Playing baseball is not an easy sport. Every play requires a different approach and your strategy can quickly change based on where the ball is hit. Unless you’re playing a pickup game with a wiffleball in the backyard with a few friends, success in baseball is more challenging than in any other sport. That makes mental toughness critical for every player.
So, how do you build mental toughness in baseball? Mental toughness in baseball is built by a combination of preparation and experience. The more a player practices and plays, the more they can learn about and overcome any obstacles that occur during games. Mental toughness in baseball takes time, patience, and focus.
Mental toughness in baseball can be easier said than done. So let’s go over 14 tips for building mental toughness that can make you an all-star on the field.
1) Mental Toughness in Baseball Requires Preparation
The more prepared a ballplayer is, the more confident they will be. This is a true statement for any sport, but it is especially true in baseball.
As an analogy, think back to your days in school. Do you remember a time when you had to take a test and you did not study or learn the subject? Surely you looked down at the test and were terrified. Maybe you made a few lucky educated guesses and managed a passing grade, but it’s not easy.
On the other hand, what would have happened if you learned the material and studied for the test? Most likely, you would enter the classroom feeling confident and to do very well on the test.
That is the difference preparation makes – confidence is easy when you do your “homework.”
To be tough and resilient in baseball, there are a few homework items you should do before you ever step foot on the field:
- Study film
- Practice well
- Listen to your manager and position coach
- Get a good night’s rest and proper nutrition
Study Film to Build Confidence
Although more uncommon in baseball, especially in high school and youth baseball leagues, the best thing any player can do in any sport to build confidence is to study the opponent’s film before the game. If video is available, there is a good chance your manager will be reviewing the video during practice, but it never hurts to review the video on your own time.
Depending on what level you play at, acquiring film can be difficult, but never skip an opportunity when one presents itself.
If you do get your hands on an opponent’s film, you can study it for certain tells such as:
- Pitching tendencies
- Pitches that a specific batter likes
- When runners advance or steal
As a batter, watching the patterns of an upcoming opposing starting pitcher can be huge. Do they like to throw a fastball during an 0-2 count? Maybe you notice he always likes to work a knuckleball into every at-bat. Picking up on patterns like this will give you a better idea of what to expect so you can focus on getting more hits without fear of the unknown.
If you are a pitcher, you might notice your opponent loves to swing at curveballs. If that is the case, you now know throw curveballs outside of the strike zone against those batters. Or if a runner likes to attempt a steal when the count is full, you can anticipate the steal and throw them out.
Practice Well to Prepare for Upcoming Games
Being on a baseball team means getting to go to practice – it’s part of the fun! But how are you treating practice? If you are just going through the motions, you will not be prepared when the time comes to step into the batter’s box.
Going hard during every single practice means knowing you will have the strength to succeed during the game.
Listen to Your Coaches
During practice and before you step on the field, people will have a lot to say, but remember to always listen to your coaches.
Your coaches have been here before and have the knowledge to help you succeed. Your coaches did not become coaches by accident so trust them and their teachings.
Listening during the game is especially important so make sure you’re clearly understanding what your coach has to say. Some coaches will chat with their players right before they bat to give them some advice while at the plate. Listen to their direction carefully – they are there to help.
Prepare for the Next Baseball Game By Taking Care of Yourself
It’s common for people to take small (but important) things for granted, like proper eating and sleep. This is a shame because, with some focus, these two things are relatively easy things to fix. Poor diet and not enough sleep can contribute to feelings on gameday of:
- Elevated stress and anxiety
- Erratic temperament
Lack of sleep makes us physically tired and that can be an additional hindrance during your baseball game. Lack of sleep affects our mental sharpness too.
One thing most ballplayers will notice is that they have a slow reaction time when they haven’t gotten enough sleep – not exactly ideal when you are waiting for that perfect pitch to swing at. It’s difficult to focus on that pitch with a lack of sleep.
A lack of sleep is a slippery slope because the next thing most ballplayers notice is that a lack of sleep leads to an increase in anxiety levels. Being consistently nervous can easily prevent players from being on their A-game.
On the same topic of taking care of yourself – do your best to avoid hunger during games, but also make sure you’re not too full during the game. One good strategy is to eat a healthy meal 90 minutes to 120 minutes before the game. This strategy will ensure that hunger does not get the best of you during games and will prevent you from being too full to run.
