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Hey Pitchers! Don’t Forget the Lyrics

Wow!! Exciting Super Bowl! Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens.

Also, I thought Alicia Keys killed it with the National Anthem. The piano was a nice touch, don’t you think?

But who will ever forget this colossal failure by Christina Aguilera before the 2011 Super Bowl?
Christina Aguilera National Anthem Mess Up (Fail) – YouTube
I laugh every time I see that. The looks on the the faces of the coach, player and soldiers are priceless.

How does a professional platinum selling artist screw up the words to the National Anthem?!! She sings songs for a living! How does that happen?!!

I’ll tell you how it happens. And I have seen pitchers do the same thing dozens of times.

Not many people know this, but I used to be the lead singer in a rock and roll band called The Warbletones (don’t judge me!). We specialized in songs that didn’t require a lot of practice. The other guys in the group were truly outstanding musicians. My job was to memorize the lyrics and sing along with the band. I have to say, it was four years of incredible fun. But it required a lot more attention and focus than you might imagine.

Here’s how you forget lyrics to a song you’ve sung a hundred times. You’re belting out your tune, and you hit an exceptionally good vocal run. Instead of mentally focusing on the next set of words, your attention is invaded by a celebratory thought. “Wow, that sounded really good! I nailed that lick! I’ll bet everyone in the audience loved that….oh wait, where was I?” Lost, you start mumbling the words to Gilligan’s Island until you find your place again. But its too late. The damage has already been done.

How many times have you seen a pitcher do the same thing? He’s cruising along getting outs and carving guys up. Then his mind begins to wander. “Man I’m dominating these guys today! My stuff is great! I wonder how many strikeouts I’ll get today?…oh wait” Then BANG! he makes a bad pitch. A missile is launched into orbit and his game unravels.

My point is this. To be a truly consistent performer, you must be able to control your thoughts. Your intent and attention can be laser focused on only one thing…THIS PITCH. It’s what Dr. Tom Hanson calls “the inner game”.

While your teammates are playing the rest of the game, you have to focus your energy on the only thing you can control–your thoughts. Your thoughts are what produce the desired results. Control of your thoughts is the dragon you must slay every day, every inning, and every pitch. How well you control your thoughts should be the standard by which you measure every outing on the mound. Thought control is the holy grail that leads to greatness.

Andy McKay defines greatness as “being consistently an predictably good over a long period of time.” If you want to be great, you must be consistently good. If you want to be consistently good, you must have concentration and focus. Concentration and focus require control of your thoughts.

So how do you learn to control your thoughts? The same way you learn anything….YOU PRACTICE!! There are lots of ways to practice controlling your thoughts.

Naturally, the bullpen is a great first step. Make your bullpens game-like and practice concentrating only on the next pitch. Chart your thoughts after each simulated inning and identify when and how your mind drifts. This may help you find ways to stay focused.

Here are a few ideas for practicing control of your thoughts that don’t involve actual pitching at all:

Mental pitching. Visualize a simulated game for 5-10 minutes every day. Your brain is unable to differentiate between what is real and what you imagine. So take a few minutes each day to visualize yourself pitching with complete concentration. See how many mental pitches you can make before you give way to an extraneous thought.

Practice other closed skill activities. Closed motor skills are those not requiring an immediate response to external stimuli. Pitching is a closed motor skill. The pitcher must be able to repeatedly execute a pre-planned movement pattern. Once a pitchers starts a pitch, he is not required to adapt his movement pattern in response to any outside variables. Conversely, hitting is an open motor skill. Hitting is reactionary. The hitter must plan his movement based on sensory information gathered from the pitcher and the ball. There are several closed skill endeavors that could be used to cross train the mental side of pitching.

I’ve never seen a study on this topic, but I’m guessing most great pitchers are also good at other closed skill activities like bowling, darts, pool, golf putting, and skeet shooting (just to name a few). All require concentration levels similar to pitching. Try challenging your thoughts during these types of recreational activities. Make it competitive, add simulated pressure, or make a small (legal) wager, and it should sharpen your ability to focus on the mound.

Random memorization
Then there’s always this option. Try memorizing something like a famous inspirational speech, or the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. Recite it aloud flawlessly from beginning to end in the shower. If you mess up, start again from the top. See if you can get through it before the water turns cold.

Even if it doesn’t make you a better pitcher, you might be able to weave it into a cocktail conversation someday. It could make a a great impression on someone…just sayin’.

Does that sound completely ridiculous?

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
-T. S. Eliot

Memorize that.

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