Secrets to Great Post Season Players

During the Major League Baseball playoffs , we are able to watch the best and longest standing reality show.  Sports in general is the original reality TV show.  We are able to live vicariously through the successes and failures of our favorite players and teams… it is happening .

For major league players, the argument that they are not prepared or “ready to play” is not necessarily valid.  In our clinics last week, we did the math on the number of hours these players have put into this season alone.  We determined that every player has well over 2,000 hours of work on their baseball skills this season.  Every player is physically prepared (barring injury) for a great post season.

The key to great performance in these high pressure games is the ability to relax under pressure.  When we listen to interviews after post season games, players often refer to their ability to relax and “breathe” in the moment as the key to their success.  Major league players work very hard to relax in big moments.  Great performances in playoff games are a result of staying calm under pressure, allowing for clear thinking, proper decision making, and letting their physical abilities take over in big moments.

Below are a few of the tricks of the trade to staying calm in a high pressure moment:

  1.  Simplify the Situation:  Every play in a big game has happened before.  It may feel different with the large crowds and overall buzz in the stadium, but great players find familiarity and simplicity in every big moment.  Starting pitchers have thrown (on average) over 2,500 pitches in competition by the time the playoffs start.  Hitters have had 600 at bats, and seen over 2,000 pitches during the regular season.  Great players are able to simplify the moment and gain confidence in the fact that they have done this before…and had success doing it!!
  2. Routines Rule:  Great players rely on routines to get them through adversity and pressure-filled situations.  Routines are consistent, familiar, and are designed to get the player in the right place mentally to perform.  Pre-Pitch fielding, hitting, and pitching routines are on display every game, every pitch throughout the entire season.  In a big moment, their subtle routines take over to remind them that what they are about to do is familiar and consistent with what they have been doing all season.  More on the power of routines in a future blog post.
  3. Breathe In/Out:  Among many other relaxation techniques, taking a deep breath is one the best ways for an athlete to decrease physiological stress. Nearly all great players have a purposeful, cleansing deep breath as a part of their pre-pitch routine.  If you are watching a game, look for the pitchers and hitters taking deep breaths as a part of their routines for each pitch.
  4. I Am Good Enough, Smart Enough, and People Like Me!:  Positive affirmation is one of the keys to bringing confidence into big games.  A great coach of mine gave us a very simple speech before one of our biggest games.  “You all have earned your way into this game.  You are here because you are prepared and are playing well enough to win this game.  All you have to do is go out and do what you have done all season.”  It was very simple, but gave us all the positive affirmation to be confident in that moment.
  5. Enjoy the Moment with Your Teammates:  Above all else, baseball is a team sport.  Actually, every sport is a team sport.  There is a team of people that have helped you get to this moment.  Enjoy it with your team.  Great players turn to their team and enjoy the moment with them, rather than fearing the possibility of individual failure.  Turning to a teammate with a “This is awesome” reminds everyone that this is a game and a challenge that we should enjoy rather than fear.
  6. Adversity is an Opportunity:  While some players look at pressure situations and fear failure, great players look at these moments as opportunities to do something great.  Lebron James and Steph Curry look at last second shots as an opportunity to win the game, and do not fear the failure that comes with that opportunity.  They give themselves permission to fail, in order to have the opportunity to win the moment.  The well known quote applies here:   “You miss 100% of the shots you do not take” — Wayne Gretzky

These are only a few examples of how great players perform under pressure.  As we watch the next big game, look for signs of these characteristics and actions in our favorite players.  And most importantly, remind yourself of these the next time you are in a big moment on the field.

Brad Woodall
— Former Major League Pitcher
— Owner, Woodall Baseball Academy and Silver Sluggers