2) Acknowledge Failure as Part of the Game
Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Sometimes you go 4-4 and sometimes you go 0-4 with 4 strikeouts. Acknowledging that bad games happen will go a long way towards being resilient when those inevitable bad games occur.
The fact of the matter is that loss happens. Part of having mental toughness is accepting that inevitability, but working to limit it as much as possible. One of the main statistics in baseball, the batting average, tells that story.
If a Major League hitter is at a .400 batting average they are considered to be playing at an elite level, and this batting average is most likely a temporary thing. An MLB player who consistently hits .350 is regarded as an MVP candidate.
But if we take a moment to think about that statistic we realize that when a Major League player is batting .400, that means they are only getting a hit 4 out of every 10 times they are at the plate! 6 out of 10 times (a majority of their appearances) they are getting out.
Hitting a baseball, though, is one of the hardest things to do in sports. That is why we evaluate success at the plate a little differently than other sports. Instead of focusing on batting average, think about hitting in terms of quality at-bats. Your mind should not be calculating batting average after every at-bat.
I’ve played with a lot of ballplayers over my career and one thing I’ve noticed is a lot of people have a thought process that is something along the lines of, “Okay, I struck out the first time and then popped it up last time. If I screw up now, I will be 0-3 on the day.” That mindset is not helping anyone except your opponent. Some better ways to think about the game would be:
- “I was more aggressive at the plate that time. I made contact and just need to focus on my timing.”
- “That was still a solid hit. A little more power in that swing and I bet I can get the ball over the outfield’s head.”
- “That ball was over the plate. Next time it’s there I’m crushing that pitch.”
As a pitcher or any other defensive position, the standards of success are a little higher than other sports. An error is more frowned upon than an incomplete pass in football or a missed 3-pointer in basketball.
But still, nobody is perfect. They list errors on the scoreboard because they are bound to happen every so often. The best mindset to have after an error is to want the next batter to hit the ball to you so you can get that out.
3) Stay Positive During Each Play
With everything else going on in the game, do not focus on failure. Instead, embrace positivity.
Sure, you can be real and honest about plays not working out, but focus more on what you can do to improve and turn that busted throw into something special next time.
Here are some tips to stay positive during a baseball game:
- Have short-term memory loss. If you committed an error, clear it from your mind and get ready for the next pitch.
- Pitch a bad inning? Ask yourself how you plan to avoid that guy getting on base next time.
- Look at every strike as an opportunity. Down 0-2 in the count? Think of it as one more chance to get the ball in play (not one more pitch from striking out).
4) Play Through Adversity
While so far, we have mostly discussed overcoming our own mistakes, the truth is that many things can hurt our level of play and have nothing to do with us.
Even if you internalize all the tips for mental toughness listed so far, things will not always be perfect. Be prepared for other types of adversity such as:
- Your opponent just being plain better
- Injuries that prevent you or your teammates from playing
- Bad weather
Superior Opponents in Baseball
It doesn’t really matter how good you are at pickup baseball games against your friends – if you face Clayton Kershaw then chances are you are going to strikeout. In baseball, you’ll have to accept that some opponents are just going to be better. It happens and that is a part of life.
But going up against a better opponent does not mean just accepting every single loss. Accept that your opponent had a better day and learn from it so that you can emerge victorious in the future.
Remember, the best way to get better is to face players who are better than you. So take this opportunity to learn an opponent’s abilities so you can tweak something yourself and so you can beat them at their own game next time you face them.
Injuries in Baseball
Baseball is a physical sport. Very rarely have people played every game in their career with a clean bill of health. Having some soreness and a small amount of pain is normal, but injuries can sideline players for an extended period of time.
That being said, listen to your body. There is the sort of workout pain you can fight through, but sometimes pain can indicate a more serious underlying problem. If you are not sure, talk to a doctor or your coach.
Bad Weather in Baseball
Not every day will be a warm and beaming day of sunshine. While baseball games are generally delayed when the weather becomes bad enough, there are some cases where players will be playing in less-than-stellar weather conditions. You might encounter:
- Cold Weather
- Wet, muddy field
The weather changes from game to game so it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast before a game so you’re prepared for what is coming.
