As discussed before, I think most people would
Like anything else, the mental game is a skill and must be practiced for you to get better at it! Therefore, coaches must find ways to incorporate the mental game into practice so kids can learn and work at it! Looking at the mental game as a whole can be overwhelming, so over the next several blog
The first step to building a strong mental game is mastering the most fundamental element of life -breathing! A quality deep breath does wonders for an athlete and should the first step in learning how to manage the game from the neck up. In the words of Alan Jaeger, “The breath, like the engine to your car, is the key to keeping the body and mind running smoothly and efficiently.”
As for physical benefits
This may sound funny,
Along with this, breathing helps release tension throughout the body. Loose muscles are fast muscles. Any sort of tension from toes to fingertips will keep you from moving freely, athletically, and will have a negative impact on balance, rhythm, and timing. Breathing, on the other hand, will do just the opposite. For players who struggle with this and controlling nerves before/during games, get them to focus on the exhale portion of the breath. On the contrary, focusing on the inhale is a great way to help increase energy levels.
Another physical benefit to breathing is it
As for intangible benefits, the breath is a great tool
The breath is also a great way to “check-in” with how an athlete is feeling physically and mentally during training or competition. If an athlete is unable to get a complete inhale and exhale without being cut short, it is a sign that they are losing control. As Tom Hanson and Ken Ravizza say in Heads Up Baseball 2.0, “Your breath is something to go
Lastly, breathing helps you transition from training to trusting. If you were to think about your most successful performances, I think most all of you would realize that you weren’t really thinking about anything at all. This would be known as trusting - letting the work you’ve done unfold on the field without any conscious thought. Confident and successful athletes keep things simple, minimize thinking, and play with their eyes. While there
Implementing the Mental Game into Practice
Coaches - In your practices, keep it simple for kids: get them to first learn how to take a deep, visible breath. If you can’t tell they’re breathing from the dugout, they’re not doing it correctly. Also, do not let kids rush the breath - let them take their time on the inhale and completely exhale the breath. The exhale should be forceful enough so that kids are able to feel the tension being released from their body. Kids can add to this by shaking their arms, legs, and releasing their shoulders at the conclusion of their breath.
Another huge point is the breath must have a purpose behind it. If kids are breathing but putting no intent behind it, they won’t get anything out of it - just like going through the motions in anything. To help with this, get athletes to notice the air coming in, the air going out, and how each breath makes them feel. Utilizing a quality deep breath is a great way to slow the athlete’s heart rate. If they still feel tension and anxiety after a few breaths, get them to slow things down and create a purpose behind each breath by bringing awareness to it.
Once you’ve taught athletes how to breathe, get them to incorporate it into their daily practice routines! Teach them to use the breath in the warm-up and how to exhale as they reach the end range of motion in their body (yoga had this figured out a while ago). When an athlete boots a ball, get them to take a deep breath and release the error they just made. If a hitter rolls over a ball they know they should have crushed, tell them to step out, look at a letter on their bat, and take a deep breath before stepping back into the box. Get your pitchers to take quality deep breaths between every pitch - in practices and in games. If you don’t do it in practice, don’t expect it to magically show up in games.
Be creative in how you teach each kid to utilize the breath, but keep the main thing the main thing: When the game starts to speed up, get kids to breathe and slow it down!
For more information about different ways to use the breath, when to use it, and how to improve it, Alan Jaeger's blog (see Mental Practice: A Daily Routine and Mental Training Talk and Practice) thoughts from Lantz Wheeler, and Heads Up Baseball 2.0 are a good place to start.
Feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns!
Keep learning and growing.
This article was written by staff member Andrew Parks.