did that to him. Joe could have corrected this behavior had he learned somewhere in his career that it was important.
They say hitting is contagious and it is. I have been a witness to it so many times. The opposite is also true – not hitting is contagious. Wrinkled raisins are a big part of this.
The whole concept applies to pitching too. Why do teams play such good defense for some pitchers but not for others on the same staff? There are a lot of reasons that revolve around the pitcher’s pace and the number of strikes he throws, but there is also the wrinkled raisin effect. It is not like the shortstop is trying to play bad or even knows he plays bad when a certain guy pitches. As a coach, you have to get a grasp on this and do things to change it. One example is to create a list of “Power Words” and have your infielders throw them out when something does not go the pitchers way. It may look and sound something like this: The pitcher just gives up a homerun and is working his hardest to keep his body language from hurting his team. Meanwhile, he is beating himself up with negative self talk. Suddenly, the 3rd baseman, the shortstop and the 2nd baseman throw out 3 words (one each) in succession: “Complete, Focus, Trust”. If wrinkled raisins are the negative effect, then these 3 simple words must be more like grapes.
If you ever hear the phrase – You just threw your teammates a wrinkled raisin, you will know what it means.
Meet ya in the dugout next time.
Pink Elephants (A View From The Dugout)
Imagine you are sitting in the dugout next to me watching a hitter, named Joe, get blown away by three straight high fastballs. Here comes the first one – high cheese! Joe was late and completely overmatched. Here comes the second one – wow, it looked like the same exact thing. And finally number three – repeat result. Go sit down!
You look to me and say, “I bet that guy is not too happy. “
I say, “Let’s ask him what happened.”
Joe proceeds to explain to us what was going on in his head as he got blown away with three straight…. “After the first one I thought to myself, don’t swing at the high one, don’t swing at the high one. And bam – I did it anyway! Then I kept saying to myself right before pitch number three, don’t swing at it again, don’t swing at the high one and bam! I did it again. Coach, I have never felt that helpless. What do I do next time?”
Before we get into the answer, we need to understand a critical part of how our brain works. I am going to have you pause for 5 seconds after reading this sentence and during the pause DO NOT think of pink elephants! Whatever you do – don’t think of pink elephants.
The part of your brain that executes tasks does not work well in “NOTs”. When I tell you not to think of pink elephants you do it anyway much like the batter told himself not to swing at the high one. What the hitter should have done was to focus on what he wanted to do instead – swing at a ball in his zone. So let’s try that pink elephant thing again from a different angle. This time when I tell you not to do it, I want you to think grey elephants. I want you to focus so hard on grey ones that you either see a lot of detail or you start counting more than one – ready? Don’t think of pink elephants.
Most people do much better with that one, although sometimes pink elephants flash in and out of the scene. So listen to what I have to say to the hitter that just struck out.
“Joe, you need to focus on what you want. You can do that with either self-talk or by visualizing what you want. After that first pitch got the best of you, perhaps you could have said – ‘look for the ball down, look for the ball down’. Another good technique is to imagine the pitch before (the high swinging strike) coming out with a different result. So rather than swinging at the high pitch, imagine that you saw it good, recognized it was high and did not swing. The effect of this imagination does wonders. Your brain does not care if it is real or imagined. The bottom line is that you are in a mindset where you can take full advantage of seeing the next ball better and reacting.”
Joe says, “Thanks coach, I can’t wait until my turn comes back around. I want to get another crack at it.”
“No problem Joe, you will be up before you know it”, I say.
See you next time in the dugout.
Welcome back, it’s been a while since we spent some time in the dugout. Let me set the stage:
It’s the bottom of the second inning and we are sitting watching our cleanup hitter compete at the plate. So far every one of our hitters has been blown away with fastballs. The radar gun reading posted up by the scoreboard looks like the test scores of a really smart person… 97, 98, 96, 98 - wow this guy is bringing it!
Then all of the sudden the hitter squares one up and hits it over the scoreboard. He circles the bases in quick fashion, elbow bumps a few guys as he enters the dugout, and says, “I love PIFs”.
Before you even turn your head to ask the question, I say, “We are going to have to go to my office for this one.” Luckily since this is an article we can put this game on hold and go talk about this PIFTM thing back in my office.
I tell you, “ I invented the PIF and some of my players are doing great things with it.”
A PIFTM is an acronym and stands for Positive Imagery Flash. I always had this theory about guys swinging at bad pitches, especially curves or sliders in the dirt. I have seen thousands and thousands of at bats and was searching for a reason a hitter would swing at a dirt ball over and over without being able to adjust. Was it vision? Was it some neurological effect where the neurons that just fired are still “hot” and will fire again easier than the neurons used to read the pitch correctly? Certainly it was both of these and they were tied together.
