Mental Toughness- Bouncing back from a mistake & avoiding over-correction


#1

Hi guys, I haven’t been back for long, but I’ve noticed there isn’t a whole lot of discussion going on about the mental side of pitching, and I think it would be a good idea to start a discussion about mental toughness. This thread and post will be referring to how to stay focused after making a mistake, whether that is a wild pitch, missing a spot, or tubing one and watching the ball fly over the fence.

I’d like to begin with a little story.

When I was playing american legion baseball (as there has never been high school baseball in Wyoming), I had a teammate, we’ll call him John. He had a cannon for an arm, was easily the fastest runner and hardest thrower on the team, and he had disgusting stuff…in the bullpen anyways.

When he pitched, he could start a game strong, but would tend to fall apart pretty easily at the first sign of adversity, usually a wild pitch. John would throw one wild pitch, say for example, high above the batter’s head. You could see in his face how frustrated he was, and on occasion you may even hear a curse word muttered under his breath. The next pitch would go about 40 feet and bounce over the catcher’s head. This would continue to spiral out of control, until eventually he had given up a few runs and ole Rossco had seen enough and pulled him. What made it worse, is that the number of people that would walk consecutively would have his fielder’s completely asleep, so when he did have a ball put into play, nobody was ready to move.

It is important, with pitching, not to let a mistake like this to get out of hand, when this happens, one mistake can turn into a lost cause, laugher of a game.

A good way to replicate this effect is to try to put a golf ball into a cup, and tell yourself, whatever you do, not to miss short. You could also do a variation of this with throwing a pitch or shooting a basketball. What happens? Usually, you either miss far too short or miss extremely long. Now whatever the result was, tell yourself not to let it happen again, what happens? Did you over correct? Usually the case is, yes. You can do this on missing left, right, long, short, high, low, etc.

When we make mistakes, we tend to over-correct, we tend to think about how to correct the problem and fixate on whatever that error might be. Whether that be a mechanical error, a timing error, or trying to aim the ball. Some people try to fix their mechanics mid-game, some people try to aim at a spot different from where they are trying to put the ball in order to correct for which way they are missing. This, more often than not, creates more problems, this is where a pitcher can find himself getting into his own head, trying to fix what’s wrong and creating another problem.

So what if I am missing my spots? What if I do throw a wild pitch? What if I am hanging my curveball, spinning my knuckleball, etc.? What do I do?

If you’re at practice, throwing a bullpen, sure, go ahead and try to find the errors with feedback from a coach and change it. But in a game, we don’t have that luxury, save for a few warm up tosses between innings. So what do we do?

Preventative steps:

  1. Go into the game, knowing that you probably will make a few mistakes, and that it’s okay for that to happen once in a while, your team needs you to be solid, not flawless. Perfectionism, can be toxic, and you can’t expect perfection from yourself every time you take the mound.

  2. Visualize yourself making good pitches and bad pitches, visualize yourself making a bad pitch, and then following it up with a good pitch. This is a good way to practice resiliency, calmness and having a short-memory. Visualize this multiple times for two to three minutes, if you can only do one minute, that’s fine too, try to up the length of time you can do this as you practice visualization more.

  3. Another visualization technique you can do anywhere, is to imagine you’re watching the cars drive by on the street outside your home, when you have a thought, visualize that thought on the side of the car, try to let that thought go, allow the car to keep driving, when you fixate on a thought, imagine yourself following the car. Then realize the absurdity of chasing a car, and try to return to your original position. This exercise can be done for any amount of time, start wit 1 minute and slowly try to do it for longer. This is an exercise that can help teach you not to fixate on mistakes.

  4. Be well rested, I can’t stress this enough. When you’re tired, you aren’t just physically fatigued, you’re mentally fatigued. When you are mentally fatigued, you’ll have a tougher time controlling your thoughts, feelings and emotions, this is what is referred to in cognitive and social psychology as ego depletion. Self-control is like a muscle, you can strengthen it by exercising it, but you can also tire it out, and if you’re tired, your self-control muscle is tired.

