In this episode Coach Jason shares three common mistakes he sees in young athletes, along with common solutions for athletes and strategies to get them moving back towards where they do want to be. The episode also includes a Game Ready Visualization.
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Common Solutions for Athletes
Welcome to the Full Force Life podcast, the show where we help up and coming athletes work on the mental side of the game. For me, this has been a pursuit of over twenty years and has been an obsession of mine. I started off at a very young age. Fifteen years old was when I made this decision, a resolution for myself. I know so many players they have these big dreams. They want to go off and play in college. They want to play at the professional level and I was no different. Fifteen was when I had that real moment where, “What if I could do it?” There were no signs, no factors that led me to that. It was just this one moment where I was like, “Maybe I can do it.” I was a tall kid but I wasn’t on any radars; not the college level, not the professional level. I wasn’t getting letters or having scouts come up and talk to me. I wasn’t performing very well on my Varsity team in sophomore. I definitely wasn’t the type of player that stood out that would gather the type of attention.
This one night in my room, sitting on my desk, I wrote down on a piece of paper that one day I wanted to play Major League Baseball. I wanted to do it by the age of 25 years old just for one day. That was the goal at the time. I took that boyhood dream and I made an actual goal by writing it down on a piece of paper by giving it a date. I was blessed to have that opportunity where I hit that goal less than ten years later. Taking the time to write that down and I remember the first thing looking at it was, “I’m not mentally tough enough to do this. I’m not even good enough to do this. How can I possibly ever achieve this goal?” I had no idea at the time. I did have this thought that popped into my mind and said, “The mental game.” Maybe like you, you’ve heard how important the mental game is. At fifteen years old I had heard from coaches, even parents. When I travel around and I do speaking engagements and I do these clinics, I always ask all the young players to raise their hand, “Who has heard that the mental game was important?” Nearly everyone will raise their hand. Then I’ll ask, “Who has been told what the mental game is and how do we make it better?” All those hands will go back down. The last twenty years have been my obsession to discover what actually is the mental game and how do we define what the mental game is. Then break it down into steps that are actionable, that we can go out there and actually improve them, train them, just like it was a physical skill. Let’s go out and be able to train our mental skills.
After retiring these last two years I’m given the chance to do these clinics and these lessons. After each clinic, I have new distinctions, new takeaways and that’s the outcome that I had for today’s podcast. Here I am sitting in Kalamazoo, Michigan and just got done with two mental hitting clinics. This is the eighth or ninth ones that I’ve done just in the last six months. Each one is something new, something special, offers something different, a new distinction. The opportunity to speak with more and more athletes across the country and learn what are the common mistakes. What are the common problems at different ages? That’s the focus of today. What are the common solutions that they needed? When I first wanted to write down the title for this podcast, I was going to say, “The Common Mistakes of Young Athletes,” but no, that’s not where my focus is. Let’s focus on the solutions. Let’s find a way to put it into actions so that we can grow it, build it, improve it, align it with the results that we do. That’s what the mental game is for me. We all have thoughts. We all have that voice in our minds. We are always making pictures and movies in our mind. We all have these feelings going on in our body. How do we take each one of those take control of them and align them with the results that we want so that these feelings, these movies, these pictures, these thoughts, this voice is serving us towards where we want to go? We’re not allowing it to be random. We’re not allowing it to control us into how we feel. We’re going to take control of all these thoughts, pictures, feelings, movies and align it towards where we want to go and the results that we do want.
After the recent clinics, I came up with some new ideas. Another one that we came up popped in my mind. I’m going to cover these topics and just share with you because there’s a great chance if you’re a young ball player, if you’re an athlete of any age that you’re coming into this situation from time to time. Here are some effective strategies to help you align to where you want to go.
