Posts Tagged 'baseball'

Discipline…What Does it Mean to You?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Discipline is a strong word which elicits emotional feelings within us. What comes to mind when you hear the word discipline? The likely image is a helpless person cowering away as another barks commands in an effort to place their will upon them. How about the term plate discipline – what comes to mind now? The pitcher nibbles around the plate with tempting options, yet the batter patiently waits for a pitch in the zone which can be driven back with authority for a hit. In success and adherence to achieving goals, this is likely a better image to maintain.

In daily life there are many tempting “pitches” which come our way. Many of these temptations are distractions which will lead us even farther from achieving our goals. The smell of hot, freshly salted french fries floating through the air is just one example which can quickly lead a dieter off track. Yet, if that individual can elicit some discipline for a few brief seconds, the temptation begins to disappear. By overcoming the distraction, adherence to a new and healthier lifestyle grows that much stronger by following through with the appropriate action. By re-programming the word discipline to stand for “making and acting upon appropriate decisions in times of temptation”, achieving long-term goals may be more readily attained.

As the holiday season approaches and temptations abound, the opportunity arises to build some momentum for showing discipline. This mindset will come in even more handy as those difficult resolutions arise in early January.



The Big Break

I’ve sat court-side for much tennis racket abuse. Rackets smashed, stepped on, bitten, and thrown clear from the courts (in my mis-spent tennis youth I may have even participated once or twice). On the golf course I have witnessed a three-wood broken in two and then thrown into a nearby lake. In the squash box I’ve done my best to avoid flying graphite as a racket met its untimely demise upon the wall again and again and again (@thinksport may have been involved..). On the ice I’ve been moderately amused by the poor wisdom of slashing and high sticking the goal’s crossbar. I have worked with a ball player who’s bat had an affinity for meeting water jugs on a regular basis.

Baghdatis put on a formidable display of racket abuse to the amusement of Chris Fowler and onlooking Australian Open fans. I can hardly believe I’m commenting on such nonsense, but ESPN’s Aussie Open notes titled Players Rationalize Racket Rampages have me opening my big blog-mouth.  Sure it is somewhat cathartic, but is smashing a tennis racket really a bright idea for a player (bank account implications aside)?  I guess I have a few quick thoughts for consideration on the matter:

1. Does breaking a tennis racket improve you game? For every ten times you smash a tennis racket, how many times does it improve your play? If your answer is north of 50% of the time, perhaps it’s a bright idea. Honest reflection likely leaves you with odds of improved play not being one’s you would take to a casino.

2. Does misshaping your racket help your focus? When you step in to return the next serve is your focus filled with the yellow ball that is about to be fired at you or is it filled with thoughts like, “Wow, I’m a real $@#*&!%.”?

3. Along these same lines, do you feel good about yourself after a few good cracks of graphite? Are you sacrificing short term release for later shame (cue Slapshot: “All bad. You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame, you know.”)

Djokovic: “I’m not doing it as often, which is good for my coach, good news. But when I have a smash of the racket, smack of the racket, I usually feel relieved afterwards. I feel that the pressure is out. But a bit embarrassed, as well. So I try to hold my composure.”

4. It’s not easy to show racket wrecking restraint. Yet, each time you show restraint, it will be easier to maintain composure and focus during play in the future. A bit more restraint… see 1-3… yields better feelings, better focus, higher performance.

Jo-Willie’s dad has it right, “”My father told me all the time, if you broke the racket, I broke you. So I go easy with the racket.” Breaking a racket breaks you. The ESPN article had a lousy title. Read the player’s quotes closely there is little to suggest it is a bright idea. Athletic anger mismanagement is a momentary feel good release, good for the fans, good for ridiculing friends… lousy for good play and high performance. Take #4 as a challenge… energy and focus towards playing the game is a bright idea.

Fast, Deliberate, Slow

It is exhausting for a fan to what a pitcher step off of the mound time and time again to re-read the signs, adjust his glove, his grip, his uniform, and various body parts. Put a runner on base and the agony can be exacerbated – check the runner, throw to first, check the runner, check the runner, throw to first, throw to first, check the runner, consider pitching, check the runner, throw to first…

Slow play is a problem for fans, for players, for the foursome behind you on the golf course. In golf, it has become a scarlet letter – with the AJGA monitoring the “@getcrackin Pace of Play” at events and country club members fearing reprisals of peers if they search a bit too long in the woods for a golf ball. Although it still occurs, it is rare a kind word will be heard about the athlete that acts like a tortoise when the ball is in play or he has stepped between the ropes.

