11.11.15

Joga! Joga! Joga!

JOGA PARTY

One day while scrolling through random Instagram pictures, I came across what looked like football players doing yoga on a football field. That’s interesting, I thought to myself. After some trolling and research, I saw that this instructor out of Toronto, Jana Webb, was teaching yoga to athletes. As a believer in multiple modality training, I was curious to see what she was doing with these big-bodied athletes.

BKVIS-JOGA-2I have practically zero yoga experience. I think I have taken five classes in my life, with two or three of them being Bikram. While I appreciate the discipline and control required to be a good yogi, my body had a hard time “flowing” from pose to pose. I also thought my body was built different compared to other yoga bodies in the room. As a 205-pound man, I’m not super stretchy compared to most yogis. Plus, yoga bored the shit out of me. I was fine never doing it again.

But, Joga looked different. In simple math, Jocks + Yoga = Joga. If there was ever a yoga style that appealed to me, this was it. When I saw that Joga was coming to Chicago for an early-October seminar, I had to do it. I am a believer in working on weaknesses, and yoga knowledge was a definite weakness of mine. It was time to check my ego at the door and learn something new!

No team I ever played on incorporated yoga. While I personally see the value in it, most strength coaches do not use it in their repotoire. So, I wondered how Jana and Alena Harkensson convince their players to add Joga. Their website features testimonials from prominent athletes in the NHL, MLB, and CFL, amongst others. Obviously, to keep their attention, they must be doing something right.

BKVIS-JOGA-1When we rolled out the mats, it was clear from minute one that I was in for a personal battle. As we went through the Joga system, I was shocked at how difficult it was for me to stabilize in these positions. As Jana explained, one major difference between yoga and Joga is that Joga incorporates holds plus movement. I spent most of the time stabilizing part of me while moving a different part of me — just like in sports! It was new and exhausting. By the end of day one my muscles were so fatigued I could barely hold myself up. My entire body felt worked and my core was toast.

Day 2 was more of the same. I struggled through the movement patterns and the weakness in my adductors was thoroughly exposed. Still, my stabilizers were fried and my brain was mush. For most workouts, I can squeeze out another rep or fight hard for 10 more seconds until it’s over. With Joga, I had no clue when the workout was over or how many more movements were left. I could not pace myself as I did not know the pace. The unknown reality was a huge mental toughness booster as it made me focus on the present moment. To compare the experience to baseball, one move at a time = one breath at a time = one pitch at a time = one game at a time. A great reminder to be present.

BKVIS-JOGA-3I felt myself getting better by the final day. After two days, I was more aware of the patterns and the flow. While the training was still difficult, I had a better understanding of what should be happening and a better understanding of how my body should be working in space. I have a long way to go before becoming a “Joga master,” but I feel my Joga foundation has been built. I have incorporated Joga with my own workouts; with my clients; at TrainChicago; and as part of the judo warmup. Thank you Jana, for making me part of the Joga World!

10.21.15

SOUTH SIDE PRIDE

AN ATYPICAL WHITE SOX CONTRACT

“Life is a journey, not a destination. Have faith in your ability.” —Bruce Lee

BKVIS-SOUTHSIDE-PRIDEMany people have asked about why in my EVOLUTION timeline, there is quite a baseball gap between playing in the independent leagues and my brief stint with the White Sox. After the conclusion of the 2004 San Angelo season, it looked like my career was over. I could not financially afford to be back in independent ball and I had zero MLB teams blowing up my phone. I had an offer to play winter ball in Mexico, but the pay was also less than my rent. (Gold Coast studio apartments are expensive!) At 25-years old, it looked like I was done.

Flash forward to the 2006 season — which I was not participating in — and I was training at Crunch Fitness Marina City, trying to mask my demons about not playing. It had been brought to my attention that a White Sox scout joined the gym and was a regular whenever the team was in town. When I looked him up, I saw that David Wilder was the White Sox Director of Player Personnel. Not only was this guy a scout, he was the scout!