The first one, I think back to a situation, I had a young baseball player, sixteen years old. He comes up and asked me a question which first of all, when I do all these clinics there are not enough questions being asked in my opinion. If you’re a young athlete, when you get around someone who’s a little bit older with more experience, if you’re around your coaches, questions are the key. They are the key to learning. You need to ask them and ask a lot of them whenever you get the chance and the opportunity. I was very proud of this young man who comes up to me with a specific situation where he’s hitting in the cages, sometimes he gets in this great flow, he gets in these great streaks where he’s taken the swings that he wants. His specific mechanic problem was he was cutting his swing off. Then he starts cutting every single swing off ten, fifteen in a row. He gets domed out. He gets in his head. Every swing then on, even going to the next day, just in the blink of an eye, he goes from swing great to every single swing cut himself off.
It makes me smile because I’ve been there when I was young. I’ve seen other players there as well. I know sometimes when your swing is off, you have the tendency, you have the feeling that you need to work on your swing. Even when your swing is off, sometimes it’s not your swing’s fault why you’re not hitting the ball well. What I mean by that is the state, the mindset, the attitude, how relaxed you are, how confident you are, how focused you are. All these capabilities are greater than anything you can do physically. You have the perfect swing, but if you don’t have the capacity to focus, if you don’t have the belief in that swing, if you don’t have the belief in yourself as a hitter, as a player, then that swing is not going to play. You can have the swing, but if you don’t have the confidence, it’s not going to put this one to use. That’s why I always say that your peak state is greater than any mechanics.
This clinic that we were doing was the four steps creating your peak state. One of those steps is it’s largely based on focusing on what you want which is a common problem, a common mistake in young ball players. They spent so much time focusing on what they don’t want to happen: don’t swing amiss, don’t strike out, don’t chase the slider, instead of focusing on things that we do want to happen. We want to get a good pitch to hit. We want the drive this ball to the outfield. I explained to this young man, I can guarantee that I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of players now in one on one sessions, team sessions where we’ve broken down their thought patterns through these four steps. When you get to this one step of focusing on what you want, when you are successful, when you are playing well, you are focusing on what you want to happen when you’re in those cages and hit the ball well.
As soon as that one swing where you start cutting it off, you go, “Oh no, not again,” your focus shifts on trying not to catch your swing off. You swing, don’t cut it off. I told this young man, “What you feed will grow and what you starve will die.” You keep feeding all this energy and all this focus on cutting your swing off or not trying to cut your swing off. You’re still feeding and cutting it off. That’s why you’re given these habits, these patterns that is like a switch. Things go great to going bad. It’s hard to get out of because now your focus has shifted to all these things that you don’t want to happen, but you’re still feeding it, digging yourself deeper and deeper into that hole. The fastest way to get out of it is you’ve got to step back, you’ve got to be able to relax your body.
Anybody who’s struggling with their mechanics gets tensed, I don’t care who it is, that is the part of the whole problem that there’s tension in your body. You’ve got to get rid of that tension. If you’re going to make any changes in your mechanics, you’ve got to remove that tension in your body. That’s where RESPA breathing gets in. You’ve got to learn to keep your composure. That’s number two of the common problems is young athletes who allow the situations to dictate how they feel. They’re in a slump, it allows them to feel like they need to tensed up, they need to be upset, they need to be frustrated. It’s a rainy day, they feel like they need to be in a bad mood. If they’re playing against a team that’s best in the league or that struck them out three times in the last game, they feel like they need to be nervous or scared.
The principle of RESPA and using the crocodile as our metaphor, our animal overseen guide is to teach us that we can rise above the environment, that we can adapt, that we can be flexible. That’s how the crocodile has survived a hundred million years on this planet, being the cousin of the dinosaur, sharing this Earth with the dinosaurs a hundred million years ago. The dynamic changes in the environment: the weather, the food, the other resources. The dinosaurs couldn’t handle it and they died out. They went extinct, but not the crocodile. The crocodile adapted to the environment, to the situations. You see it today, when the dry season hits and all the water goes down, they have the ability to slow their heart rate to less than three beats a minute, borrow into the mud and just wait it out, wait out until the next rainy season water comes, fills up the rivers and food comes back. We have that same ability to keep our composure, to calm ourselves down, to slow our heart rate. As an athlete, we need to do that more times than not especially on the baseball field, the softball field. You’re hitting, you’re pitching, you’re always more than likely trying to calm yourself down.