Fast is good? Not typically – consider the reality that choking on the playing field is typically correlated with increased pace of actions during down time and agitated play when things “count.” Have you ever watched a tennis player race between points, picking up loose balls as if they are about to run away? Fast too often ends up hasty… and as we’ve all heard a time or two, “haste makes waste.” Making waste of precious opportunities to get ahead on the playing field is costly especially as the level of play improves.

The reality is that pace of play really is not a time thing, it is a deliberate thing. Playing as if you are James Bond strapped to a nemesis’s world ending (and you ending) device with timer counting down too often is a good sign of mindless play and avoiding simple stresses of competition. Ruminating over the ball like Sergio Garcia circa 2002 – waggle, waggle, waggle, repeat 23 more times – seems to be a good sign of fear filled perfectionism. Deliberate play lies somewhere between the two. It may even look like ‘fast” play to the untrained eye 😉

Pace of play matters – it’s good for rhythm, it’s good for the mental game, it’s good for performance. Make sure every pitch has a purpose, every play has a plan, and every swing a target – to neglect such ideas would be to drift towards mindlessness. Furthermore, reasonable comfort trumps feeling perfect over the ball and a twinge of uncertainty about the upcoming play’s outcome is part of what makes sports so exciting – settle in and play.

If your pace of play is slow, speed up and trust yourself a bit. If your pace of play is rapid fire, slow down and center yourself a bit.

Congrats Grads: Practice What You Preach

Ed Kingston started the ball rolling on the PSPS annual wisdom for those graduating with a degree in sport psychology. Expect the rest of the gang to pour in a few thoughts on this topic as well. It looks like an annual tradition – we’re all a year older… and continue our quests to be a bit wiser. Enjoy.

Some of the simplest, bright ideas that sport psychology professionals share with athletes on a regular basis get neglected when considering building a career in the field. The oversight is at times comical… here are a few things you probably know, but forget to turn them on yourself regularly:

Task/Mastery Orientation – Being grounded in self-referenced, controllable goals leads to high performance, facilitative anxiety, confidence, effort, and persistence. Not many surprises in the previous sentence, yet every year when it’s time to get a job I have at least one student tell me they need to make X dollars in their next job. Sounds a bit outcome-oriented to me. What type of work are you going to do? How are you going to do it? How are you going to get better each day?

10 yr/ 10,000 hrs of Deliberate Practice – It is fairly well known that it takes this long to achieve true excellence in any given domain. Many have tried to speed this up, few have succeeded. Yet there are plenty of websites out there promoting “world renowned mental training experts” – perhaps some are, others likely have not put in the 10 and 10 yet seem to be a rush to wear the varsity letter of expertise without playing at the freshman or JV levels. Strive to be an expert, but rushing to the label is a hubristic landmine. Association for Applied Sport Psychology Certified Consultant status is perhaps the best measure of competence in the practice of sport psychology. This being said, “CC” status in and of itself falls short of the 10 and 10 necessary for expertise (doesn’t even get you a 10th of the way there). Taking this one step further, do not neglect the “deliberate” in deliberate practice. It may be unpopular to say, but extensive sport coaching experience where mental skills are preached and team cohesion sought is not quality deliberate practice in sport psychology hours. In the same vein, the practice of clinical psychology, counseling, or psychiatry with a non-sport population is not quality deliberate practice in sport. This is not to throw water on a freshly earned degree in sport psychology. Competence is an excellent thing, rushing to the label excellence and failing to commit humble deliberate practice seems too often to lead to a very short lived career in applied sport psychology.

Strive to be an expert, but rushing to the label is a hubristic landmine.

