The mental game exists primarily in times of inaction. Once the race starts or the puck drops there isn’t much time spent with your thoughts. Those moments are all about action, all about trusting your preparation; but during times of inaction—between pitches or serves—is when mental skills take over. The way our athletes think about situations and events, the way they talk to themselves, and the way they manage that time; that’s where the mental game lives. The biggest factor in whether their thoughts and self-talk are beneficial or detrimental is how positive they are. I believe that if we want resilient, mentally strong athletes and teams, we need to actively build positivity.
There are many emotions tied to positivity; Barbara Fredrickson, in her book Positivity, lists joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love as the primary positive emotions. Increase the frequency of those emotions—to at least a 3:1 ratio with negative emotions, she explains—and players will flourish.
At first glance, that is a long list. If you’re anything like me, your reaction was something along the lines of, “How am I supposed to get my players to feel all of that?” Admittedly, some are more difficult to offer up than others—it might be hard to get your baseball players to feel the same sense of awe that they would experience standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon while they’re in center field—some, however, happen quite naturally.
Regardless of the degree of difficulty, it is important to be intentional about creating a team culture that invokes those feelings. In my experience, gratitude is a great place to start. I strongly believe that players and coaches who experience and express gratitude on a frequent basis have a higher likelihood of being resilient and developing better team chemistry.
For the past two summers I have had the opportunity to coach in a competitive collegiate summer baseball league. Six nights a week, for eight weeks, we played a game at 7:05; with about half of those games being played after a multiple-hour trek in 15-passenger vans. We found that introducing this exercise as part of our pre-game routine helped to refresh our perspective each and every day. In just a few minutes, we were able to spend time as a team thinking about how grateful we were for the support we’d received, and how fortunate we were to spend a summer immersed in the game we love.
Skill: Players and coaches will be more conscious and expressive of their gratitude.
Why: If individuals can experience positive emotions at a 3-to-1 ratio to negative emotions, they are much more likely to flourish. By increasing the amount players experience and express gratitude, we move closer to the 3-to-1 tipping point.
Method: On a regular basis—we incorporated it into our pre-game routine—ask players to reflect on the things that they are grateful for. Have one individual share something they are grateful for each time (Note: you’ll want to give the individual a heads up that they will be asked to share). Expressing gratitude, as well as taking stock of the things they are grateful for, can have an significant impact on their positivity.
The key will be to go through this exercise frequently enough that it becomes a part of their routine, but not so frequent that it becomes meaningless. When we introduced the idea to our team, our coaching staff went first, and expressed our own heartfelt gratitude for an aspect of our life. This helped set the tone for the future, and showed players we were on the journey with them.
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