I knew I had to sell myself hard for a chance to play, but was unsure how. Every time David came to the gym I would say hello and we would shoot the shit about the Sox while I tried to think of the best way to approach this topic. What was proper? Interrupt his workout? Accost him in the locker room? Pee next to him? It took months to formulate a plan. How do I tell him this is the opportunity I have been fighting and bleeding for without looking amateur? What if he says I’m too old? What if he looks up my stats and says I suck?

Finally, in late September (the last month of an October-less season) I got David face-to-face by the squat rack and was ready to go all in. I was wearing a Railcats Baseball t-shirt. Here is my recollection of our conversation:

BK: Hi David!
DW: Hey Brian. Nice shirt, did you play in Gary?
BK: Yes sir.
DW: What position?
BK: Catcher.
DW: Can you catch?
BK: Yes sir.
DW: Can you hit?
BK: I hit left-handed.
DW: Left-handed hitting catcher? Do you still play?
BK: Not since ’04 but it’s all I want to do.
DW: Hmm. Would you want to come to camp with us next year?
BK: Yes sir!

Holy shit. That was it. All the stress I felt from thinking about asking for an opportunity was for naught, as he offered it right up. And after our talk, I never saw him at the gym again. Now, part of me thought this was a nice offer with no follow through, but I was going to be ready just in case. Besides, if it was legit and I was unprepared I would never forgive myself.

Still, I told no one. It would be premature to make this announcement when all I had was a conversation. Hell, I did not even have a contract yet. A verbal agreement? No one would believe me anyway. But I started preparing myself as if I would be heading to Arizona. Who cares if I had been out of baseball for two years? I already missed two years in college due to football and shoulder surgery, so if anyone could handle a little bit of baseball rust, it was me.

As the calendar year turned to 2007 there had been no further communication. I started to lose faith. David was just being polite, he probably doesn’t even remember me. But, one cold, early February night I had fallen asleep on the train when my phone started ringing with an odd 480 area code. Instead of letting it go to voicemail, I answered. Who was on the other end? David fucking Wilder! He asked if I was still serious about coming to spring training and if I was in baseball shape. Hell yes to both!

The next day I signed a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox organization. At the time, it was the greatest moment of my life. My family was ecstatic for me. Signing this contract validated all the physical and emotional scars of giving my life to the game. Finally, this was my opportunity to prove myself with a MLB team. The fact that it was with a hometown team that had just won the World Series made it even sweeter. Now, it was time to go to work and win a job.

***Most White Sox fans will likely remember David Wilder from his former days as Kenny Williams’ top guy to his current ones sitting in jail. While David pleaded guilty to skimming Latin American players on their signing bonuses and may never work in baseball again, I am forever grateful for our chance encounter and the opportunity he provided me. David handed a contract over to a player he never saw play; someone that he “scouted” out of a gym in downtown Chicago. He did not have to check with area scouts or a regional/national cross-checker. He was a man of his word and did exactly what he said he would do—providing me with an extremely powerful life moment. It is an experience I will always remember. Plus, since I had no signing bonus, I know for a fact he did not steal any money from me.

09.30.15

RELAX… GO TO IT

WHAT THE HELL IS REIKI?

BKVIS-RELAX-GO-TO-ITI am often asked about my reiki background, mainly how I got started and what it has done for me. My client and friend, Michele Preste, was a black belt in karate and also a reiki practitioner. For a couple years back in the mid 2000s, she had been bugging me to get on the table and let her work on me. Finally, I accepted.

As I lay on my back with my eyes closed, my mind was overactive and I bombarded myself with questions: Why don’t I feel anything? When should I feel something? Does reiki really work? Should I have pizza for dinner? All of a sudden — out of nowhere — my body felt like it was buzzing. It was like I had electricity in my veins, a feeling I had never experienced before. In a matter of ten minutes I went from being unable to relax to feeling like I was floating on top of a table.

Brian, meet energy. Energy, Brian.

