Breathing techniques to assist with stress and nerves before a big game?


Have you ever used breathing techniques to deal with the pressure or being a pitcher or mentally preparing for a big game? What works, what doesn’t?


I seem to remember a couple of pitchers who never, or almost never, had any such problems. One was my wise and wonderful pitching-coach-cum-Indian-killer, Ed Lopat, who had several tricks up his sleeve and who would use one or another to steady a nervous pitcher before a game. The other was that greatest of closers, Mariano Rivera, who before even starting to warm up would take a couple of minutes to get himself into a mindset he called “the eye of the tiger”—a quiet and very intense focus (someone called it a form of self-hypnosis) in which nothing existed for him except getting those batters out. And of course, taking a few minutes to do some slow deep breathing never hurt.


Breathing techniques can be good to improve focus. To get relaxed enough to pitch can be just as important as having a good bullpen before the game. I find that 5 seconds of inhale through your nose followed by 5 seconds of exhale through the mouth repeated over 1 minute gets me really relaxed. The first few breaths are usually not smooth and flowing, but after a few the breaths settle out. During this process, I just try to clear my mind of any thoughts and focus on the breathing rhythm. After about 1 minute, I’m ready to think about the batters who will be up next inning. I resume normal breathing while I’m planning. After the 3rd out is made, I’m up and at 'em. I follow this same strategy between sets in my bullpens so everything is as close to the game as possible. It helps limit game stress as well.

I find that if I start to notice my breathing on the mound, I’m usually just about out of gas and really have to focus on visualizing the next pitch before I make it. Now I’m really in pitch to contact mode and work the bottom of the zone. It’s also hard to keep the ball down when you are tired. Pitching while tired is a downward spiral and should be kept to a minimum.