There is a strong connection between the physical and mental game of baseball. One cannot practice the mental game without working on the physical game – they are forever intertwined. Just the way your thoughts can influence specific movement patterns,the images in your mind are a great indication of what your future performances will look like. This idea can be practiced through something known as visualization: the creation of strong, mental images that illuminate a future scenario before it ever happens.
Research shows that your brain cannot differentiate between real events and imagined events. Whenever you imagine events, your brain stores them as actual memories – hence, something you’ve actually experienced. A great example of this is the physical reactions you have when you experience a bad dream (heavy breathing, sweating). The dream was not real and did not actually happen in real life, but your mind elicited responses that made it seem very real to you.
Research also shows that when we visualize an action, we stimulate the same regions of our brain actually involved in performing the action. When the events we imagine are stored as real events, we build and strengthen the neural framework required to perform the action just as if we had physically practiced it. Through this, we’re able to improve a skill without even leaving the comfort of our bed – by vividly performing it in our mind.
Many high level athletes and performers claim much of their success to consistent visualization practices. Jon Lester has been using an imagery routine before each of his starts since 2013. Hall of Fame Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski would visualize the pitcher and pitches he was going to see the night before a game. Fellow Hall of Famer George Brett would see himself hitting line drives gap to gap while he was on the on-deck circle.
Outside of baseball, Jack Nicklaus was famous for seeing every shot he ever hit on the golf course before actually hitting it. Former All-Pro Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Ahmad Rashad claimed his imagination was the key to his success. “I got ready for a game by imagining every possible move a defender might try to use and stop me,” said Rashad.
Lou Holtz instructed his Notre Dame football team to visualize themselves making great plays before bed heading into their 1988 matchup with the #1 Miami Hurricanes. The Irish defeated the Hurricanes and went on to win the national championship that year.
While these are just a few examples of different teams and athletes using visualization, the bottom line is visualization works. Using it to your advantage ultimately comes down to discipline and execution. Visualization is not simply daydreaming when it’s convenient for you. It requires a deliberate effort and consistent practice with complete focus and concentration. Below are some tips on how to put together an effective visualization practice:
- Become a careful observer. Visualization requires great attention to detail. Note what your environment looks like, the relation between objects, different textures, colors, designs, odors, sounds, and other sensations that build a detailed picture of what you’re experiencing.
- Find a quiet place with no distractions. Turn your phone and all electronics off. Calm yourself by bringing focus to your breath. If you encounter distracting thoughts, address them and return your focus to your breathing.
- See Alan Jaeger’s meditation mental training talk and practice for help with this (16:00).
- Practice visualization by putting together visual images of scenes outside of baseball. Examples include your bedroom, a vacation spot, or a walk around the park.
- In the vacation example, see what the beach looks like. Feel the cool breeze on your skin and the water wash up against your bare feet. Feel a handful of sand as you pick it up and it slips through your fingers. Smell the scent of the fresh ocean and hear the waves crash up on shore. Be as creative as possible. The more vivid the better.
- Take your practice to the baseball field and visualize a skill that you struggle with. Make it as real as possible.
- See yourself approach the task with confident body language, a clear mind, and positive thoughts.
- Note what you see, hear, smell, and feel. See yourself having success. If you don’t succeed at first, fix it and try again. Create positive images.
- Set aside 10-15 minutes per day to go through your visualization practices. Pick out a specific time to work on them.
- Ex: when you wake up, before bed, on your way to practice
- If it is difficult at first, start with 5-10 minutes and gradually build on to it as your practice becomes better
- Put together a highlight tape of yourself having success on the baseball field. Go through it on a consistent basis.
- Visualization is touch to do when we’re in “funks” because all we see in our minds is our most recent failures. Highlight tapes are a great way to reinforce positive images of us competing in our mind. Positive images build confidence, negative images destroy it.
The body will always follow the mind. If our mind is cluttered with images of us striking out, giving up bombs, or booting ground balls, we’ll soon find ourselves in similar situations. Having success starts with how we think, see, and feel about ourselves. Feed your mind what it needs to succeed.
When you step into the box with the bases loaded, two outs, and the game on the line, you know you’re going to succeed because you’ve already gone through this situation in your mind. You saw the low and outside fastball right out of his hand and your barrel connecting with it to make that sweet sound that feels like nothing. You saw the ball go deep into the right field gap, scoring both runners, and the dogpile that resulted on second base.
You know exactly what to do and how to do it. All that’s left is the fun part – bringing your visualization to life.
For more information on visualization, see 4 Scientific Reasons Why Visualization Will Increase Your Chances to Succeed, The Mental Game of Baseball, and the Mental ABCs of Pitching by Harvey Dorfman.
Keep learning and growing.