Team cohesion (or collaboration vs. alienating competitiveness) – I witnessed a graduate student once sit in a room of 19 of his peers and proclaim, “I am not going to share details of how I work with athletes in this room. Everyone in this room is my future competition.” (I am relieved to say that this individual has grown beyond this stance in the years since.) Can you imagine a truly successful soccer player on a truly successful team standing in a team meeting and saying, “I am not going to share or show any of my preparation strategies or experience with my teammates. They could take my spot in the line-up.” Desire to get ahead and look out for one’s self is a common human urge. Furthermore when one has a mortgage, a family, and a lifestyle they hope to achieve it is easy to see fellow professionals as threats rather than teammates. This all said, there are pages upon pages of sport psychology research that shows that collaboration trumps alienating competitiveness any day. Run towards competent peers, don’t put up walls blocking them out.

(This doesn’t mean peers don’t compete… By 1999, Dr. Gardner interned with the Cleveland Indians and in Penn State Athletics prior to completing his doctoral degree. As I was 2 years behind him in my studies, he looked at me and said, “Beat that before you graduate.” A handful of months later I moved to Florida for 10 months, set up a comprehensive sport psych program at the International Tennis Academy USA, worked with top international juniors through a few top 200 pros, and found myself the next September sitting courtside watching a client at the US Open. I’m not sure if I managed to trump Doug’s pre-doc exploits, but surely I gave it a shot. More importantly, we speak almost daily and hide no professional secrets.)

Run towards competent peers, don’t put up walls blocking them out.

Get Flow – Flow is not simply about great feelings… great feelings can facilitate it or can be a consequence of flow. Yet, flow is about embracing challenge – on the developmental journey, getting after the stresses of differentiation while knowing the calmer waters of integration will exist soon (and then doing it all over again). When we harness our efforts appropriately and the planets are aligned we may find flow… a great place to be. The rest of the time we are trying to wrap our arms successfully around challenge. Don’t forget that. Making a living in applied sport psychology is about “trying to wrap our arms successfully around challenge.” The challenge to be competent, the challenge to clearly articulate and show coaches why your work matters, the challenge to negotiate a reasonable contract, the challenge to survive in a field where very few “help wanted” adds exist, etc. Some days you’ll flow… more importantly commit to embracing challenge in your professional life.

These are just a few textbook sport psych ideas that strike me while writing this post. Sometimes we forget to apply the most important ideas to our own professional practice. Please add to this list and let it serve to steady you as you navigate the field. My thought for class of 2011 sport psych grads… keep your textbooks close at hand and theories close in mind. If you believe they are important to an athlete’s career success, it is likely that they are important to yours. Congrats grads.

Words of a Great Competitor

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

C.J. Wilson will play a major role as a starting pitcher in the World Series for the Texas Rangers.  I didn’t know much about this guy or truly watch him pitch until the ALCS against the Yankees.  It wasn’t so much of what he did, but what he said that truly caught my attention.  The following are a few excerpts from an interview Wilson did before Game 1 of the ALCS, a game in which he pitched well, but the bullpen was unable to close…

“My whole life, I never drank, I never used drugs or anything like that. I know that I have not done anything other than work hard and read a lot of books to get where I’m at.”

He clearly makes baseball his priority.  Wilson made a decision from a young age to develop his talent rather than take it for granted.  He even reads…how often do we hear about athletes who read and search for resources to make them better as people and athletes? 

When asked about the influence Cliff Lee has had on him this year…

“Cliff has been great. The thing with Cliff is that he keeps his process the same, no matter what is going on around him. And that’s something that, as I’ve gotten more comfortable in my role as a starting pitcher, I’ve had to thicken those walls in my bubble to keep everything else out and stay in my little zone, and stay with what is making me successful. And that’s the thing he and I talk about all the time.”

C.J. Wilson focuses on and evaluates his process along with his results.  He’s worked to “thicken those walls in my bubble” to make himself ready to compete pitch after pitch on the mound.  He knows most things in the game are outside of his control, so he has tried to make a habit of managing himself from head to toe, knowing that is all he is capable of doing.

“When you’re a little kid and you’re in your backyard, you’re taking … dry swings or pretending that when you’re in the mirror … that you’re somebody or whatever, you put yourself in this position,” Wilson said. “You put yourself in Game 1, Game 7, Championship Series, World Series, stuff like that. That’s what you work for. Every mile I’ve run, my entire life, and every little tubing exercise and sinker I’ve thrown playing catch, is everything I’ve done to get to this point.”

