Part II: You Can’t Alter…

In my last blog, I referenced the book Every Shot Must Have a Purpose by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott and specifically the quote “You can’t alter what has happened, but you can influence what will happen.” In that article I gave some specific (physical) training examples for pitching and hitting. If you missed it, I encourage you to check it out at

This week I want to address this subject from the mental side, which is every bit as important. Some might actually say more important.

Frequently when a pitcher throws a ball or a hitter has a poor swing onlookers will say something about a breakdown in the athlete’s mechanics. Although that may be true, in many cases, it’s a breakdown in the athlete’s mental program that was at the core of the poor outcome. The following is an excerpt from Every Shot Must Have a Purpose illustrating this very point…

Patty Sheehan, the LPGA Hall of Fame player, was playing the final hole of a tournament when she needed to hit a fairway wood second shot to a green protected by water on a par-5 hole. A birdie was essential to stay in contention, and the possibility of an eagle was a chance she had to take. What resulted, however, was her worst swing of the day – in fact, probably one of the worst swings she ever made in competition – and she cold topped the shot. As the ball bounded down the fairway and into the creek short of the green, she watched her chances of winning disappear with it.

The shocked television commentators said, “Let’s take a look at what happened here,” and they ran slow-motion replays that showed a reverse pivot and that Sheehan had come right out of the shot, leading to the top. But the TV commentators missed the point. If they wanted to run a meaningful replay they should have shown tape of the indecision BEFORE Sheehan hit the shot. First she had her hand on a fairway wood, then she stepped away from the ball and her caddie handed her an iron. Then she went back to the fairway wood. The indecision in the shot selection led to a lack of commitment during the short. The poor swing resulted from poor thinking.

This is very interesting to me. The same thing happens in the game of baseball. A pitcher isn’t fully committed to a pitch or a hitter isn’t fully committed to a plan and many times the result is far from good. Coach Wolforth has often said he’d rather have a pitcher throw the wrong pitch with 100% commitment then the right pitch with doubt.

Let’s talk about what we can influence mentally and specifically when dealing with stress, whether that be from things not going as well as you’d like or simply the stress of competition itself.

First, you must know your own tendencies with how you react to the stress. For the purpose of today’s message, I’m going to discuss this from the standpoint that you react in some way that is detrimental to performance. So, how do you react? Are you prone to get angry? Do you speed up? Do you start talking negatively? Do you complain? Do you blame and make excuses? There are a lot of ways people react. You MUST know yours.

The first step to changing undesirable behavior is to recognize it. Second, you must understand it and then finally step three, you change it.

One of the reasons you must know how you react to stressful situations is so you can catch it when it starts and cut if off prior to it escalating out of control. One of the best ways to maintain mental consistency is to have routines. To me a routine is your security blanket. It keeps you steady. It helps you get re-centered or refocused when things feel like they’re getting away from you. Whether you’re a hitter or pitcher, you should have a pre-pitch routine (and post pitch routines). This is one way we can influence what will happen.

Next, do you have a very clear picture of exactly what you want to happen? Most people do not have a picture of any kind. Some have a vague picture. Few have a VERY clear picture.

The following is a great example from one of golf’s greatest.

Jack Nicklaus never stroked a putt until he had imagined the ball rolling to the hole, going into the cup, then popping out of the cup, and rolling back to where it started.

I’d say that was a VERY clear picture and it’s another way we can influence what will happen.

Here’s a final one for you this week. What is your self talk? Are you like me and tend to have your first response be one of a negative nature? Are you the person that say’s “Here we go again”? Do you respond to yourself with sarcasm, “Nice swing Grandma”? We all know none of these are helpful. So, catch yourself and make a change. Again, you can have a routine for this. One thing I suggest is finding something good in the situation. And yes, I know this can be extremely hard but even when it seems like there’s no possible good, ask yourself “If I WANTED to find something good in this, what would it be?

Two last examples related to this from Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott:

– We have actually seen Annika (Sorenstam) say at a tournament, “I’m whining” and then stop!

– Few players have controlled their emotions on the golf course as well as Jack Nicklaus. Lynn, who worked for the Nicklaus Company for five years, remembers one time at the Doral tournament when Jack’s tee shot on the eighteenth hole ended up in a divot. How did Jack Nicklaus react? “I thought, ‘It will help me stay down better.’” Jack recounted later.

Wow. What do you think? Might these individual’s mentalities influence what will happen? We really should not be surprised that they are two of the best to ever play the game of golf. They are worth your study.

In closing this week, remember these steps to changing undesirable behavior:

Recognize it
Understand it
Change it
Next, determine for yourself, one way, from a mental standpoint, that you are going to work on to influence what will happen. Then continue building from there. If you COMPLETELY buy in, the results will be phenomenal.

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