In my quest to find the answer I wrote many neuroscience researchers and convinced them to apply what they knew to baseball. What I found was astounding! Since we want to get back and “turn on” that game we were just at, I will limit my findings to what lead me to a PIFTM.
One of my newly found neuroscience “friends” taught me about the priming effect as it relates to the brain and the firing of neurons. She told me about a study done in a college environment where they would bring in college students and see how long it took them to find a misspelled word in a list of 10 words put on a screen. Let’s say for argument sake, that it takes on average 4 seconds to find the misspelled word. The second group of the study had the same task to find the misspelled word, but just before the list was put up a different word was flashed at 1/1000th of a second. This word was a similar word to the misspelled word that was about to be displayed somewhere in the list. At 1/1000th of a second the subjects did not know they saw it, but the brain registered it. The flashed word might be something like – nurse, while the misspelled word might be something like doctor. As it turns out, the subjects picked the misspelled word doctor out of the list of 10 words very quickly. For argument sake, let’s say it takes 2 seconds on average. She went on to explain that this is called the priming effect. The word nurse primed the part of the brain (warmed it up) that would look for the word doctor. The result was increased reaction time. Well hit me over the head with a baseball bat! What player would not want increased reaction time?
I have this curse that everything I learn I apply to baseball. So I said to myself, “How can I prime my player’s brains?” The answer was actually there before I could even ask the question. I had already done a lot of research and practiced mental imagery for 20 years and knew that the brain did not care if something was real or imagined.
You stop me and ask, “ What do you mean by not care?”
I mean that if you imagine a ball coming out of a pitchers hand versus actually seeing it in real time, the brain fMRI (a way to view a working brain) would show the same regions “lighting up” in the imagery as in the real event.
So now it was time to give a hitter an advantage by teaching him how to do create a PIFTM. Hitters have routines and this whole PIFTM concept could fit nicely in such a routine. The key was to not distract the hitter’s focus and vision in real time by placing the PIFTM in an appropriate place a few seconds before the pitcher actually started his motion. As I taught my players how to do this I found two things. One, the hitters were thinking in pictures instead of words and that’s huge. If you have ever been “in the zone” you would probably describe it something like this: Time slows down and everything is so easy and it is not until you are out of the zone that you realize that you were in it in the first place. After all, analyzing that you are in or out, will keep you out for sure. There are no words in the zone, just actions. Words and word-thoughts are left-brain functions that just keeps the right-brain from doing its thing.
Confused yet? To summarize, a PIFTM is a quick flash of what is about to happen – an imagination. A hitter pretends he sees the ball coming out of the pitchers hand a few seconds before it actually does. The brain does not care if it is real or imagined – it is primed and it reacts faster to the real pitch in real time. Some hitter’s imagine the event beyond the ball – they see the result too, like a line drive in the gap. This whole imagination only takes a second or two to flash though the player’s head. The whole process gives a whole new meaning to dejavu.
So let’s go back into the dugout and “turn that game back on.” Actually let’s rewind that game a few pitches and then turn it back on. Imagine it like the rewind button on a VCR or a DVD player – imagine the batter running backwards around the bases and back up to hit. Take it all the way back to the beginning of the at bat. Now watch the batter miss that first 98 mile hour fast ball. What do you think a normal person would be saying to themselves right about now?
You say to me, “ Wow that was fast… this guy is going to blow me away”
I respond, “Exactly, that would be normal and if he did do that he would fall prey to those very thoughts. Instead, he is relishing the chance to try again! He is imagining (PIFTM) that he did not miss that last pitch, but instead that he got a barrel head and knocked it off the wall. His mentality is a ” let’s go Mr. Pitcher, I have 2 more tries.” As he steps back in for pitch #2 he is imagining (PIFTM) seeing it good out of the pitchers hand.”
Here comes pitch #2. This is the one he knocks out of the yard. Too bad we can’t see inside his brain right now. The right side would be lighting up the fMRI machine. This time as we view the hitter crushing the ball it is as if it in semi slow motion. We see more detail than when we saw it the first time. Wow, we must be in the zone!
As the hitter comes into the dugout he says, “ I love PIFs.TM and we say to each other – dejavu.
By Rick Harig
Copyright 2010 - Cognitive Advantage Program - All Rights Reserved
Fielding - A Mental Point Of View
It is often harder to recover from fielding errors in the game of baseball than it is to fail as a hitter. The player needs to develop techniques to put him on cue on each pitch. This means he needs to be able to let go of the last event (even if it was an error) and play in the now!
