The Mental Side of Recruiting

    “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

As everyone knows, baseball is a game of failure – a game where if you fail 70% of the time, you can make a ton of money doing it. As a young player, you work hard and put in long hours fine-tuning your mechanics, getting stronger and faster, and learning the game. But that’s only half the battle. What about the 90% of it that’s mental – how much work do you put in training your mind?

That’s where sport psychology comes in. Another way to look at sport psychology is to see it in terms of “mental strength”, “mental toughness”, or “mental conditioning.” The higher the level you achieve, the smaller the difference in your competition’s technical skills, tactical knowledge, and physical ability. The biggest difference comes in ability to focus, coping strategies to deal with pressure and failure, and overall confidence.

So, what does this have to do with the recruiting process?

I frequently work with athletes who are stressed by the process: more people watching you play, more pressure to perform, and bigger downside if you don’t. Thoughts like these may become distractions, taking focus away from just performing up to your ability:
-”What if I mess up in front of this coach?”
-”I HAVE to play perfectly.”
-”Don’t make a mistake, don’t strike out.”

Athletes tend to overthink these things because they think it logically makes sense. But it only makes sense if you are playing for a coach who thinks they are scouting players who bat 1000 and never make an error.

The reality is, I don’t know any coaches who think that way. Coaches aren’t looking for perfection, because they know that’s impossible. They are looking for character, attitude, effort, how you treat your teammates, and coachability. In short, they are looking at how you handle the 70+% failure at least as much as they are looking for the 30% success. Maybe more so.

So how can you be mentally tough and keep the right mindset? Here are a few way:
– Set goals for success, but also set them for failure. Set attitude and effort goals.
– Show positive body language and verbal communication skills at all times.
– Focus more on the process than the result. Focus on the present moment!

These are all things that you have control over. When athletes focus on what they can control, they do not guarantee success, but they do give themselves the best chance to succeed. In other words, when you do things the right way, step by step, it usually leads to the right result.

Most coaches can see players who are doing things the right way.

Brian Baxter, MA Sport Psychology, is the Director at SPINw in Portland, OR. He works with athletes, coaches and parents to help build focus and maintain confidence to ensure more consistent performance. Brian’s book, the Sports Mindset Gameplan, is available on amazon. | 866-300-1515 | |

Goal Setting –> Goal Achievement: A success story


by Jimmy Yoo

In the last newsletter, we spoke about setting resolutions / achievable goals early and using everyday challenges as motivation. For example, instead of waiting til the end of the holiday season to stop eating sweets, use the sweets as a reward.

For many of us, waiting till the last second is what we do. There was a high school athlete I once met with who also took this approach. This high school athlete, whom I shall call Jen, to respect this athlete’s confidentiality, had tried out for her high school basketball team. She felt she was prepared for the team tryouts because she had taken the time to stay in shape, mainly by playing another sport in the offseason; and she had participated in a majority of the captains’ practices in the off season as well. Therefore, she felt she had put in enough time to prepare her for the season.

When it came to the tryout week, her expectation was that she would easily make the varsity basketball team: one, because she was a junior in high school; two, she felt she had put in the time on the team to earn a spot; three, she felt she was in good shape; and four, she felt she had worked just as hard as a lot of the other players in the off-season.

To her surprise, three days into the tryouts, she was cut from the varsity squad and placed on the JV team. The head coach had pulled her aside that night and told her if she worked hard and had a good attitude, she could easily move up to the varsity team at some point in the season. At first she was crushed and felt that the coach had just picked her favorite players. In particular, she felt that the coach had chosen some freshmen players just because they were taller than she was, not because they were better. Once she was able to vent her frustrations concerning the tryouts, she was then able to admit that she was amazed at how the freshman on the varsity team seemed to be better shape, and their basketball skills seemed to be more developed than her skills at this point in the season. With that said, she was able to identify that it would take at least a month of hard work before she would be ready to compete for a varsity position.

This was a good starting point. Not only was she able to admit that she had not spent enough time in the off season working on her basketball skills (shooting, dribbling, offensive and defensive footwork), but she was able to recognize how long it might take her to catch up. Instead of deciding to quit the team or settle with the idea that she would be on JV the rest of the season, she made it her goal to make the varsity team by the last 1/3 of the season and be ready for playoffs.

