Helping Your Baseball Players Be Peak Performers

As coaches, we put countless hours into practice organization, compiling and assembling drills, and coordinating efforts among assistant coaches, not to mention the time actually spent practicing. All of this is done in an attempt to help our players develop their baseball skills and perform well on game day. We want our players and our teams to be "peak performers" as often as possible and hopefully, every time they touch the field.

Peak performance can be defined as when physical and mental behavior exceeds one's average performance. Peak performances are not just random occurrences. Coaches can help players attain peak performances more often, or in the very least get players closer to their optimal level of play. The characteristics that make up the mental-state involved in a peak performance can be learned and practiced just like the physical skills of the game.

It is important to realize that peak performance is relative to the players present ability level and is optimized when ability and skills are equal to the challenge presented. Obviously, you can't expect the smallest and least experienced player on your team to hit four home runs in a game; the players abilities and skills are not equal to the challenge. But, the player could get four hits in one game, a result certainly attainable by any player.

Athletes experiencing peak performances generally describe the following associated with their episode of superior functioning.

Physical and mental relaxation. Athletes are physically and mentally at ease. They are not worried or tense. Traditional pep talks do little to help athletes achieve a state of relaxation. Trying to "psych-up" your players with a rousing pre-game talk may do more harm than good. Especially considering baseball is a sport which relies on skills for success and not brute strength. Do everything you can to put the players at ease. Simulate stressful conditions in practice and teach them how to handle these situations with relaxation.

Loss of fear, no fear of failure. Athletes have no fear of making mistakes and therefore are motivated to achieve success. Don't be the type of coach that paralyzes the players by making them terrified of committing mistakes. Young players are going to make mistakes, and lots of them. Even if the mistake costs your team the championship game, always be patient, reassuring, and positive. Players who are afraid of making mistakes and getting publicly humiliated usually consume their minds with "not blowing it," and that is exactly what they wind up doing. Teach players to accept challenges head-on. f they know you, as a coach, will be there to support them when they do make mistakes (instead of chastising them) they will have reassurance they can try their best to get the job done with no fear of the consequences.

Attention control. Athletes know what to concentrate on and are not easily distracted. Help your young players develop the three attentional skills of selectivity, concentration, and shifting. Selectivity refers to selecting the appropriate cues to attend to. You must train your players what to direct their attention toward. Remember, the little things make the difference. Concentration is sustaining focus on specific task demands. Again, you must train your players to know and understand the situations they might encounter during a ball game. Distractions are everywhere at a ball game and your players must be able to tune them out and focus on the situation at hand. Shifting is very important. Players must be able to shift their focus when needed from one cue to another. For example, players on defense must learn to shift their focus to the remaining baserunners after they make an out (or don't) at a base. Many players are so happy they got an out they forget there are other runners on base. Or they (particularly catchers on close plays at the plate) insist on arguing with umpireswhile runners are advancing. Unless their out clears the bases and ends the inning there is another play to attend to. Again, this is something that can be worked on and reinforced during practice.

Effortless performance. Players are not conscious of their performance. They are aware of what they are doing, but they are not analyzing and critiquing. They are just doing. Everything feels effortless and easy. Coaches need to avoid overanalyzing by giving constant feedback and corrections during games. Let it happen. Practices are where the analyzing should take place with constant feedback. Quality repetition after quality repetition is what helps players turn on their auto-pilot in game situations, they can sit back and trust the skills they honed and developed in practice.

Feeling of self-confidence and complete control. They are in control, but not forcing it to happen. They feel invincible. They feel as though they have complete control over their performance, not umpires, teammates, parents, fans, or coaches. This feeling can be fostered in practices by reinforcing the feeling of control each player has over the situation at hand. Don't let players blame extraneous factors, even if they are legitimate. Allowing this only permits and encourages the players to search for scapegoats every time something goes wrong. Instill self-confidence and control by the way you treat players. Don't be afraid to let them know they are special people, they play for you, don't they? Try to avoid comments and remarks that may dent a players shell. Remember, they are not adults, they are young kids. Self-confidence is the biggest boost a coach can give to a player.

Fun and enjoyment. This is by far the most important. Players who enjoy what they are doing and have fun will have more peak performances than those who don't. It is common sense. Make practices and games fun and enjoyable for the players. You don't have to sacrifice discipline and hardwork in place of fun. Instead, teach your players that discipline and hardwork can be fun if approached with the right mental outlook. Kids tend to seek out those things that are enjoyable to them. Participation and involvement will go up if kids perceive they are having fun on your team.

Your players and your team can get the most out of their baseball experience with a little effort from you as the coach. Don't be afraid to incorporate and teach some of the characteristics listed above in your coaching philosophy. You just may get some peak performances.