My first thought was What the hell just happened and my second thought was I gotta learn that! So, with Michele’s help I got set up to do the Reiki Levels I and II attunement. I will admit, there are some interesting people out there in reiki-land but the common denominator is that energy is healing. Thus, reiki practitioners are healers.

Here’s how it breaks down in basic math: Reiki equals energy. Energy equals healing. Healing equals recovery. Recovery equals stress relief. Therefore, reiki equals stress relief; and stress relief is good!

Reiki is a Japanese system of energy healing based on chakra balance. Basically, there are seven major chakras that channel energy along the body’s midline: crown, third eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral, and root. Each chakra corresponds to different body actions. When the body is healthy, the chakras are all spinning in balance. Often times, the reiki recipient will have internal visions of colors and shapes or even go on a hallucinogenic journey.

Reiki provides calm to the receiver. I do it to my wife, my daughter, and my dog. I end each day with a reiki meditation, which helps me clear my mind and fall asleep. The first night we brought Rome home, he was a squirrelly 5-week old puppy. He refused to sleep in his crate or his dog bed. Finally, I got Rome to lay on his bed long enough to reiki him (after he pooped under our bed, of course) until he passed out. Reiki: 1 Rome: 0.

The purpose of reiki is to balance the chakras through energy healing and promote well-being. It has helped my self-awareness, improved my breathing, and allowed me to function at a higher level. Reiki has provided me an outlet for calm and relaxation.

Bottom line, it works.

08.15.15

Crosstown Classic

Southside VS Northside

BKVIS-CROSSTOWN-CLASSIC-1People love dualities. Right and wrong. Good and bad. Left and right. North and south. East and west. Up and down. Black and white. Democrats and Republicans. Crips and Bloods. Cubs and White Sox. In each of these cases there can only be one.

The Crosstown Classic is my favorite part of baseball season. Two weekends. Six games. One long season of bragging rights. The whole concept of the White Sox playing the Cubs is genius and the fans love it. It has the energy of a small town high school rivalry game — but at the big league level. All the local news channels cover the game. The Wrigleyville bars are packed; tailgating at The Cell is an all-day experience. Fans leave work early to prepare for a long day of cheering and drinking. It’s like Opening Day in the summer. No matter how bad the teams are it’s always a big deal.

I am one of the rare individuals that switched allegiances. That’s right, you read that correctly. I was once a Cubs fan and am now a White Sox fan. Before you fill the air with expletives and punch your coworker — wondering how the hell this is possible — please continue reading.

BKVIS-CROSSTOWN-CLASSIC-2I grew up a Cubs fan in a Cubs house. My dad was a Cubs fan and turned my mom into a Cubs fan (although her father — my grandfather — is a die-hard Sox fan). As a kid, we went to Wrigley, sat in the bleachers, and cheered the shitty Cubs. Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson posters lined my bedroom. My friends and I spent millions of hours arguing over who was better: Mark Grace vs. Frank Thomas; Sammy Sosa vs. Magglio Ordonez; Harry Carray vs. Hawk Harrelson; Wrigley vs. Comiskey. You name it, we argued it. I bled Cubby blue. Then 2003 happened.

We all remember the 2003 NLCS. Cubs go up three games to two against the Florida Marlins, with Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley. Surely, the Cubs could win one more game — especially with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood scheduled to pitch–and be in their first World Series in almost 100 years. The pennant was all but won! This was the year! It’s Gonna Happen! In Dusty We Trusty! Screw you, billy goat!

But, the Cubs lost Game 6 in the famous Bartman game. Then they lost Game 7. The expansion Florida Marlins would go on to win the World Series, their second since becoming a franchise in 1993. Of all years, 2003 was the year. And it still did not happen. The Florida Marlins (?!?) had two World Series rings, and the Cubs had shit. As a fan, I was crushed. Devastated. Sickened. Furious. Numb. After Game 7, I walked through my parents neighborhood to clear my head. My thoughts led to one conclusion: I was done. This abusive relationship was over. I quit the Cubs.