I know there might be moments late in the game especially when you go into trainings and you’re trying to breathe the pump yourself up, but more times we’re wanting to use the power of our breath to slow down, to calm down, to clear our mind, to relax our body. If you have a relaxed body, you react faster, you’re stronger, you have a greater ability to control your body, your movements when you relax which leads to better mechanics. That’s why I love this podcast. That’s why I love the work that I do. Sometimes taking bad swings or having bad mechanics has nothing to do with your mechanics. It has to do with your mental state, the tension in your body. Can you get rid of all that first? Can you clear your mind? That’s where the power of RESPA breathing comes in. Can you release everything that’s going on in your mind and your body? Come back and be present and focus on what you want to happen. Create this strategy that will align you with the results that you do want and then go out there and take action and get it done.
We go to number three now. Things that I know that can help young athletes. In Jupiter down in my home state now, it was great going to this huge perfect game tournament, BIG WOOD Bat Tournament. There were some beastly young men at this tournament, some big boys playing. It was great because the fields were 2.7 miles from my house. I had to go back and forth quite a bit. I got to run in so many great friends who are professional scouts, work for colleges. This is a heavily, heavily scouted event. It was great because I’ve got to catch up with so many people that I haven’t talked to in a long time, former teammates. One of them being a professional scout, amateur scout, which means he scouts the high school players, he scouts the college players. He’s the one who initially assigns the players to their contracts. There are also professional scouts who do professional scouting where they travel around and they just scout the professional level players and they turn them their reports. All teams are scouting everybody else’s players all the time.
When it comes to amateur scouting, what my good friend does, he goes around to the high schools, colleges. He’s the one that goes to the homes and sits down and talks to the families and gives a better feel for the player, what they want. He had asked me, “We need to sit down and have a talk, have a discussion. I need you to come up with some question so I can figure out who’s got it mentally because that’s my number one problem as a scout. I could see the physical. That’s easy to see. Jason, you know that there were so many guys that had the physical abilities, they even had the swing mechanics but they never turned into hitters. They never turned into pitchers. They had hitting mechanics, they had bat speed but they never turned into a hitter because of this mental game. What are some types of questions that I can come up with to start separating guys?” The first thing that popped in my mind was, “With all the people I’ve worked with now, there’s a lot of different questions we can come up with and I’d love to sit down and we can go into more depth because this is what I love doing. The first thing I can tell you that separates the quality of the player both in the short-term and the long-term is ask them where they’re going to be in five years. Ask them where they’re going to be in ten years. Elicit the vision that they have for themselves, the goals that they have.”
There’s a direct correlation I found in working with so many athletes. The more specific, the more detail that they can go in and describe what type of player they want to be, what level they want to play at, how they’re going to look and how they’re going to move, what are they going to think about themselves. The more specific, the more detail, the better they are right now and definitely the better they will be in the future. If they just say, “I’m going to be out there. I just want to be the best I can be.” It sounds great but it’s a very general statement. It gives you no motivation deep down inside. It gives you no direction to go. It’s like I joke around with a lot of guys to do hitting instruction. You get a young ball player and you ask them. As a professional, you have this very specific mentality. You walk in to a cage to practice, there’s one specific thing, maybe two things, you are working on in your mechanics. Maybe you’re working on your path to the ball. Maybe you’re working on using your lower-half a little better, staying back.
In the professional level, you get very detailed, very specific when you get in that cage that’s why guys end up being professionals. It applies together. You get a young player in that cage and go, “What are you going to work on today?” First, there’s a blank stare. Second, “My mechanics?” Can you think of anything more general? That’s everything. I know you want to improve everything but if you don’t take it one thing at a time, you’re not going to be able to put all your energy, all your focus and actually prove it. That’s where the vision is, painting this picture or this movie in your mind that you’re constantly moving towards.
