Playoff baseball is a great teacher. Emotions run high, tension is constant, and pressure mounts. What a great time to reflect on all that the postseason has taught me:
1. If you throw 105, you don’t need to spot up.
I’m always amazed at how poorly Aroldis Chapman locates his fastball. And I’m equally baffled by how hitters continually swing at those same “misses.” I guess that goes to show what 103mph will do to a hitter 😉 Call me a purist, but I’d way rather watch Kyle Hendricks pinpoint 89 with sink and frustrate hitters all day long. Or, maybe it’s the whole “we like what we can relate to” psychology. Aroldis is more like a superhero to me – the guy is freakishly incredible!
2. Emotion is awesome
I love watching major leaguers care and think it’s awesome to see pitchers roar and fist-pump off the mound… in the fourth inning! The tension is palpable and the crowd energized from the first inning on. I want to see that my superhero’s care and that they deeply want to win! THAT to me is the playoffs in a nutshell.
3. ‘Team’ matters
Anyone watching the Indians or the Dodgers this year should be reminded that even at the Major League level, teams matter. You can really see the difference in the playoffs between which teams care about each other and which teams are merely a collection of professionals. I believe successful teams have players that truly like the player sitting next to them on the bench. They get up and out of the dugout to celebrate their teammates. They show that awesome emotion! But it’s more than just awesome emotion, it’s also awesome management. The manager creates an atmosphere of TEAM – and I believe the teams in this year’s playoffs have the best managers – Dave Roberts (Dodgers), Terry Francona (Indians), Joe Maddon (Cubs), and Dusty Baker (Nationals). C’moooonnnn, what a year. These managers building true TEAMS create the drive, desire, belief and resilience necessary for COMEBACKS!!!
4. These guys are SO good
So. Freaking. Good. Watching hitters blast late inning homers (Justin Turner of the Dodgers), and pitchers execute with the bases-loaded never ceases to amaze me. These guys are so stinking good and the playoffs showcase their talent in an awesome way.
5. Should MLB pitching coaches be psychologists?
Seems like sports-psychologists might be more effective in coaching major leaguers through the playoffs. It’s not like these pitchers need tips on their curveball spin, or their mechanical technique? Rather, isn’t the challenge truly about a pitcher’s ability to control their thoughts, manage the moment, and put forth their best effort one pitch at a time? While this is always the case in professional baseball, the playoffs create an amplified level of pressure which magnifies the importance of mental toughness and preparation. Might be a reason why Ken Ravizza has been a championship magnet, bringing titles to whatever dugouts he chooses to occupy each fall! Check out his fantastic book with Dr. Tom Hanson HERE. Where did Ken hang out in 2016? Yup, with the Cubbies. Wonder where he is this year so I can go to Vegas, hit the sportsbook, and make a wager on THAT team!
It’s my favorite word to use in coaching. It’s the most desired character trait out of my players. And I believe it’s a one word description of what a champion does best. The pressures of the postseason truly separate the men from the boys. Which one of you major leaguers can step up and separate yourself when the lights are brightest? As is often said, mental toughness separates athletes. It’s true at the youth level, it’s true at the high school and college levels, and it’s true at the Major League level. Those pitchers that are the most mentally tough will grind through 7, 8, 9 innings of tension without caving. That takes a toughness and resilience far greater than the physical ability to throw 95 or snap off a tight slider. And now that all pitchers seemingly throw 95 mph, it’s the ability to compete that separates one major leaguer from another. And no where is that more apparent than in the playoffs.
I heard this quote once and it stuck with me:
“Pressure is real, stress is man-made.”
It’s impossible to say that the late inning situations are not full of pressure. But it’s fascinating to watch certain athletes float through them with grace and execution. They seem to feed on the pressure like an energy bar!
How can we bottle up these lessons from the postseason and pass them to our young athletes? ( Please comment below )
I’ll comment with my first couple thoughts:
- Have a routine. Teach your athletes a pre-game and pre-pitch routine. A “system for success” that they can grow comfortable with, and rely on when the pressure truly mounts.
- Instruct athletes to keep a journal. Keep some sort of logbook and use it. No right or wrong way to do it, but teach the habit of keeping notes on performance, mentality, feelings, actions, anything and everything. When the outing or game is over, write down your thoughts! The experience of writing alone is enough to activate the “accountability muscles” and start the process of owning one’s performance.