I was a free agent fan for a couple years — watching baseball, but not really cheering for anyone. When Ozzie Guilen was hired by the White Sox in 2004, I will admit, I started watching more Sox games. I liked Ozzie as a player and thought the South Side needed his energy. Plus, on any given night, Ozzie might get ejected or have a hilarious press conference (or both). He could have a blowup with an umpire that was must-see TV. In a town that cherishes fiery coaching personalities, Ozzie was the Spanglish-cursing version of Mike Ditka.

BKVIS-CROSSTOWN-CLASSIC-3When the Sox won it all in 2005, Ozzie accomplished what no one had done in Chicago for 88 years — bringing a World Series to the South Side. While I did not consider myself to be a Sox fan, (24 years of being a Cub fan is not easily forgotten) this “crazy Mexican” made the Sox fun to watch and nationally relevant. I refused to be a bandwagon jumper, but the Sox had an attractive program. Would I dare switch allegiances?

My transformation to the dark side was complete when I signed a White Sox contract in 2007. It was clear the universe wanted me on the South Side. It was ultra legit when I went out and bought my first ever White Sox hat, at the age of 27. While half my buddies called me a traitor and other unprintable names, the other half treated me like I was the greatest free agent pickup of all time. Now, I live in Bridgeport and take my daughter to Sox games. And that is the story of how I crossed over to the Sox Side.

08.05.15

OVERUSE KIDS

SPECIALIZATION = INJURIES

BKVIS-OVERUSE-KIDS2As I was walking downtown the other day, I saw this sign up on a bus shelter from the American Academy of Orthropedic Surgeons:

More and more, young athletes are focusing on a single sport and training for that sport year-round — a practice that’s led to an increase in Overuse injuries. Left untreated, overuse trauma to young shoulders, elbows, knees, and wrists may require surgery and have lifelong consequences. For information on preventing and treating Overuse injuries, visit these sites: orthoinfo.org and stopsportsinjuries.org.

I played many sports when I was a kid. Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring. All three in the summer. In fact, I looked forward to the seasons changing because it meant going from football pads to Air Jordans to catcher’s gear. I dropped basketball after 9th grade to focus on football and baseball, playing both into college and beyond.

BKVIS-OVERUSE-KIDS1The days of mulit-sport athletes are quickly fading, as kids are having to choose their single sport as early as elementary school. As a result, these kids are practicing and playing their sport year-round, often with professional coaches. Kids are developing repetitive pattern overload and frequently getting injured. They are also suffering from burnout. In a way, instead of having “athletes” we now have specific “players” — football players, baseball players, etc.

Kids that only play one sport miss out on overall athleticism. If I were to build an athlete in a lab, I would take the hand-eye coordination of baseball, the foot-eye coordination of soccer, basketball agility, football power, hockey toughness and the wrestling mentality. Then I would sprinkle in some martial art humility. The balance of all these sports gives kids a chance to develop healthy bodies and minds as well as having to react to new physical and mental challenges. They would interact with new teammates and make new friends. Same is boring. Kids need athletic variety.

Little leaguers should not have big league injuries. Save the torn ACLs and Tommy John surgeries for the pros. As fitness trainers and coaches, it’s our job to try to help kids become better, more balanced athletes. Because kids are exposed to such structured training at an early age, they might miss out on the “fun” aspect. We should all remember that kids play sports because they are fun and the chance for scholarships or gold medals is slim. Let’s prepare our kids to have success on every field they choose to play by helping them become functional athletes.

07.15.15

MAGIC PILLS?

IF MAGIC PILLS REALLY WORKED, WE’D ALL TAKE THEM

BKVIS-MAGIC-PILLSSomehow, we live in a culture that rewards sickness. We will save health care for a different blog entry, but preventative medicine is quite interesting to me. The human body is resilient and will do whatever we tell it to — it will bend, turn, twist any which way. So, unless there has been trauma, many times our injuries are directly related to our behavior or our inactivity.

