"Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical."
—Yogi Berra, Hall-of-Fame Baseball Player
Yogi's math was a little off, but mental capacity and knowledge of the game outweigh the physical aspect in any sport. You can be the strongest and fastest athlete on your team, but if you don't know your on-field responsibilities and can't keep your cool under pressure, you'll be watching games from the sidelines.
Spending extra time after practice breaking down film, studying plays and reviewing your own performance with a coach are great ways to improve your understanding of the game—and to sharpen your competitive edge. But what about the psychological aspects of the game—particularly nerves, which inevitably occur?
Everyone gets nervous, but according to Dr. Robert Bell, assistant professor of sport and exercise psychology at Ball State University, "the difference is how we perceive the situation. Do we view the game as a threat or a challenge?"
Dr. Bell explains that if an athlete views the game as a threat, meaning something bad could happen, s/he tends to view nervousness as "I'm not ready." But if s/he views it as an event where something good could happen—as a challenge—then s/he perceives nerves as "I'm excited."
Two simple ways to keep a sharp mental edge are to take relaxing breaths and develop a positive pre-game routine.
"Athletes need to practice relaxed breathing during practice and competition to help focus their attention on the task at hand, center themselves, relax and get oxygen to their whole body," Dr. Bell says. "During pre-game warm-ups, if athletes start over-thinking the game, I try to teach them to think only in positive terms and to focus on the most important play—the next play."
One man who never seemed to over-analyze or lose his cool was Hall-of-Fame Yankee catcher Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra. During his 19 years in the Bigs, Berra was always calm and collected at the plate. He did not obsess about negative outcomes—of an at-bat or a game.
A clutch hitter, Berra always took what pitchers gave him. Since he wasn't threatened by any pitcher and was always willing to swing the bat, the legendary Yankee often turned sloppy pitches into hits. During one five-year span, he had more home runs per season than strikeouts. Viewing each plate appearance as a positive, Berra only struck out a remarkable 12 times in 597 at-bats during the 1950 season.
Berra's jersey (#8) is retired at Yankee Stadium, and he was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. His creds include three American League MVP awards, 15 All-Star Selections and 10 World Series Championships, distinguishing him as one of greatest players in baseball history.
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