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…..as 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

A Note to Parents for a Successful Season

As we head into the season, our players’ experience hinges upon a team effort.  Our team extends beyond the dugout with their teammates, coaches, umpires, and competition.

We, as parents, play a major role in our kids’ and their team’s experience on the field.  Beyond wins and losses, individual successes and failures, and their experience with their teammates off the field, parents can greatly impact a player’s perspective on each season, positively or negatively.

My parents were my biggest cheerleaders, supporters, and motivators through my childhood all the way up to the major leagues.  They let me know when I played the game the right way, let me know when I did not, and pushed me in the right direction when I needed a push.  They lived the parent experience from the stands like all of us do now.  They were excited with wins and empathetic with losses.   They secretly questioned coaches, umpires, teammates, and my decisions on the field.  They were no different from any other parent as they watched their son try to figure this game out.

They played their role as parents and supporters of my experience on and off the field masterfully.  They were cheerleaders in the stands, and coaches on the way home from the game.  They were always helping me when I needed help away from the field, but let the coaches coach when they were in charge.   They never declined an opportunity to play catch with me or throw  batting practice (my dad’s shoulder is now paying the price for millions of batting practice throws to my brother and I),  and they never passed up an opportunity to help me understand what the game was trying to teach me.

They always talked me through my experiences in games.  They softened my disappointment after tough games by turning losses into learning opportunities.  They made me realize early in my career that every game is a successful game…win or loss, strikeouts, home runs, errors, and everything inbetween.

Our responsibility as parents is not to compete alongside our kids while they are competing, but to support them and help them navigate through the successes and failures of competitive sports.  Let them compete, fail, learn, and work toward success as a result of their experiences.  Guide them along the way so that they know the correlation of work and improvement.  Teach them the concept that playing time is not a right but a privilege, and playing time is not always there for us when we want it.  We have to earn it..every day.

Every team, and every role on each team is different.  Every player must learn how to add value to each team that they are on, and that value is not always from being the star, hitting 3rd and playing shortstop every inning.

We must teach them (from our own actions) that an umpire’s bad call is an opportunity to overcome adversity and that some aspects of a game are out of their control.  A bad call is not an opportunity to tell the umpires how bad they are from the dugout or the stands.  Umpires do not yell at players when they make an error, so we should give them the benefit of the doubt when they make a mistake.

A coach’s decision to not play your son in a game or two is not personal.  It is an opportunity for your son to communicate with the coach to learn how he needs to improve and compete for more playing time.  It is not an opportunity to openly bash the coach and his decisions, in the stands or on the way home from games.  Hearing a negative opinion of a coach only diminishes the player’s view of his coach and his overall experience with his team.  Openly criticizing a coaches decision teaches your son a reaction to adversity that you would never want him copying as a player, a student, or as a co-worker in a business environment.  Even though you do not agree with a coach’s decision, you will not change his/her mind by going negative, especially in front of other parents and your son.

Coaching or yelling instruction to our kids from the stands is at a minimum confusing for the players, and potentially embarrassing for the player and the team.  If we are able (against our instinct) to sit back and let the only voices of instruction come from the dugout, they will bond better with their coaches and teammates, and learn as a team on the field.

We want our players to communicate freely with their teammates and coaches on the field in a time-sensitive and pressure filled environment.  We want them to rely on their teammates and decisions in the moment.  We want our young players to take responsibility for their decisions and actions, and learn from their mistakes when they make them.  We want our kids to be independant thinkers, leaders, and great teammates by staying accountable to their team at all times.  Parents yelling instruction from the stands is often subtracting from these learning opportunities, and adding a distraction for a player in an already distraction-filled setting.

Playing sports is an incredible opportunity for young athletes to learn about teammwork, performing under pressure, and managing adversity.  It is also a great opportunity for parents to teach our kids the right way to react to this adversity, to learn from failures, and to take the “I” out of  team.

This game prepares us for life.  The successes, failures, disappointments, dealing with bosses (coaches) of all types and difficult teammates.  It is not all about the wins and losses, but the journey it takes us on that prepares us for the next phase of our lives.

Our responsibility as parents is to play the part of “perspective police”.  It is staying positive when our kids go negative.  It is to get our kids to understand that each practice, game, and experience is an opportunity to learn and improve.  It is to teach our kids the correlation between work ethic and success.  It is about reacting gracefully to coach and umpire decisions that do not go our way, or when opposing teams or coaches are not showing great sportsmanship.

Our role as a parent is about rising above our competitive impulses, to be the tour guide and mentor for our kids in a journey through competition so they can learn the most they can from their experiences on the field this season.

Let’s have a great 2018 season!!

–Brad Woodall

Owner- Woodall Baseball Academy and Silver Sluggers
Former Major League Player- Braves, Brewers, and Cubs
Professional Coach- Tampa Bay Rays Organization
Presenter and TV Broadcaster