If it is raining, but not heavy enough for a rainout, do not let it distract you. Keep your focus on the ball and wear a hat so it does not obstruct your vision.
Rain can also degrade field conditions so keep your feet planted firm and move deliberately. Even a slight slip can throw off your concentration and confidence when that next popup heads your way.
A windy day can also throw off the ball’s trajectory more than you might think, especially if the ball is hit deep. As an outfielder, do not let a wild ball throw you off. Stay focused, and you can still catch it.
As a quick example, I’ve played in an evening game where the weather started off fairly nice – about 60 degrees with a light breeze. When the game started the wind picked up, the weather cooled down, and it started to rain and lightning. For about 30 minutes it felt like we were playing in a hurricane, but the game still went on.
After those 30 minutes the wind died down, the rain stopped, and the weather became nice once again. It may sound crazy, but playing in bad weather is a very real possibility so always be mentally prepared for anything.
5) Control What You Can, But Lean on Your Team
The thing about baseball is that it is a team sport. You cannot be too hard on yourself when your team loses. Yes, take note of your mistakes, acknowledge them, and learn from them, but don’t put all of the blame on yourself.
Remember, you win as a team and lose as a team. Lean on each other for support to make the bad times more manageable and to help each other better polish their skills.
Specifically, focus on your role as a player. If you are a shortstop, make sure you keep working on your reaction time and catching skills. And always aim for quality at-bats.
You can encourage your pitcher to play better, but do not beat yourself up when they cannot strike somebody out. Stay focused on catching the ball when it rockets off the bat – that is the best way to help the pitcher.
6) Learn How to Handle Losing Baseball Games
One of the most important ways to build up your mental toughness in baseball is to learn how to handle losing. As most people are aware, winning every game is not possible, so accept that and learn how to improve for the next game. The best advice for dealing with a loss is:
- Learn from it. What could I have done better?
- Be honest when you’re upset. It is okay to be upset, but when you get up the next morning, turn that frown into determination for the next game.
- Always practice good sportsmanship and treat your opponent with respect.
Losing, unfortunately, is not always a surprise. Sometimes losing happens in the last inning and sometimes you can see it coming during a blowout early in the game. When this happens, keep your mindset on playing your best game rather than become aggravated and making further mistakes.
7) Learn How to Handle Winning Baseball Games
On the other side of the coin, there is such a thing as a sore winner. Winning feels great, but rubbing it into your opponents’ face is bad sportsmanship.
Remember that toughness is not the same as overconfidence. If your team is putting a nice win streak together, the worst thing a team can do is get too cocky. That attitude can propel you to a good streak but result in a crushing postseason loss. Why? Because overconfidence prevents players from acknowledging mistakes and correcting them before a big game.
Being tough means learning from your mistakes, even in victory. Feel free to celebrate a win, but in the morning you should still get to work on improving your skills. What could you have done to extend that lead even further? How come you could not strike that guy out? What can I do next time to get a hit off that pitcher? Always be looking for ways to improve.
8) Quiet the Mind During Baseball Games
A lot of the items above have already spoken extensively on the relationship between mental toughness and focus, but focus does not just refer to certain aspects of the game. Focus has to do with keeping your mind on the game itself. How can you lock in at the plate when you are too busy thinking about issues at home or if you’re already focusing on tomorrow’s game?
Keep your eyes on this game, right here, right now. Obviously, family issues are important and they should not be overlooked, but putting the issues aside for a couple of hours and being focused on the game can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered for your mental health. That escape can be a beautiful thing.
Quieting the mind is even more important for pitchers. The singular focus should be on getting that guy out and nothing else. Easier said than done, of course, but here are some tips for pitchers (and other baseball players) for keeping their mind on the task at hand:
- Deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Such a simple thing that pays dividends for concentration.
- Keep a journal or some notes so it is easier to remember your thoughts and advice to yourself for the next matchup with that opponent.
- Talk to yourself. Not too loudly, but talking to yourself about your plan for each play can help you shove out any other thoughts.
9) Develop A Routine for Baseball
Humans are creatures of habits so developing routines can be an essential piece to baseball. If you approach every game the same way, it helps cultivate a mindset of success.
