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10 Minute Daily Mental Plan

By ALAN JAEGER
Special To Collegiate Baseball
(From Jan. 27, 2012 Edition)
 
LOS ANGELES ó Practicing mental skills for 10 minutes a day can be time well spent in preparing a team for the pressure of games.
 
At what point (and what cost) are we going to continue to center our practice plans around physical preparation when we know that between the lines the game is at least 90 percent mental?
 
In the Jan. 6, 2012 edition of Collegiate Baseball, part one of this series delved into why baseball is by far the most mentally challenging and demanding of the four major sports.
 
It delved into the zone, being locked in and the unconscious. It talked about result oriented thinking, the "default" system and breathing work, a key ingredient of mental practice.
 
Baseball is demanding because there is so much dead time compared to these other sports. Dead time gives baseball players lots of time to think, and thinking is often at the root of tension, pressure and anxiety. Challenging because baseball players spend most of their time on physical preparation and little or no time on the one area that is going to impact their career the most.
 
Itís time to cut to the chase. Doing something about it is where the rubber hits the road. The remainder of this article will provide you with enough information to take your players through a daily, mental training exercise or session. The session, is based on four steps and is gauged to last approximately 10 minutes (though, itís ideal to allot for some extra time at the end in the event that your players are very relaxed, and are in what may be a very productive place). Youíll also notice that each step has an explanation, followed by an implementation.
 
Remember, itís not about being perfect -- itís about showing up each day to do the best you can, and being consistent as the guide. Because the session is designed around "keeping it simple," youíll hopefully find a sense of comfort and ease in no time.
 
Step 1: Getting Present (2 Minutes)
Step 2: Connecting to the Breath (2 Minutes)
Step 3: Counting the Breath (5 Minutes)
Step 4: Transitioning out of the Session (1-5 Minutes)
 
Step 1: Explanation: Getting Present: Get Into The Body And Out Of The Head
The first goal of the session is to get your players present. Though being "present" sounds relatively simple, when you consider the amount of things that have gone on during the day or the amount of thoughts that most people have about the past or future, the act of being present takes practice.
 
Therefore, be sure to start out the session by giving your players a chance to bring their attention to the present moment by "moving away" from their thoughts. The ability to get present is not only a skill, but is a great state of mind to establish in order to optimize the mental training practice.
 
The first thing Iíll do to get a player (or team) present is to remind them that any thoughts about the past or future can be "addressed or dealt with" once the session is over. In essence, you are giving your players permission to not have to think about anything except the session itself. Next, I will bring their attention to their body, starting with the feet, and slowly moving up to the head. Getting into the body is a great way to get "out of our thoughts".
 
This attention to their body also serves another great purpose because most people are not aware of whatís going on in their bodies. As each player focuses on each part of their body (starting from their feet and making their way up to the top of their head), you are able to bring awareness to areas of their body that may be tense. Learning how to bring stillness and relaxation to their body is another great way of bringing stillness and relaxation to their mind.
 
Step 1: Implementation
(3 Minutes)
To get your players present, start at their feet and guide them up to their head. IĎll start by asking the players to become aware of their feet, and look for any tension that they may have there, and release the tension by flexing the foot for a couple of seconds, and then letting the foot release.
 
Iíll actually have them flex the foot on the inhale, hold for 3 seconds, and release the foot on the exhale, keeping the exhale slow and smooth. The exhale is the relaxation phase of the breath. I will gradually move up from the feet to the ankles, knees, thighs, core, back, chest, shoulders, arms/hands, neck and face.
 
Step 2: Explanation: Deepening The Presence: Getting To Know Breath
Once the players have scanned their entire body and released any tension they may have been holding onto, I will next bring them to their breath.
 
The breath is often at the core of mental training exercises for several reasons. As we talked about earlier, optimal breathing brings more oxygen to the cells (relaxation), helps remove stress, helps clear the mind and is conveniently located at the center of the body (the diaphragm is where the breath originates from) and away from the head.
 
Again, because the breath is always happening now, it serves as a constant reminder to bring the players attention to the present moment and away from engaging their thoughts.
 
Step 2: Implementation
(2 Minutes)
Now that the players are positioned to be fully present they are ready to heighten this presence through their breath. Though you will be taking them through some actual "breath work" in Step 3, this part of the session is designed to allot a couple of minutes for players to simply get acquainted with their breath.
 
This may sound a bit funny, but our breath is such a fundamental, primordial and wondrous part of us ó it serves us with so many valuable functions, not to mention the fact that itís important enough to keep us alive. So, Iíll actually have the players investigate the breath, get to know it, watch it, observe it, appreciate it and look for itís idiosyncrasies for a couple of minutes.
 
This is a very powerful exercise because people donít often watch their breath for the sake of watching their breath. A lot of insight can be gained through this little exercise. And ideally, it helps deepen the players state of relaxation.
 
More On The Practicing The Mental Game: The complete story is available in the Jan. 27, 2012 issue of Collegiate Baseball.

Call our subscription department at (520) 623-4530 weekdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mountain Time. A copy of this issue is available for $3 while a yearís subscription (14 issues) is $28.

 

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