Fielding in baseball is different than most aspects of the game in terms of its success rate. While a good hitter hits .300, a good fielder fields .950 or better. This is a very high success rate. The focus for a fielder becomes two fold, (1) how to mentally be tuned in on every pitch so that his physical ability can take over, and (2) how to recover from mistakes (errors) so that they are one time occasional events. In other words, how does the player “throw away” the mistake so that it does not bother his psyche, creating a mental trashcan or toilet so to speak? Errors often have a greater impact on a player’s mental state than failure does to a hitter. This is mostly because the player has been trained to accept plate failure and not fielding failure.
Teaching players to move forward, play in the present, and not reflect on the past is challenging. Routines and imagery can definitely help. One form of imagery is to create an imaginary circle, which is an imaginary boundary around a real space that you can put wherever you want and move it as needed. When the player (as an example the SS) is in this circle he feels superhuman. There is no ground ball that will get by him. If 27 ground balls were hit to him, he would make 27 outs and win the game for his team! Since he takes the act of making all the plays so personal, he needs methods for handling it when he does not make the play. That is where the mental trashcan or toilet comes in to play. He needs to get out of his circle and throw it away or flush it. He can visualize this too if he wants. Some guys visualize throwing the “bad ball” over the fence. When he moves back into the circle, it is back to that “bring it on, you cannot get one by me” attitude. There are a lot of variations the player can use with the imaginary circle such as size changes related to range, and games within games to give him goals about his circle and his attitude. It should also be noted that there should be no signs of emotion to those watching the game. Everything that goes on is in the player’s head.
Another technique to keep the fielder focused and concentrating on the present is to use physical methods to alleviate frustration. Sprinting on and off the field is a good physical way to use up frustration. Squeezing your fists tightly or clenching your teeth creates tension that upon release can relax the player. The tense / relax technique needs to be combined with a feeling of letting the error go with the tension as you relax. A deep nasal breath with the start of the tension followed by an exhale with the relaxation of the muscles is important. Again, the key is that any tension release technique needs to be subtle and not visible to others.
There are other mental factors to fielding besides playing in the present and dealing with errors. Planning between pitches is very important. Mental errors are a product of bad focus and/or bad planning. The “in” and “out” concept – where the play is on then off over and over in a game applies here. The player’s plan needs to take into account knowing the score, the inning, the pitcher's and batter's tendencies, the count, the outs, the running abilities of the batter and base runners, the weather and the field conditions along with his own physical abilities. All this analyzing needs to be done quickly and efficiently during the “off” time between pitches.
Getting a jump on the ball is often characterized as a physical skill, but if a player is in the right frame of mind before every pitch (a mental skill) on cue, then he sets himself up for more success in this area. Some players seem to know where the ball is going before it gets there. They are said to be instinctive. What is their trick? Their planning is usually very good and so is their ability to take in information around them. They know the pitch that is going to be thrown; the batter's tendencies, (his stance might suggest some of these) his speed, and they pay attention to detail (like maybe he was late on the that last fastball). Most good infielders can be seen moving on balls that are fouled off or that are swung on and missed. This is because the fielder sees the bat angle and uses all the other above cues to anticipate the event before and as it occurs.
By Rick Harig
Copyright - Cognitive Advantage Program - All Rights Reserved
Baseball is the most "in and out" game there is in sport. A baseball player goes from live to not live between 140 and 170 times per 9-inning game. Some positions, like pitcher and catcher, force the player to be in focus more often. However, they, as well as the other 7 players on a field, can benefit from techniques to transition from "in" to "out" and back to "in" mentally. Each player needs to establish routines that allow him to be "on" every time he is suppose to be. The "off" time is a time when these routines are set into place. Routines allow the brain to go from the left brain's organizing and setting up to the right brain's action and follow through. These routines are like triggers. They put the player in the proper mindset. Players should study other player's routines to get ideas for what may help them.
The hitter needs to develop a vision routine. The eyes work best when binocular (using both eyes), when on a horizontal plane, and when used in a scanning fashion. A hitter should develop a vision routine that works for him. Ex.: the hitter looks at the pitcher's feet and when they move, his eyes move to the pitcher's hat. At that point, the eyes move again when the pitcher's arm comes into the release slot. The hitter's eyes jump (scan) once again to the ball where they begin to track it in a lane to the hitting zone. The length of time one can intensely concentrate, like needed in hitting, is about one second. Since an 85 mph fastball takes about.5 seconds to get to the plate upon release that means the hitter has to start concentrating.5 seconds before that, which is when the ball is coming up into the release slot. If a hitter starts to concentrate too finely too soon he will end up seeing the ball only in his peripheral vision. A vision routine guarantees that a player uses his eyes as scanners and does not lock into his fine concentration until the appropriate time.