Jen felt that the first thing she needed to work on was improving her foot speed so that she would be quicker on defense and quicker when she initiates drives to the basket. As a result, she decided that she would jump rope 5 minutes a day to improve her quickness and agility, and 20 to 30 minutes either before or after practice to shoot baskets and practice her drives to the net. Secondly, because two JV players were asked each week to swing up for varsity games to serve as emergency backup players, she made it her goal to be one of the swing players each week.

Jen’s hard work and determination paid off. For a majority of the weeks during the season, she was chosen by the coaches to swing up for varsity games. While she sat on the bench for most of those games, she kept a good attitude and made sure to take note of things she was doing well and things she still needed to improve on, like dribbling with her off hand and getting confident taking layups with her off hand. By the end of the season, one of the varsity players had sprained an ankle during a game. Jen was asked to come off the bench as part of a platoon of players to fill in for that injured player. As it turned out, she played solid one-on-one defense and forced a key turnover that allowed her team to take the lead during the final minutes of that game.

From that point on, Jen would become one of the primary players to come off the bench to fill in for the starters. She recognized that hard work and determination are important, specifically, practicing with purpose rather than just going to practice each day and comparing her effort to the rest of the team (i.e., “I feel like I worked harder than most of the team today”). She also learned that setting goals and communicating those goals allowed her to set an expectation and have others helped her to prepare for success.

The right fit

Sometimes sports is all about finding the right fit.  As a youth soccer coach, a lot of parents ask for my advice when their young athlete is moving from a recreational level to a competitive level.  In short, my advice usually comes down to this: find the right fit. 

Ask the questions: 

  • -What is my commitment level?
  • -What is my athlete’s commitment level?
  • -What is the organization like?
  • -What is the coach like?
  • -What are your values?  and do they match with the coach and the organiztion?

That is one of the best ways to make sure the athlete will continue to improve performance, and to ensure the experience is going to be a positive one.

This brings me to Tim Tebow and the news that he signed with the Patriots this week.  Having been a life-long Florida Gator, I follow him very closely – maybe not as obsessively as some of my fellow Gators! – and still root for him as one of my own.
Here’s a guy who has gone through the right fit several times (University of Florida, Denver Broncos), to the wrong fit (New York Jets – ?!?still waiting for someone to explain to me who thought this was going  to work and why?!?).

Now, with the Patriots he seems to be back with the right fit:

At its core, The Patriot Way is all about team. Where nobody wants credit, or respect, or highlights, or swag. They want results. They want character guys. There’s a higher calling in New England, where they don’t just win, but they win the right way, and then they go back to work. These are facts.

So, think about it.


Could you imagine a better fit for the kid who only knows how to win and never knew how to quit?

This quote coming from a recent blog over at Grantland from Andrew Sharp.  Check out the article here.

Also, to read Tebow’s book, Through My Eyes, or other great sport psychology books, check out our Recently Reviewed Books section in the SPINw store.

SPINw’s work with the Portland State University golf team

Read about SPINw’s work with the Portland State University golf team at

“I want him to help my players realize how they are feeling, to recognize when they’re getting out of their comfort zone.   We want to help them get back into their routine, to focus on what they need to focus on and help get rid of bad thoughts,” Takaishi says.    Are you a coach that wants to get that extra edge for your team’s mental game?  Call us at 1-888-885-5570.

Book Review: The Boys from Little Mexico

In the mold of Friday Night Lights, Steve Wilson’s The Boys from Little Mexico is one of those sports books that I finished in a couple days.  It follows the all-latino Woodburn High School (just down I-5 from SPINw) soccer team through their 2005 season.  The book goes back and forth between describing the season, the players and coaches, the history of the town to give a full picture of the school, the team, and it’s community of players, coaches, and role models.

The sport psychology and the mental side of the game is a theme of this book.  The coaches consistently talk about the fact that the players’ belief in themselves does not match their high level of skill.  You can see it in the players’ comments and thoughts, too.  Will they find the confidence and that extra edge they need to finally win it all?  Check out the book to find out!

 The Boys From Little Mexico
Check out The Boys from Little Mexico in the SPINw webstore.

