Tim Kendall: Mental Conditioning is Crucial for Success

With another professional baseball season about to start, I thought it would be particularly timely to discuss the importance of mental conditioning. While plenty of emphasis is placed on diet and performance, mental conditioning is just as important, if not more so, in developing healthy, well-rounded players.

Conditioning is defined as, “the behavioral process whereby a response becomes more frequent or more predictable in a given environment as a result of reinforcement.” When it comes to sport, conditioning is the ongoing effort to train athletes to regulate the way they respond to given situations.

Being able to control yourself and your actions through conditioning is especially important for professional athletes who often need to combat fatigue, jet lag, dietary inconsistency and other distractions.

Establishing and building what many call ‘mental toughness’ requires constant work and practice, regardless if you’re a player in the major leagues or a novice recreational player.

While there are a number of books, like Mental Conditioning for Baseball by Brian Cain, that players can read and use to improve their mental stamina, there are also techniques anyone can employ to sharpen their mental alertness and improve their game.

Self-confidence and positive thinking

Most of the barriers preventing athletic success are self-imposed and even self-fulfilling. Developing and nurturing the confidence to believe in yourself and your abilities is the first step to ensuring your mental game is on par with your physical game.

You can naturally enhance your self-confidence through routine positive thinking and affirmations. We have a tendency to be hard on ourselves when we experience challenge or failure. Learning to take a loss and move on without beating yourself up will help elevate one's mental toughness.

“Players that lack self-confidence and mental toughness are exposed very quickly,” notes coach Jon Doyle. “Just as players who truly believe in themselves and know, not hope, that they will get the job done succeed at a much greater rate than those who don't.”

Visualization

The road to playing baseball, or any sport, on a professional level is a long journey that is not for the faint of heart. No player is born with the skills to take them right to the big leagues. Instead, it requires an ongoing effort to improve their game and better their skills.

In order to progress and continue improving, players need to visualize their success and their desired outcomes. On the field, players need to visualize what they want out of each play long before they ever pick up the bat. Like Wade Boggs visualizing four at-bats prior to every game and picturing himself getting four hits, players must visualize and believe in their ability to achieve success.

Nutrition and Rest

For athletes working on enhancing their mental game, it is also important that they get enough rest and eat foods that nurture their brain and body. In a 2013 American Academy of Sleep Medicine report, scientists found a definable link between the sleep patterns of MLB players and their performance.

Researchers examined the ties between fatigue and poor performance, “We were shocked by how linear the relationship was,” said Dr. Christopher Winter, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center. “It is a great reminder that sleepiness impairs performance. From a sports perspective, this is incredibly important. What this study shows is that we can use the science of sleep to predict sports performance.”

Athletes should aim for 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night to allow their bodies to fully recover from exertion.

In terms of brain food, almonds, avocados, salmon and blueberries pack the dietary punch to nourish the brain and enhance focus.