Pretend you see a doctor for nagging knee pain. The doctor checks it out, sends you to get an X-Ray or MRI, and sees no major damage — just normal wear and tear of an adult knee. So, he prescribes you an “anti-inflammatory” drug like Celebrex® to help with the pain. He tells you to take one pill per day until your prescription is out, and also to use your refills if you need them. No movement analysis. No muscle testing. No dietary questions. Just some fancy chemicals-in-pill-form that are supposed to help you “feel better.” Oh, and no discussion about how these new chemicals will effect the rest of your body.

Pretend again that you see a fitness professional for knee pain. He asks about your daily activity, past injuries, current workout regime, nutrition and sleep patterns. He then puts you through a series of exercises to watch you move and sees a dominant anterior chain and a weak posterior chain. It’s possible, he suggests, that the assessment showed overly developed quadricep strength with underdeveloped gluteal/hamstring strength. He says that by strengthening your hamstrings and glutes plus using self-myofascial release to break up your quads it’s possible your knee pain will go away. No magic pills; just intelligent movement analysis.

I believe doctors are helpful people but in this situation they are putting a bandage on a bullet wound. Yes, they may have stopped the bleeding by helping with the pain but the fitness professional is the one that dug the bullet out by changing behavior. Lifestyle changes are always superior for greater overall health. Magic pills do not exist.

07.01.15

Nike’s #TrainChicago

JUST DID IT

BKVIS-NIKE-TRAIN-CHICAGO-1 When I was asked to be one of the trainers/coaches for Nike #TrainChicago, I got excited. A few summers ago, I did two different projects at the Nike FuelHouse to promote their FuelBand and it was an awesome time. So, I was ready for an awesome time again.

Nike boasted that participants would train with Chicago’s best trainers, and it was a talented crew. The core group, led by Jason Raynor and Emily Hutchins, featured me, David Carson, Lindsay Aceto, Bryan Jackson, Nate Forse, James Peska, Natalia Kley-Wisniewska, Chris Wendt, Bret Gornik, Liu Gross, Jason Loebig, Ross Bradley, Vince Zager, Freddie Ellis, Quinn Shortal, and a few others. It was clear that although we all had different athletic backgrounds, we were equally passionate about great workouts.

The main tagline — You Are an Athlete Train Like One — spoke to me because I am a believer in all versions of athletic training. This was an opportunity to work with programs specific to NFL, NHL, MLB, MLS, and NBA players. Clearly, a baseball player and a football player have different physical needs, but a goal for both bodies is to move and perform better.

BKVIS-NIKE-TRAIN-CHICAGO-2Nike built out a West Side warehouse, in the shadows of the United Center. Driving past the Madhouse on Madison, the banners and video boards constantly broadcast the greatness inside the UC: six Bulls NBA championships; six Blackhawks Stanley Cups. Talk about West Side motivation! I could feel the energy before even stepping into the gym.

The facility itself was half turf, half functional space. The Olympic platforms, kettle bells, dumbbells, TRXs, Prowlers, and plyometric boxes reminded me of Nike’s version of Husker Power. It was clear the training would be intense. DJ Arkitek made sure the music matched the intensity. It was a first class space, which is probably what everyone should expect from Nike.

Each week’s workout was focused on a different sport: football, hockey, baseball, soccer, and basketball. While many athletic movements are universal, each sport had their own flavor to make it unique. Some examples were the timed workload required for a hockey line shift; the basketball plyo jump focusing on exploding around an opponent; the dynamic soccer speed drills with a partner trying to push the runner off line, to simulate battling for the ball. Sport-specific training at its finest? Yes!

Because it’s Nike, they brought in big league athletes to make guest appearances and speak to the participants. Sherrick McManis. Sean Johnson. Anthony Rizzo (thankfully no White Sox fans in the group “booed” him). Stanley Cup winner Trevor Van Riemsdyk. Scottie freaking Pippen. And one of my all-time favorite players…Bo Jackson! These athletes were gracious enough to give us their time as well as some insight to what makes them great. From Sean Johnson’s sacrifices to Bo Jackson’s on-field mentality, we all benefited from listening to these elite performers.