When we lose what we once had

Sports Identities


It happens at all levels. Pros retire and move on to the broadcast booth. High schoolers graduate and get to the next level – some realizing they won’t make it big. Older weekend warriors gradually realize they can’t compete like they used to.At all levels of athletics, the transition point is eventually reached for most of us when we realize we can’t always go on. Maybe it’s age, or injuries, or other factors, but at some point the identity of pure athlete is lost.

What is the impact of losing our identities? How can some athletic identity be preserved, even if competition at previous heights is no longer possible?

Leave your comments about athletic identity, and it’s loss, below.

Book Review: Just Kick It

Book Review – Just Kick It: Tales of an Underdog, Over-Age, Out-of-Place Semi-Pro Football Player by Mark St. Amant

Having been a high school kicker myself growing up in Florida, this book caught my attention right away. And after picking it up, it was such a good read that I completed it in only 3 days. The story spoke to me in a number of ways: going from soccer player to place kicker, fitting in as a minority being one of the only white guys on the team, the thrills and anxiety of competition, and the question that goes through the mind of most over-the-hill athletes – “Could I still do it?” Not only that, but now, as a sport psychology consultant, there are tons of great, experiential anecdotes about the mentality of an athlete in this book.

In Just Kick It, writer Mark St. Amant chronicles his first season as a 37-year-old, first time place kicker for the Boston Panthers, an inner-city Boston semi-pro football team. After researching the history of semi-pro leagues in the United States (which would have made a pretty interesting book on its own), one of St.Amant’s contacts asks him if he’d be interested in kicking for the Panthers and before he knows it he’s blurted out “Sure, why not?” St. Amant’s writing style is compelling, mixing stories about practices, games, his teammates’ backgrounds, disappointments, and celebrations.

In my own experience, I found that being a kicker had all the mental challenges faced by a golfer, but with 11 guys way bigger than you barking at you, talking smack, and then charging you at full speed, praying for a chance to pummel the poor kicker. Another mental challenge is that you are not quite looked at as a real football player, but depended upon heavily to win or lose games – in other words, a necessary evil. But perhaps the greatest challenge I faced was getting on the team to begin with. Coming from the soccer team, incorrectly labelled a wimpy sport, being unsure of my ability, and having to learn a new kicking technique (I distinctly remember hitting the center in the butt in my first two practice field goal attempts, and the look he gave me and then the coach afterwards) was not easy.

St. Amant captures these challenges in great detail. Joining the team in the first place, not knowing anyone, and having to prove himself not only to the team and its coach, but in his own mind as well, were the first obstacles. Later, in another instance, he is put in a situation where the amount of extra conditioning the rest of the team had to do was on his shoulders. And then the pressures of kicking live, in games, with fans and teammates looking on, he describes his successes and failures, and the confidence and focus involved in each. His explanation of his mental state in each of these situations contain great lessons that could be applied to any athlete.

The confidence and mental state of any athlete is crucial to the success and enjoyment of any athlete. I highly suggest Just Kick It for athletes and coaches alike. It’s well written, funny, and sometimes sad. I found myself a Boston Panther fan at the end of the book, cheering them on as the good guys, and hoping their season would keep going. The details of the sport psych side of his experience: teamwork, positive thinking, focus, and confidence, that he lays out in the book will definitely give you something to use in your own sport.

Slumping Papi

Papi’s Struggles

When asked about his play during an 0-7 outing against the Angels in May, David Ortiz’s answer was short and to the point. “Just put down ‘Papi stinks”. The Red Sox Sluggers’ struggles at the plate have been well publicized this season, as he’s hitting only .197 with 2 home runs – not the numbers Sox fans are normally used to from their DH. Sport psychologist Dana Sinclair offered an opinion on slumps among elite athletes: “Top-level guys know what they’re doing. When you get down to it, they know how to hit, they just start to think about too many things and try to do too much and try too hard. It’s a process of getting them from distracted thinking to normal performance characteristics.”

Some theorize the problems for Ortiz are all mental, some think they are related to a wrist injury from last year, and some think he’s just getting older. Common work with ‘overthinking’ athletes includes relaxation techniques, always trying to think positive, and narrowing the mental focus to one specific area.

Whatever the cause of his problems is, most experts agree on one thing regarding Ortiz – he is an excellent hitter at the core, and needs to find some way, any way, to get back to his natural form and technique without getting in his own way. Have you struggled with cold streaks or slumps in your athletic or coaching career? Comment on your experiences and ways of breaking the slump below.