The important thing is to find a routine that make you comfortable and mentally prepares you for the game. These routines can be both before the game and during the game.
Routines Before the Game
The most successful athletes have been creatures of habit, so try to do that yourself. Wake up at the same time every day—workout at the same time. Arrive at practice a few minutes early. Even take your shower and brush your teeth at the same time. Little things like that can go a long way to getting players into the correct mindset.
Routines During the Game
Will little routines during the game ensure you’re at the top of your game each time you come to the plate? Maybe not, but if it helps you get comfortable on the field then it’s one less thing to think about before making the next play.
Who cares about something being a superstition if it keeps your on-base percentage up? Most players will naturally develop some type of routine, but if you’re in the market for a new routine then here are some suggestions:
- A twist of your cap before stepping on the mound
- Tapping the bat on the home plate when you step up
- Chewing gum
- Eating a light snack when it’s the 5th inning
10) Make Adjustments
Just because you have routines does not mean you should be rigid either. Think of routines as foundations for success, not the end all be all. Baseball games never have a set outcome, so you need to be prepared for unpredictability if you want to stay confident and win.
As a hitter, do not be afraid to move around a little bit if you are getting beat inside. Just as you are learning about the pitcher, he is learning about you with each additional at-bat. What worked last time might not work this time. Remember to always stay in the now.
As a pitcher, there is no need to accept losing as the walks and errors pile up. Having a losing attitude will not cause you to win.
Try to get in your opponents’ heads. What are they noticing about your habits? What can I adjust to mix them up? Can I play a little reverse psychology and catch up?
11) Observe the Pitcher
As a hitter, it can be awfully tough to settle in at the plate and confidently swing at pitches when you have no idea what is coming next. Sure, watching film ahead of time is great, but what if you have never faced this pitcher before?
Watch the pitcher during the game, even when you are not batting. Notice his tendencies and make mental notes. If you observe the pitcher and learn from their tendencies as the game goes on, you can pick up on patterns and use them to your advantage. Throw him off his game by being the toughest out on the team.
12) Feeding Off Momentum in Baseball
As mentioned previously, baseball players win and lose as a team. If you have been on a baseball team then you have experienced the magical force of momentum.
We see it all the time in sports – a team “breaks a game open,” and then suddenly, all the hitters are piling on. Or, on the other hand, one player makes a bad mistake and it haunts the team for the rest of the game.
Momentum is perhaps the most potent mental forces on a team. Learning how to utilize its effects can keep players in the zone. Positive momentum is something you want to feed into so take its positive vibes and use it to fuel your confidence. Hey, we are winning; now it is my turn to build this lead.
Countering negative momentum is a little more complicated. To counter negative momenutm, players will have to focus on tuning out the noise. Do not worry about the downward slide. Instead, ask yourself “what can I do right now, at this at-bat, to change the tone and put us back on the right track?”
13) Commit to Doing Your Best on Every Play
In most scenarios, committing to doing your best on every play is the best thing a player can do. Will this guarantee success on each play? Of course not, but getting into the correct mindset of doing the best on every play is the best way to make sure you’re prepared for anything. Committing to doing your best on every play includes doing your best when fielding, catching, throwing, hitting, etc.
Giving 100% on every play should always be the goal. Sometimes we’ll mess up and throw the ball without that much energy, but the key is to notice what went wrong and come back stronger on the next throw.
14) Do Not Overthink in Baseball
Even though there are a lot of tips in this article about building mental toughness in baseball, remember that overthinking about something – whether it’s a play or an at-bat – is a great way to drive oneself into a downward spiral.
Building mental toughness takes time so review these tips one at a time until these habits are a part of who you are and how you act. Taking on too much at once can lead to overthinking a problem, which will lead to players making mistakes and missing out on the opportunity to improve one step at at time.
So do not over-analyze every action you make on the field. That will throw off your mental balance and lead to additional mistakes. Part of being mentally tough in baseball is taking things one step at a time and creating habits out of those skills. When the lights come on, clear your mind and play ball.
Having mental toughness in baseball means understanding there are plenty of things in baseball you cannot control. So, take control of the things you can. Use the tips described above and you can channel mental success into physical success and achieve wins on the baseball field. If these ideas work for you, spread them throughout your organization and the wins will begin to occur naturally.