Naturally, having clear vision is going to be critical to your success at the plate. If you have trouble picking the ball up as it comes out of the pitcher's hand, your vision may end up affecting your success. If it's been a while since you've changed your contacts or updated your prescription, your solution may be as simple as getting contact lenses online at lens.com or going to your optometrist. But if you're having issues with contrast sensitivity, some other form of vision therapy may be in order to get you in top form.
Hitting, pitching and defense can benefit from a breathing routine. Proper breathing is a trigger for the body to relax, which can put the mind into a proper mindset. An example of a trigger is when you are listening to a CD or iPod play list that you have heard many times. You automatically know the next song in the sequence. You often start singing it or hearing it before it actually starts. This is a trigger. The last song triggered the next song in your head. In baseball, the player needs to plan these triggers in a conscious state (a routine) and then allow them to be carried out unconsciously. The breath, as a trigger, should come from deep down in the diaphragm. The breath feels like it is coming from the stomach. A breath through the mouth results in an upper chest shallow breath. A proper breath oxygenates the brain and the muscles better than an upper chest breath. This is because there is more blood in the bottom of the lungs and when the breath gets oxygenated better it does better things for the central nervous system. The two types of breathing create two different results. Upper chest breathing during performance stimulates the fight or flight mechanism. This emergency state of mind causes the body to produce stress chemicals like adrenaline and lactic acid. In contrast, if oxygen is pulled more deeply through the lungs via nasal breathing a calming relaxing feeling takes place. This is because this type of breathing triggers impulses in the body's parasympathetic nervous system. Breathing is the bridge between the body and the mind. Your brain weighs about 2% of your overall body weight, but takes 20% of your oxygen.
Pitchers need to develop routines that put them into the right frame of mind. More on this can be found in the pitching section in section 8. Routines, including breathing ones, can help create the conditioned responses that were discussed in section 6. An example of a pitcher's routine - while standing on the rubber, take a deep breath through the nose slow, deep and calmly. Let it out as you get your sign and location. Then imagine the lane you are going to throw in. Blacken out around it, and see a trail of balls going precisely down that lane into the catcher's glove. Follow with the real pitch to the same spot. Some pitchers use self-talk to design their routines around. Remember the mental message can dictate the physical action. The dirt circle is a good place for positive self-talk. If you, as a pitcher, find yourself talking negative, get out of the dirt and say anything you want to yourself. Then get back in and start your positive routine. "I am coming at you; get ready for my stuff..."
Hitter's routines often start with quality uninterrupted on deck time to study the pitcher and reflect on what he is about to do. Then the routines progress to the actual at bat. There are so many different ways to get into the right frame of mind. An example of using Positive Image Flashes (PIF's) - First, start with a vision routine like described before. While waiting for the pitcher to move his feet, visualize a pitch coming down the lane and seeing it being hit exactly where you want it to go, like up the middle. Then when the pitcher moves his feet, continue with your vision routine to put yourself in the best position for it to really happen. There are a lot of routines that have body actions that help a hitter relax and get into the right frame of mind. Ever watch a cat pounce on a mouse or some toy? It crouches down and then slowly wags it tail giving itself timing and readiness. Then the cat quickly strikes at its prey. This is a great example of a routine. Hitters often wag their bats much like the cat's tail. Just like the pitcher can use the dirt circle of the mound to talk positive or negative, so can the hitter use the dirt circle around home plate or use the batter's box itself.
Fielders need routines to take up all of the dead time between pitches. These routines should be designed keeping two things in mind. One, a routine that allows for focus and movement right before the pitch, and two, some sort of planning stage when the ball is not in play. An example of a fielder's routine - Have an imaginary circle that can be placed anywhere you desire depending on the situation. When you walk out of this circle it triggers the planning stage. Quickly figure out all the possible scenarios and what you will do with the ball. Walk back into the circle, which represents your unbeatable zone. When you are in that circle you are unstoppable. You take every ground ball personally. If 27 balls were hit to you, you would make 27 outs and win the game. This circle makes you super-human every time you step into it. You suddenly feel quicker and more ready.
By Rick Harig
Copyright 2010 - Cognitive Advantage Program - All Rights Reserved