Early-intervention steps:

  1. When you’ve made a mistake, and you feel yourself getting frustrated and over-correcting. Remind yourself that mistakes happen, and you can bounce back from it. Focus on your next pitch the same as you would any other pitch. Try to continue this if you make subsequent mistakes.

  2. Always keep in mind your strengths as a pitcher, it seems silly, but focusing on what is going well is actually a great way to refocus without the frustration.

  3. Call your catcher out to the mound, if nothing else he can calm you down and help you refocus, it’s a good idea to communicate with your catcher so that he can notice your frustration and go out there when you forget.

  4. Take a few seconds to breathe, some of us, including myself, like to work fast, but sometimes we need to slow down and regroup.

Intervention steps:

  1. When you’ve gotten to the point where you’re over-correcting, and you can feel the inning snowballing. Focus on what you need to do to get out of the inning, and above all else, just try to throw strikes, most batters will get themselves out, that’s why even the best hitters only hit .300

  2. Take a moment to do a visualization exercise, even if it is just for a few seconds.

  3. If your coach comes out to talk to you, be honest with him, tell him what the issue is, if he doesn’t pull you, he can certainly give you words of encouragement and help you regroup.

After you’ve had a snowball inning:

  1. Remember what led to that inning, and try to identify what things set you off, identify where the turning point is for you. Was it the mistake? Was it your teammate saying something, or sighing? Was it something your coach said? Was it that pitch on the corner that the umpire didn’t give you? Keep these things in mind and bring them up to your coach to try and look for solutions to the problem.

  2. Remember that your over-correcting and fixation on mistakes serves a function, you’re trying to keep from making the same mistake again. Try to identify other things that can serve that same function, such as focusing on the next pitch, or if throwing a different pitch helps you get into the right mindset again, this can vary from person to person.

  3. Talk to your coach and see if there’s something he can do to help with any mechanical errors.

  4. Talk to other baseball supports that you have about the problem, it could be a teammate, a parent, the folks at LTP or even a therapist/counselor if you feel like it is causing your distress in other areas of your life.

  5. If this is a chronic problem and effects your life in other domains, I would recommend seeking out a psychologist to see if there is something bigger going on, outside of the baseball diamond, in the story I mentioned earlier about John, this would have been a good idea, as his perfectionism extended beyond just pitching.

These are my thoughts, and I appreciate any comments, additions or feedback about this post. I want to see some discussion about this. I’m sure many of you have ideas about preventing the snowball inning, as I like to call it. Or about bouncing back from a mistake or a bad outing in general.

I’m going to try to be actively involved in the discussion of the mental game here going forward. I think it is extremely important and am fascinated by it, my educational background is in psychology after all.

Please let me know what you think of this post and let me know if you’d like for me to continue making posts like it, or if you’d like me to stop, lol.


#2

Great topic.

As a coach, one of the things I like to do is complement the over correction. It goes something like: “Alright good adjustment! Now just relax that a little and go to the mitt.”

I try to stay as even as I can with my tone, as if throwing it 40 ft. was the right response to throwing it over the catcher’s head.
I find it works pretty well unless the confidence is already gone for that outing.

When I go to the mound to offer correction, I try to just relax the player and let them know I really like a lot of what they are doing and to try and keep it up while getting a deep breath or two. Usually a player needs to get his mind out of the way and let his athleticism take over.

I like the car technique, similar to the spitting out a mistake.

Ted


#3

Keep it going man, great thread


#4

That’s an excellent strategy!

Focusing on what they’re doing well from a coach’s perspective would be a good way to go about it, reinforcing the effort and encouraging the pitcher to relax a little seems like it could definitely work!

Thanks for the response!


#5

Thanks man! I’ll try to bust something like this out every week or so, as long as I have a topic, and as long as there is interest from the LTP community.