Of course, Nike put together an excellent program. We were all sad when it ended, but anxious to see the evolution of Nike training. We all look forward to JUST DOing IT again!

06.24.15

CHICAGO MADE TRAINING

GUEST POST BY GABE CALDWELL

BKVIS-MARTIAL-CHICAGO-MADE-TRAININGThe simple definition of character is how someone acts when no one is watching. I have known Brian for eight years. I can tell you first hand — he is a man of great character. Brian is an intelligent, considerate, caring, and a funny human-being. Brian is a CNP — a Certified Nice Person.

I met Brian at Crunch gym in November of ’06. Brian always seemed very mature minus all the fart jokes. He was organized, successful, knowledgeable and a responsible person. He was getting ready for marriage while I was taking girls to Chilis’. Let’s just say that was a one date deal. I figured if I was going to learn from anyone, I should probably learn from Brian.

Brian always had time to answer my questions. Whether it was questions about training, the birds and the bees, or on life — he took the time to answer. We used to have meetings called development for the newer trainers. In one of the meetings, our boss asked who had helped you become a better trainer. Most of the kiss-ass trainers said my boss. I said Brian. I even got a little choked up (don’t tell anyone!). I said Brian always has time to help me. He is the one of the busiest trainers Crunch has, not just in our gym, but of all the Crunch gyms in the US. I figured I should learn from him first hand. I started training with Brian.

The goal of the coach — is to eliminate the coach. Brian did just that. He gives you the tools you need to succeed outside of your training session. I always learned at least one piece of knowledge when training with Brian. In training, it’s not how smart I am, it’s what I can pass along to you. If I can’t pass along my knowledge to you, it’s wasted knowledge. Brian did just that. Brian would give me a great workout while also teaching me about strength training. Training programs should have a purpose. Programs should be safe and make sense. Brian’s programs do just that. If you ever have a chance to train with Brian, do it. Brian will be your favorite hour of the day. Guaranteed.

I owe a lot to Brian. I can’t thank him enough for his time and friendship. Brian took me under his wing — for that I am very grateful. To this day, I still ask for his advice. I don’t know if Brian ever considered me like a little brother — but I consider him a big brother.

Thanks BK.

Reposted with permission from Chicago Made Training.

06.17.15

MARTIAL LESSONS

FEAR DOES NOT EXIST IN THIS DOJO

Why is everyone looking at me?

I was on my back laying on the mat with a circle of heads looking down on me. We were playing a Tohkon game of capture the flag — meaning that I hold onto a rolled up judo belt while my partner uses his ground skills to try and take it from me. I was a rookie yellow belt, my partner a black belt. Apparently, they told me, I had been choked unconscious. They all gathered around to watch me come back to my senses. Being choked out was one of the worst possible outcomes, and it happened to me. But, in reality, it really wasn’t that bad. The unknown fear of being choked unconscious was now gone. I survived. Plus, when I looked down at my hand, it was still holding the belt — I win!

BKVIS-MARTIAL-LESSONS-2My martial art path was inspired by The Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Batman. I loved watching Daniel LaRusso stand up to the Cobra Kai bullies; the idea that turtles could be ninjas; and that anyone with enough resources and discipline could be Batman. A common theme was that martial arts training turned normal people (and turtles) into badass fighting machines, but these skills were only to be used for good. In a sense, studying martial arts has fulfilled my childhood goal of becoming a superhero.

The purpose of martial arts — and the reason I think everyone should learn one — is to create better people. I am a better version of myself because of it. Coming from a team sports background, the idea of stepping on the mat alone both scared and excited me. There are no teammates to bail me out, and like many aspects of life, my success and improvement is totally up to me. Mental and physical weaknesses are quickly exposed so it’s important to turn those weaknesses into strengths. I am committed to a lifelong journey of self-improvement through martial arts.