It was back in February, maybe even January 2017, I really started to grasp the importance of this. It came from the podcast, it came from this. It came from the interviews very early on with Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, Aubrey Huff, these big time Major League guys. They all describe how when they were young, they had this picture in their mind of the player they wanted to be and they go out and worked hard every day to become that player. They’d be hitting off the tee and hitting in the cages and just imagining that they were this person. It’s another tool of visualizing. They had this detailed image of the type of player and they pretended, they acted as if they were them. So many strategies that continue to work with young players came from those early, early interviews. That was my suggestion for the scout was ask them how detail are they going to tell you what their future is going to look like.
For young ball players out there listening, be prepared. One, it’s going prepared for this scout if he ever comes to your house to interview you. Secondly, this is going to serve you in your career. It’s going to give you more motivation. It’s going to give your brain a direction to move towards to make decisions. When you get really clear about a vision, it helps you on your journey. Even at an unconscious level, you’re going to start making decisions that are going to serve you to move towards this vision, hitting these goals even when you’re not even thinking about it. An interesting thing that came up in a conversation as well that applies to this is the idea that you see young kids, high school kids, they talk about playing in the Major Leagues. You’ve got people who step in and say, “You better have a backup plan.” I remember I’ve had two people now that think about that’s what it was. I’ve had one mentioned this idea behind having backup plans. My belief, my opinion is there will always be no backup plan. That was echoed by guys like Michael Young and Aubrey Huff, “There is one vision. I’m going to get everything I got towards this vision. No backup plan.” If you have a backup plan you’re trying to juggle two visions, you’re not going to hit either one very well. Create one vision and you give it everything. There might be a day where it comes and it’s going to no longer be an option. Then you create a new vision for yourself. It’s my belief that that one is going to serve you even greater.
What I think is really cool about today’s world, when we talk about being a young kid, six, seven, eight years old and they’re talking about a Major Leaguer someday. Still at twelve years old, they want to be a Major Leaguer. I understand, I recognize as well as anybody, not everyone is going to be an Alex Rodriguez, a Bryce Harper, a Mike Trout, make all this money, be a long time Major Leaguer. What I think is really cool about today is there are so many careers around the sports that we love. You don’t have to make it. You don’t even have to make it to the college level. There are opportunities to be coaches, to do lessons, to create businesses around the game you love and to have a career within it. It might not be on the field but you have the opportunity to be involved and be helping and to be around the thing that gives you this passion, the sport that gives you the passion. To go out there as a young kid coming up, to have those big dreams around it because it’s going to motivate you, it’s going to get you out there learning more or working harder and all that is going to apply into other areas in your life.
I’m a big believer to make the dream big, make the vision big. Let’s all focus on being Major Leaguers or the Division I players, or whatever your dream or goal is. Let’s make it big and let’s make it bright so that we’re motivated, we put in the work and we learn to develop ourselves, our skills. At some point, we’re going to be directed where we need to be. Maybe it’s on the field, maybe it’s as a coach or an instructor. Maybe it’s in creating a business that helps at some level. Maybe you’re developing bats or making gloves but you get to be around your passion, in this game that you love so much all the time. I think that’s what is beautiful about today and why I support creating big dreams and big visions.
When it comes to creating this vision, some of the questions that I want you to ask yourself and remember to answer them, write them down, be as specific as you possibly can be. Five years, ten years, who are you going to be? What are you going to look like? What are the things that you’re going to be saying and talking about? What it’s going to feel like to be this person? How are you going to move? Make this picture or movie in your mind. Make it as specific as possible. What are some of the things that you’re going to do and achieve? What are going to be the beliefs? What are going to be the thinking patterns that you’re going to need to become this person? The values, the strategies, the skills, write down all these stuff and even more that comes to you. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be motivating and inspiring to you when you take the time to do this.
