Mental Training

Mental Tools and Strategies

MLB Urban Youth Academy
Compton — May 2007

Today's athletes spend the majority of their time on physical preparation. But we know from experience that if athletes are going to be successful, then ultimately, they will need mental tools and strategies to stay focused throughout their physical preparation and performance. Even for those athletes who believe they are physically prepared, we know that physical preparation is not enough. Just as a chain will break at its weakest link, players who lack the skills to stay mentally focused will find that their mental game is their weakest link. In short, all of the physical ability in the world is squandered if the athlete does not have the mind-set to execute these abilities in game situations.

Our first priority is to ensure that each player understands "why" the mind works the way it does. This is achieved by taking the individual through a comprehensive mental training program that covers a broad range of topics. We believe that this "education" creates a foundation, and is the only way to insure long term results.

MLB Pro Camp
Encino — February 2007

It is my belief that the mind is the missing link between having potential and realizing this potential. If you sense that your mental skills are not as reliable or consistent as you feel they should be — if you feel that you are not as relaxed, focused, concentrated, disciplined or confident in game situations, then I hope you will consider this an opportunity to incorporate these skills into your development as a complete player.

Our 8-day "individual" mental training program addresses three core issues:
The Philosophy of Sports and Life (Theory)
• Awareness
• Identifying resources, strengths and abilities
• Identifying distractions, inhibitions and limitations
• Breathing
• Commitment, Discipline, and Attitude
Mental Training (Technique)
• Developing correct breathing patterns
• Relaxation/concentration exercises
• Imagery/visualization
• Internal trust/confidence
• Connection
Game Management
• Mound management
• Batter's box management
• Getting into a flow/rhythm
• Consistency
• Pre-game routine

This eight-step training intensive is done on a one to one basis. It is typically done over a four-week period (twice a week) or a four day period (for those commuting from another state). Each meeting lasts approximately an hour. Three day seminars are also offered for teams.

The intention of our Mental Training Program is to bring to your attention as an athlete (on and off the playing field) that there is a way, a philosophy, a practice , a process if you will that will allow you the freedom and comfort to perform at your highest levels despite the changing circumstances and consequences that tend to exist in game situations. A process that will allow you to break free from the old patterns, the old identities that limit and inhibit you as a player in pressure situations. A process that teaches you how to identify with a new and supportive state of mind in all situations, rather than an inconsistent and uncertain one.

However, there must be no mistaking the fact that your ability to understand and know this place, to be comfortable, relaxed and confident in game situations is dependent upon your willingness to open your mind , to bring into your awareness the realization that to be comfortable in a surrounding that tends to breed tension, anxiety and mechanical effort takes time and the volition to change. And change is something that will call into play a tenacity to break old patterns and adapt to new ones. Part of this change is of course the realization that the performance arena, generally speaking, has greatly limited and inhibited the athletes most natural actions. The notion that games "are real", wins and losses "are at stake" and statistics "count" greatly contributes to these limitations. So now that you are aware of this reality, the next step is action -- the essential application of this awareness and the commitment to follow through with it.

In order to excel in game situations we need to learn how to be in a comfortable place, consistently, both physically and mentally. In order to excel in performance our actions should feel natural, graceful and spontaneous. We must know what it's like to allow our minds to be free from the limitations, distractions and consequences that tend to come with the territory of the performance arena. But most importantly, we must come to the realization why athletes generally excel in practice but limit themselves in game situations.

For all those athletes who don't understand why they excel in practice and struggle to find their niche in game situations , if you wonder why you are so relaxed in practice but tense or press when it counts, then it's time to make a change. It's time to realize that you have been influenced by the pressure of performing in a consequential environment for the majority of your competitive career. To think that you can pretend that these pressures aren't their, or to attempt to "out will" these consequences is to miss the point.

Foreign Territory

MLB Pro Camp
Encino — February 2007

The truth is that the feelings that we experience in a performance environment are actually unfamiliar to us. It is like being in foreign territory , you don't really know the terrain and it's hard to know what to expect from your actions. The practice environment on the other hand is familiar territory, especially when you consider that you spent most of your time there and you know exactly what needs to be done. From this we can see that there is an aura of familiarity with practice and an aura of unfamiliarity during performance.

So we can see that's its not just the nature of consequences that can limit our performance, but our discomfort with the unfamiliarity of game situations.

Being comfortable with yourself in practice is one thing. Being comfortable with yourself in game situations is another. Until we address this issue, until we are willing to make a change in our outlook, a change in our process we are going to continue to wonder why we are unable to excel in performance situations, "when it counts".

Awareness is the first step. The willingness to change is the second step. Taking action is the third step. At the root of this action is the investment you make in your mind.