BKVIS-MARTIAL-LESSONS-1Every class is a test. At some point, either drilling or sparring, I will be partnered with someone better than me: someone with better technique, better commitment, better knowledge. There is a good chance this partner could physically dominate me and make my life hell. They could smash my ears and direct incredible pressure onto specific parts of my body. They could make breathing difficult and the experience will be uncomfortable and gas-tank depleting.

So, the questions are: How do I respond? How do I handle myself under these circumstances? Am I calm or do I panic? Am I going to fight to make this situation better or do I accept the present conditions? Am I in pain or just uncomfortable? How much discomfort can I handle? Should I quit? Am I the kind of person that quits when circumstances are difficult? What type of person am I? All these questions may be asked and answered numerous times in the same 5-minute sparring round. And there may be 10 consecutive sparring rounds.

True character is always revealed on the mat and my character is stronger because of it.

06.10.15

DON’T DROP THE PITCH

TELL ME WHAT TO DO

Homecoming, 1995.

BKVIS-DONT-DROP-THE-PITCH

Your Downers Grove South Mustangs are playing the Proviso East Pirates, and it’s a sloppy football game. We are clearly the dominate team but playing down to their level. Somehow, Proviso East is still in the game when we should have put them away sooner. After a change of possession, the offense huddled on the sideline, fired up and ready to take advantage of our opportunity. Coach Mash calls for a toss sweep to our speedy tailback Dan Stringfellow. Right before heading onto the field, Coach Mash says:

“Dan, don’t drop the pitch!”

Don’t drop the pitch? What the hell kind of advice was that? That’s like reminding a baseball player not to strike out. Or telling a basketball player not to miss a free throw. Sure enough, the ball was snapped and as it was pitched to Dan, he dropped the football and Proviso East recovered the fumble. As I jogged back to the sideline, I thought, why the hell did he tell Dan to NOT drop the pitch? Dan has caught the ball hundreds of times in practice and in games. Why did he drop it now? Clearly, Dan knows he needs to catch the pitch, so why even put the thought in his head? Does Dan mentally need to know that dropping the pitch is an option right now? Absolutely not.

From what I have read about sports psychology, telling someone what not to do is very different from telling them what to do. In Dan’s case, the last part of the message his brain received was …drop the pitch and his body executed the plan perfectly. From a coaches perspective, he wants Dan to catch the ball, period. Coach Mash could have told Dan to catch the pitch, or protect the ball and that’s probably what would have happened.

In the 2006 World Series, the Detroit Tigers played awful defense while losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. Tiger pitchers made five errors (a World Series record), and in the deciding Game 5 with the Tigers up 2-1, Justin Verlander fielded a bunt and tried to nail the lead runner at third. He airmailed the throw into left field (leading to two runs) and ultimately took the loss. Said Verlander about the bunt, “I picked it up and said, ‘Don’t throw it away,’ instead of just throwing it. I got tentative.” Don’t throw it away sounds a lot like don’t drop the pitch. Like Dan, the last part of the message Verlander’s brain received was …throw it away.

While I do not know Justin Verlander personally, I’m sure he has successfully made that throw many times before. Why were he and Dan both unable to execute a physical act they were both capable of performing; an act they had successfully practiced?

Mental mistakes. My bet is that a negative thought crept into their heads at the worst possible time. Fear took over. Instead of focusing on making a play, they were focused on not screwing up. While it’s impossible to know for sure, had Verlander told himself to make a good throw and had Dan told himself to catch the ball, I bet they both probably would have.

While most teams practice for physical success, an equal amount of time should be allocated to mental success as well. There is a strong link to positive self-talk and performance. (Whether you tell yourself you’re great or you suck — you’re right.) Let’s rewire our brains and give ourselves positive messages and directions so we can play at our physical and mental peak. Start this paradigm shift of thinking right now!