What I would really think to be really cool is if you go and you go write all that stuff down. Go and do it. Then come back and we’ll do a game ready. I want you to see yourself as this person. I’m hoping by now you’ve gone and you’ve done that. I want you to get ready. Get yourself in a comfortable place and we’ll do our game ready visualization. As we begin, let’s think of that outcome, that goal, and today it will be this vision for ourselves. Just pick a couple of intentions, a couple of those things that you really could focus on that you wrote down that’s going to help you get to become this person, achieving this vision. Then I want you to think of one thing that makes you feel really grateful. What you feed will grow. Let’s put ourselves in a great empowered state and focus on something, someone, a memory, a gift that makes us feel really grateful. Just grow and expand that feeling in your bodies now. Then see your gate. Picture a gate. You’re the architect, the designer and see the gate you want to. Once you have it, go ahead and walk through it. Come in to a beautiful place in nature. A place that makes you feel the way that you want to feel when you’re at your very best. It makes you feel calm, relaxed, confident and just feel those feelings now. See the detail in what it looks like what this place sounds like. Maybe notice something new or something different.
Go ahead and take one big, deep, RESPA breath to make sure we’re fully relaxed. We’re fully present in this moment. Our mind is clear. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four. Hold it for count in two. Then slowly blow the air out for a count of six. As you blow it out, blow out anything that you don’t need, any negativity, any doubt, any frustration, just blow all that out. We don’t need it. It doesn’t serve us. Breathe in the blue skies and blow out the dark skies. You’re even more centered now, even more calm, more relax, go ahead and see your second gate. Walk through that second gate and now you’re coming into your life, into this vision, five years, ten years, whatever it is. I want you to watch yourself in the future like you’re watching on TV, whether you’re on the field, you’re off the field or whatever it is, just see this movie exactly the way you dream it to be. Make it big. Make it bright. Moving in close to your face so that makes it even more intense. Feel it being real. This is you, this is the vision that you created. You are living the dream. See it in detail. See it shiny and clear. See how you move, how you breathe, how you talk. See the confidence that you have at this point in your life five years in the future. See the certainty in your body in how you move, the purpose and the direction.
What I want you to do is I want you to go ahead now and just step into this person, this future you. They’re not perfect. They’re happy, they’re confident. Step into them and just look out their own eyes now. You feel what it feels like to be this person. Feel the pride now. All the effort, all the time that it took to be this person, the adversities, the setbacks that you had to go through to get to this point. Just feel grateful for that. Feel proud of it. Looking back in the future the mountains that you climbed. We talked so much about gratitude in today’s world. Pride in the challenging times, pride in the adversity that we had overcome to me is one of the most important things that we do because it builds up a greater level of perseverance within us. On your own eyes, see it, feel it, own this future you and know that your mind is working for you even when you’re sleeping on how to get to this place. Trust in that. Have faith in that. I heard the other day how both faith and fear are imagined events. Faith is imagination directed towards what you want to happen. Fear is just imagined undirected. Focusing all the things that we don’t need that’s not going to serve us. Focus on what you want and you’ll find a way to get there.
Go ahead now and make one last play or see one last thing about your future. Walk back through that gate and just feel the celebration of it all. Go and see your well of water in the distance. Walk up, there’s that well, you find your cup right there. In the well is the coolest, clearest water you’ve ever seen. Grab the cup, fill it up and take a sip of it and feel the coolness in your mouth, down your throat, spread in your arms, your legs, every vein, every cell of your body. Just feel it zapping out things that you don’t need within you. It’s replenishing you. It’s re-energizing you, giving you everything you do need. Standing like this future you would stand. Stand tall, stand proud, feel it, see it, own it. Head up, shoulders back. Walk in with your own strength. Go ahead and walk out this last gate because you are game ready.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast. I know you’re probably in a little bit of a daze right now. As you wake up, shake it out. It was my honor to serve you today. Any questions, comments, criticism or sarcastic remarks, as always, feel free to reach out to Info@JasonBottsPeakState.com. Until then, aim high, swing hard and smile often.