Hmm…Meditation For Better Baseball Performance?
By Mike McCarthy
Anyone who plays baseball and wants to achieve as much of their potential as possible should be looking for every possible way to get an edge on the competition. While most baseball players focus on boosting their strength, hand eye coordination and speed, a few have adopted alternative and unconventional techniques.
Meditation has been practiced for centuries for various religious and secular purposes. While its actual scientific benefits have been debated among its supporters and detractors almost as long as it has been practiced, earlier this year findings published in the Journal of American Medical Association provided the most significant evidence yet that meditation may indeed be powerful enough to help with anxiety, depression and pain. So if it is that powerful, can it also help in baseball? Some believe it could be the missing piece to the typical baseball training regimen. Teams like the Washington Nationals, Oakland Athletics and New York Mets are implementing meditation into their team practices with great success. Powerful stuff, and perhaps beneficial to baseball players as well, simply on a performance basis alone.
So how does it work?
When a baseball player is learning how to meditate, the practice’s intention is to develop the ability to achieve a stable and full concentration. This should come fairly easily for baseball players, and is at the very least congruent with mental skills they need to master, as they have to maintain a strong focus during two to four hour games that present a number of unique pressure packed situations. Experts say to meditate, players will need to attain an inner stillness that “dissolves the surrounding world” and narrowing one’s focus in on the single objective of inner peace. Players who can accomplish this say they find it much easier to tune out crowds, weather conditions and other external stimuli when facing important situations on the baseball diamond.
Meditation may empower baseball players to remain grounded and not give in to the pressure of stressful on-field situations or personal emotional swings. Players who meditate on a regular basis may find that it is much easier to perform on the diamond with a singular focus that propels them to execute and maintain body control at all times as well as avoid what are called “unproductive worries”, according to Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital. Have you ever had unproductive worries about performing on the diamond? Or perhaps this sounds like a baseball player you know? Maybe meditation is the breakthrough tool that they have been missing.
When meditating, players can do more than attempt to establish an inner peace. They can also play out hypothetical situations in their minds where they envision specific plays on the baseball diamond and then see themselves responding accordingly. It can boost a player’s awareness level so that he can visualize specific results before they actually happen. Some of the best athletes in the world like Jack Nicklaus, Muhammed Ali and Tiger Woods, have credited their success to visualizing plays before they actually occur. They use meditation to heighten their intuition and help them predict what will happen. When fully focused, it may become much easier to accurately guess ball flight paths and to read the seams of a baseball pitch when it is on its way towards home plate.
One of the most famous baseball players to take advantage of meditation is the former Toronto Blue Jay and Los Angeles Dodger, Shawn Green. Green belted 328 home runs when he played in the 90s and 2000s. While many of his era’s sluggers relied on steroids for power production, Green took an alternate route in meditation. He actually wrote a book, The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH, about his meditative practices and his ability to remain focused and calm in pressure packed situations. Green used meditation to “quiet the mind”, especially during his practices where he would hit off of a tee. He credits his meditation for heightening his senses and allowing him to focus on his breathing as well as the subtleties of his body movements. Meditation allowed him to tune out external noises and also pesky internal thoughts. Green is quoted as saying, “The less you think, the more successful you’re going to be…your body naturally takes over.”
While Green studied Taoism and other Eastern religions, other players haven’t gone as in depth. However, the mere use of yoga mats and new breathing techniques during meditation have some believing it can be enough to improve baseball performance. Even if these training methods only generate a small improvement, it can prove to be significant as the difference between winning and losing a baseball game is often razor thin. While players might initially scoff at the idea of using meditation to improve their baseball skills, once they experience the results they may have a different perspective.You won’t know until you try, right?
Aside from Green, numerous baseball players have used meditation to improve their on-field performance. They include Barry Zito, Joel Zumaya and Jason Hirsh. So the next time you see a baseball pitcher take a deep breath while on the mound, think about what he is really doing. Perhaps he is attempting to establish the same inner calm that he achieves during his meditation and yoga sessions. And if you want to play on the same field as those guys one day, won’t you be open to something that may be the competitive edge you have been missing? Perhaps for you, that edge and link to better baseball performance can be achieved through meditation.
The Baseball Zone