I love baseball. I always have. This week’s blog will discuss aspects of Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, and Physical FITness relative to baseball. Though my focus is applying the discussion to the game of baseball, it is applicable to sport and life in general.

Mental FITness

Baseball is becoming more and more analytics driven. Number crunching. Good hard data is helpful in many ways and this will continue to be a big part of the future of the game. I came across an interesting article that points out how the importance of the psychology of baseball must also be considered and used. The article discusses how analytically driven baseball is becoming. It also discusses how the human side must and should be factored in. Because baseball is a game of failure, resiliency and your ability to bounce back after failure is vital to success in the game. You can check out the article here. It’s a great read and I encourage it, especially if you are a baseball or softball player!

Think about it.

Mookie Betts led the AL in batting last season. His batting average was .346. What does that mean? He failed to get a hit, on average, 65 of every 100 at bats over the course of the season. He was the best in the American League and he only succeeded 45 of every 100 times. He, the best hitter in the AL last season, failed more than he succeeded.

If the beast hitter (by average) in the game last year failed 65% of the time, why do youth athletes, parents, and coaches fail to realize the importance of learning how to fail? Especially when we are going to fail more frequently than we succeed. In fact, you can execute everything perfectly well and still fail. Nothings is worse than squaring up a pitch, hitting it hard, but still getting out because you lined it right at someone. What’s more frustrating in baseball (or softball) right?

Learning how to fail, and bounce back is vital to future success. It’s called many things; resilience, grit, mental toughness, etc. But, it all boils down to your ability to fail and recover quickly so that you can keep going.

Emotional FITness

I recently came across a blog on stress and anxiety in Major League Baseball. The article discussed several players who had to take time away from the game due to “non-physical issues.” This points to the importance of learning how to effectively manage stress and anxiety.

The article also discusses the increasing use of statistics and data in MLB which could be a contributing factor in increased stress and anxiety. The trend isn’t going to change.

So, what can be done?

Learn effective techniques for managing stress and anxiety!

How?

Progressive relaxation techniques, sports imagery techniques, mindfulness, meditation, time away from your sport for recovery, yoga, deep breathing, square breathing, etc.

There are many techniques. The key is finding what works for you and sticking with it!

Physical FITness

Today’s Physical FITness topic is sleep. I became interested in this subject as many of the young middle and especially high school athletes with whom I have had the opportunity to work seem to get less sleep than is needed.

I wrote a prior blog on this subject in March of last year titled “Sleep and Peak Athletic Performance.” You can refer to it here.

It continues to be a subject I come back to frequently. There is a lot of research on the impact of sleep deprivation. One study I recently reviewed looked at the impact of increased sleep on basketball performance. This study was done at Stanford. It examined the impact of increased sleep on the performance of basketball players. The result, by increasing average nightly sleep time, performance improved across several measured skills. Here is a link to the study.

Another study looked at extended sleep but also examined the time of day the athletic activity occurred. Have you ever noticed how the same team can be quite skilled but maybe do poorly during early morning games? This may explain part of it. Sleep and circadian rhythms may be a factor. Here is the study.

I know when I was a college student-athlete, there were many times I failed to get a full night sleep. I can recall one specific incident when I was up all night because I had procrastinated on a paper that was due. That same morning we had 6AM baseball practice which unfortunate for me, included a lot of running at the start. I know I was not my best. I also know that the coach recognized it as well as I was called out on my slower than usual running. I think a lot of it had to do in this instance with not having enough sleep to function well.

I know high school athletes who are as driven to succeed in the classroom as they are in their chosen sport(s). Many times I hear of them being up late completing schoolwork after practice, games, competitions, etc. There is no doubt that sleep quality and duration impacts performance. As a side note, it also impacts cognitive ability so schoolwork, test performance, etc. also can be impacted if you fail to get adequate sleep.

Bottom line: Don’t underestimate the value and importance of getting consistently good sleep.

Spiritual FITness

Baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, and football are sports that rely on the performance of the entire team in order to reach success. One player can only do so much in these sports. You can perform your best and your team can still lose.

It is extremely important that everyone understands and commits to their role within the team. On my college baseball team, everyone was assigned responsibilities. Starters knew their role. Those on the bench also had responsibilities for each game. Some were assigned to throw with/warm up the outfielder. Others were responsible for protecting pitchers and catchers in the bull pen. Some were responsible for chasing and tracking down foul balls that went out of play. Everyone had a responsibility. Everyone contributed. Everyone knew their role.

I Corinthians, Chapter 12, verses 12-31 discusses something similar and applicable to teams. The comparison is drawn between our human bodies and the body of Christ. How does this apply to teams? Just like every part of our body has a role, purpose, or responsibility. So does every member of a team.

Paul is saying something that we can apply to our teams. Verse 12 states:

For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body.

Have you ever broken a bone? Maybe an arm or leg? How did that impact the functioning of your body? As an athlete, have you ever suffered an injury? How did that impact the functioning of your body?

Paul goes on in verses 21-26 to state:

So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Nor again the head to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, all the more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. But our presentable parts had no need of clothing. Instead, god has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the member suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

This tells us how a good functioning team should operate. Respect the contributions of everyone. Respect those doing the “grunt work” as much as those leading the team in hits, RBI’s, or home runs. In the end, should you be fortunate enough to be champions, everyone is a champion. Everyone earns a ring. I know. I got two from the two seasons I was a member of my college baseball team. I rarely stepped between the lines. I was in the last or next to last group to take BP before the game. I chased foul balls that went out of play. I was there when we won those conference championships. I’m proud of and wear my ring. All were honored. Not just those limited few who were drafted in the MLB draft. Every member of the team contributed.

If you want success as a team. Take this as your model. Accept and put everything you have into your role, whatever it is. Not only that, recognize the value of everyone on your team. The success of your team depends upon everyone, not just your stars, all league players, and MVP.