Purposeful practice.  From the time he was a kid, Wilson was engaging in fun, yet purposeful practice…watching himself in the mirror and imagining himself on the biggest stage.  Potentially boring and repetitive activities such as running, tube exercises, and practice pitches…he has added purpose to all of those moments in knowing that every action he makes will prepare him for the moments he is about to face in front of millions of people.


When asked about facing C.C. Sabathia in Game 1 of the ALCS…

“Yeah, his uniform is much bigger than mine and his feet are much larger than mine, but I’m not trying to fill his shoes.”

Quite possibly the most important message for all athletes to keep in mind is stated here.  Compare yourself to yourself.  There are many other pitchers in the game who are more well-known, get a bigger paycheck, and receive more attention than C.J. Wilson; yet he knows that all he is capable of doing is going out to throw the best game HE can every night.  Our eyes are on the outside of our heads, so it is simply human nature to spend every moment of our lives seeing what everyone else is doing.  It becomes easy to get wrapped up in that and focus too much on others.  The best athletes learn to focus on their own training, preparation, and role to play.  From there they attempt to execute their own plan to the best of their ability against the competition…whoever that might be.


I will certainly be watching the World Series and the performance of C.J. Wilson.  At this point, I know he understands the theory behind being a great competitor.  Now I look forward to seeing if he can put the theory into action.


On Celebrating

While watching my beloved Phillies celebrate their victory over the Reds in the divisional series all I could think was…. really?!  Goggles, champagne, and a plastic tarp covered clubhouse for winning the divisional series?  It isn’t exactly the World Series, but they seemed to act it.  It kind of seemed like a bit of an over-celebration and waste of perfectly good champagne.

Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated an anniversary for which they don’t make Hallmark cards.  It was a modest affair, but filled with much joy and it certainly created memories that would last a lifetime.  Perhaps celebrations should not be limited to the World Series?

A handful of years ago I heard Ralph Vernacchia share how he ended a series of adult mental skills classes with a cake and “graduation ceremony.”  Sure seems like a lot of hub-bub over some adults that might have learned a bit more about how to be a bit more positive in the face of adversity.  Yet, Dr. Vernacchia took a moment to highlight how a cake and a ceremony is important to acknowledge one’s efforts, further instill lessons into memory, and to signify a transition onto the next challenge.  Celebrations can be expressions of joy, but they can also be much more.

It ought to leave you wondering if enough time is taken to celebrate the little things in sports.  The things that seem a bit ho-hum.  Quite simply, celebrating when things are as they should be.  Plenty of time is taken filling one’s self full of consternation over mistakes in practice or competition.  Coaches can be fervent teachers, critiquing minutia here and the mental errors there.  Yet, is equal effort or emotion spent on celebrating execution of “the basics.”  The foundations of success happen quite often… do we celebrate them or take them for granted?

When the youth hockey player makes the simple tape to tape pass, is a moment taken to acknowledge it?  When the shortstop fields the ball cleanly and fires it crisply to first base, does a thought of “nice work” drift into one’s head?  When the rower drops the oar cleanly into the water, does a burst of pride arise?  Is the ordinary athletic achievement celebrated as much as the minor mistake is criticized?

Is the ordinary athletic achievement celebrated as much as the minor mistake is criticized?

Champagne and goggles aren’t necessary.  Just a little acknowledgment every now and then goes a long way towards building positive memories and harnessing empowering emotions… things that are useful to draw upon when the competition is heated.

Greatness is for Losers

Jamie Moyer is baseball’s home run king… he has given up more home runs than any other pitcher in the history of the game (506 and counting).  He has also taken the loss on 201 major league games, given up a 1878 earned runs, and walked 1134 batters.  He is a great pitcher.

To win, you have to be able to accept losing and, with a little luck, learn a little something.  Jamie Moyer also has a World Series champion ring, an All-Star appearance, 25 years of pitching experience in the major leagues, and 267 wins.

The player that can’t take his lumps will struggle to achieve at high levels.  Of course winning is fun and exciting, but losing leads greatness.

Share This Article

Bookmark and Share

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 96 other followers

On Twitter @ahnaylor

On Twitter @MentalCoachMatt