When athlete's think in terms of preparation, they typically speak in terms of practice. But rarely do they talk in terms of mental practice. Is it any wonder that we find it difficult to excel in game situations? Is it any wonder why the performance arena, and the consequences surrounding them seem foreign to us?

Mental training is a practice that helps us to bridge this gap from the comfortable confines of the practice environment to the performance environment. It is a practice of being on familiar ground, of earning the comfort and trust of your mind by spending quality time in this familiar territory, free from distractions, free from consequences. But to come to this awareness is only the first step. The willingness to change and the application of this awareness is what must follow.

Mental training is a dedicated, determined and consistent practice that is as much a part of your day as eating and sleeping. Mental training is nourishment to your existence as a person and as an athlete. It is the water to nurture your fertile seeds of talent, growth and potential. And just as breathing is not an option to keeping yourself alive mental training cannot be viewed as an option to realizing your potential. But this realization is the culmination of weeks, months and years of investment and sacrifice to a new routine, a new focus. Like anything else in life your mental skills and focus (i.e. clarity, concentration, confidence) must be earned. It's a rather simple equation: if you want to improve on any area of your life than you must dedicate yourself consistently and diligently to that area of your life. And when the area of your life is your mind, how can you not afford to make the time? After all, isn't the mind the source of everything else.

The truth is when you step back from it all you begin to realize that we've given most of our attention to everything but the mind. We spend most of our waking hours improving our physical skills through countless physical drills when it is the mind that ultimately dictates our performance. It's kind of like watering a plants leaves instead of the soil; washing your car without checking the engine. How quickly we forget that the engine drives the car.

The bottom line: if being comfortable with yourself is at the heart of excelling in a game situation, than mental training is at the heart of establishing this comfort zone. Your comfort zone is your home , it is a place where you are completely at peace, relaxed, concentrated and free from any internal stress or external distractions. It is a place where you can let things happen spontaneously and trust yourself unconditionally. And once in place (through among other things a mental training practice) you will have the ability to stay connected to this feeling in all situations; you will be like the tortoise who carries is home wherever he goes. This home is in fact your comfort zone."
Excerpt from Alan's upcoming book, Performing in a Comfort Zone

The success of all athletes is measured by how well they perform during competition, "when it counts." While many athletes are able to excel in the practice environment where nothing is on the line and where they feel relaxed, confident and in control, they are unable to carry over this performance into the arena where they will be judged, where everything is at stake, where distractions run rampant, and pressure seems to mount.

The difference between the practice arena and the performance arena is that in a practice situation, distractions are minimal and real consequences are virtually non-existent, so an athlete can stay relaxed and comfortable. But when an athlete is in actual competition, he or she tends to "try harder", "do more", so that his or her performance becomes studied, mechanical, contrived. "Letting it happen" turns into "forcing it to happen". Getting into the flow, can easily be replaced by doubt, stress, and over thinking. The irony is that our very intention to perform well actually inhibits our performance. Extra effort impedes natural effort, and we find ourselves getting in our own way.

In order to excel in game situations, we need to learn how to get familiar with a comfortable place, physically and mentally, and stay in that place. Our actions should feel natural, graceful and spontaneous. We must be able to perform with a mind free of distractions, consequences and limitations.

However, the performance environment is a foreign territory, considering that the average athlete spends a minimal amount of time there relative to a practice environment. Though one may want to "out will" the foreign elements of a performance environment we must ultimately come to terms that our minds are not trained to sustain a relaxed and natural state of mind without practice. One must learn techniques that will get one into a comfortable place, consistently, and sustain that familiar state of mind in an otherwise unfamiliar environment.

Which brings us to the purpose of my book, Performing in a Comfort Zone. Performing in a Comfort Zone brings a philosophy, practice and process to the athlete and non-athletes, that will allow him or her to perform at his or her highest levels of comfort despite the changing circumstances and consequences of a performance environment. This process will allow us to break free from old patterns and responses that limit and inhibit us, and to consistently trust a state of mind that allows our instinctive and natural reactions to take over.

Until recently the importance of mental training has been largely ignored. All the attention seems to have been gauged toward physical training. Countless physical drills have produced a stronger, faster, better conditioned body. But that is like watering the leaves of the plant and ignoring the roots; or polishing the body of your car to perfection, and not paying any attention to the engine. It is, after all the mind that is the ultimate control of our bodies. If our minds fail, our body fail. And the best conditioned body will fail, if the athlete is filled with doubt and tension.

Mental Training is not an option, it is a necessity for any athlete who wants to perform at his or her maximum potential. It is the key to finding and establishing your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is your home , the place where you are completely at peace, relaxed, concentrated and free from any internal stress or external distractions. It is the place where you can let things happen spontaneously and trust yourself unconditionally. And once you have earned this place, you will have given yourself an opportunity to stay in this place in all situations; you will be like the tortoise who carries his home wherever he goes.