In yesterday’s blog, “Mental Training, Part I - Confidence, Toughness and a Plan of Attack,” we discussed how having a strong mindset and an organized thought process is imperative to an athlete’s success. In today’s blog, we’ll discuss the importance of quality study habits and a long-term goal.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” he claims that there is an essential factor in achieving world class expertise in a craft. The key is to practice the skill, the correct way, for approximately 10,000 hours. In athletics those hours could be dispersed through physical, visual and mental training.
In his book, Gladwell analyzes how two people with equal abilities can end up with vastly different fortunes. The idea here is that people aren’t born into success, it’s developed over time through hard work. Granted many individuals are born with more “God-given talent” than others, but regardless of one’s natural ability - a solid work ethic is vital.
The first step in accomplishing world class expertise is having the mental capacity to realize the time and effort it will take to get there. Throughout my lifetime my mother, Lorna Manuel, has always preached “keep your eye on the prize.” I always felt like I had a grasp on this concept, but it didn’t really hit home until recently. She was inadvertently talking about Malcolm Gladwell and his “Outliers” concept - achieving success doesn’t happen overnight or by chance - it takes time and commitment.
By having a long term goal and dedicating your heart and soul to mastering that skill, an individual is giving themselves a realistic opportunity to succeed. With that being said, it’s also important to set attainable goals in the short term. This will keep an individual motivated on a daily basis and will make that distant goal seem less daunting.
In the past we have discussed the value of physical training and vision training in athletics; however, mental training is of equal importance. This includes video study, analytics and doing the homework necessary to be knowledgeable of one’s opponent.
Tony Gwynn was a pioneer in the field of video study. As many hours as “Mr. Padre” spent swinging the lumber, rumor has it he was equally dedicated to studying his opponents. The hours Gwynn spent in the video room at old Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego is the stuff of legend. Despite the fact that Gwynn was watching grainy VHS clips, he was able to gain valuable knowledge of opposing pitchers. Those efforts earned Gwynnn a statue outside of the Padres' Stadium Petco Park.
Today’s athletes have endless opportunities to study video of their opponents. With the technological advantages of the 21st Century, every major college and professional player is blessed with the ability to gain valuable information on their adversaries. With a google search and a couple of clicks an athlete has the potential to learn their opponents capabilities and tendencies. In the modern world, there’s no excuse for an athlete to be uninformed.
Sabermetrics is the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity and attempt to determine why teams win and lose. The term is derived from SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) which was coined in 1971 by Bill James, one of the pioneers and earliest advocates of Sabermetrics.
Although James published his first book, “The Bill James Baseball Abstract” beginning in 1977, his concepts weren’t utilized in Major League Baseball until the turn of the century. In the early 2000s, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, desperate to maintain a winning team in a tough economic situation with the A’s, turned to a relatively unknown baseball executive named Paul Depodesta.
DePodesta, a Harvard economics graduate, who also played baseball and football, served as Beane’s right-hand man in Oakland and convinced him that Sabermetrics philosophies were the only chance the A’s had at remaining competitive. The rest is history. Oakland reeled off a record 20 straight wins that season and qualified for the playoffs. Their accomplishment was eventually celebrated in Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball, which was later made into a Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane.
So what do Sabermetrics have to do with mental training? Baseball and other sports (PoDesta is currently an executive with the Cleveland Browns in the NFL) have dramatically changed in the past 20 years. Athletes are more knowledgeable and have access to more information than ever before. So, if an athlete isn’t doing their “homework” and making the necessary mental adjustments, they are at a major disadvantage. Essentially they’re living in the Dark Ages.
Whether it's the skill of working the count in an at-bat, understanding how a pitcher is trying to expose certain vulnerabilities or recognizing the way a defense is aligned to take advantage of tendencies, an athlete must be educated. The days of showing up to the game and incorporating a “see ball, hit ball” approach are a thing of the past. Welcome to the new age of athletic intelligence. Embrace the challenges of mental preparation and take your game to the next level. Who knows - maybe a franchise will erect a statue of you one day.