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A Look Inside College Baseball’s Top Mental Performance Program

by Brian Cain, MPM

I’ve had the privilege of working with Ole Miss Baseball, one of the top college baseball programs in the country and 2009, 2014 and 2018 Southeastern Conference Champions.  Working closely with their Head Coach Mike Bianco, his staff and players has been a highlight of my mental performance coaching career.

From being in the dugout and winning 2-3 games against the #1 raked team in the nation in front of over 14,000 fans in Oxford, MS to Regionals, Super Regionals and a trip to the College World Series in 2014, it’s been a valuable learning experience for me and a realationship that is near and dear to my heart.

Coach Bianco continually challenges me to bring new ideas, sharper processes and a more detailed process to help him continue to create an edge for his program with mental performance training and advancement and enhancement of their culture of REBS (relentless, excellence, belief and selfless).

One of the best mental performance coaches I have ever worked with in baseball, Coach Bianco is a master of the mental game.  He shares the benefits that mental performance training has brought to Ole Miss in our podcast that you can access here.

I was fortunate to join Coach Bianco and the Rebs on a trip to Baton Rouge where we played a 3 game series against the #1 ranked LSU Tigers with the SEC West Championship on the line.  It was the same weekend they dedicated the field at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium to former LSU Coach and a hero of mine, Skip Bertman.  To say it was surreal might be the understatement of the century.

Coach Bianco played for Skip at LSU and then coached with him from 1993-1997 winning the NCAA National Championship in 1993, 1996 and 1997.  I will forever be grateful for Coach Bianco introducing me to Skip and allowing me during one of the three games to step aside from the team to interview Skip for over 3 hours.

Skip was close with my mentor Dr. Ken Ravizza.  Skip had brought Ken in to work with his teams in the 90’s and they were on staff together with Team USA Baseball in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in which they brought home the Bronze Medal.

That weekend in Baton Rouge I hired a film crew to come with me and document the experience.  I knew it would be special, I had now idea just how special it would actually be.

That weekend I was able to capture “Inside College Baseball’s Top Mental Performance Program” and put together this 10 part video series where you get to see how Coach Bianco and the REBS utilize strategies from my Mental Performance Mastery (MPM) Certification Course and 30 Days to Mental Performance Mastery Program (which his team goes through every season).

Let’s take a look inside Ole Miss Baseball and their Mental Performance Mastery program

#1: PRACTICING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM

in 2009, Coach Bianco and I were talking about the importance of attention to detail as part of our approach to training routines and habits of excellence (Pillar #7) and creating the right culture (Pillar #10).  Having everyone in the program stand the same way and understand the history of The National Anthem and why it’s played before every game was an important part of creating the elite mindset (Pillar #1) that he wanted in his players.  How you do anything is how you do everything and as a part of the culture of Ole Miss Baseball, REBS stands for Relentless, Excellence, Belief and Selfless.  Practicing and paying attention to The National Anthem is also an example of a commitment to excellence and selfless.

 

#2 DOG TAGS

Great teams are player led, not coach fed.  The leaders (Pillar #9) in the lockeroom wanted to have a physical representation of their culture (Pillar #10) that they could have on them at all times, a symbol of putting the team first.  They choose to use dog tags as that physical representation of their investment into culture and a physical reminder that the decisions of one effected many and that no matter what they did and where they want, they always were representing the program.

 

#3 PERSPECTIVE POSTER

Having an attitude of gratitude and a compared to what mentality are critical components of an elite mindset (Pillar #1) and help set the foundation for building resiliency, self-control (Pillar #4) and the capacity to withstand the adversity that baseball presents on a daily basis.  Coach Bianco asked his players to share a photo of someone in the players lives who when they reflected on that person and how that person lived their life, it gave them hope that they too could handle any and all adversity that came their way whether that be a bad at-bat losing a game, an injury or a pandemic.  The players presented on their “perspective poster” in front of each other and this helped develop their leadership (Pillar #9) skills.

 

#4 PLAYER OVER STARTER

Coach Bianco is a true believer that the process (Pillar #5) leads to results and that in baseball you must focus (Pillar #3) on controlling what you can control.  Every player at Ole Miss was an all-state player, the best on their high school team.  When they get to Ole Miss, they are now one of many great players, often for the first time, they are not the best player on their team.  We made it a point to keep the process over the outcome, to keep a focus on being the best player for the team vs. on the team and to keep your focus on becoming a better player (a controlable goal) vs. being a starter (an outcome outside of the players control, decided on by Coach Bianco).

 

#5 ROAD WARRIORS

When you play baseball in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and every weekend is a heavyweight battle against a top 25 opponent, results are real.  One of the components of our elite mindset (Pillar #1) development was to focus on what we can control (Pillar #5) and on playing against the game, never the other team.  Keeping our focus on the game, playing as close to our best as we can, focusing (Pillar #3) on what’s happening between the lines vs. all of the outside distraction has been a key igredient of our mental performance training.  Taking the mentality of being “Road Warriors” and “One Pitch Warriors” who focus on the next 200 feet in front of them has helped the players stay in the present moment and performing at their best regardless of the competitive circumstance.

 

#6 MENTAL AT-BATS

When you’re not in the line up, you can choose to get bitter or better.  The position players who are not currently in the line up stay locked into the game by taking a mental at-bat with the person who is playing their primary position.  This keeps them into the game on the bench, keeps them visualizing and average of 3-5 pitches 4-5 x a game so that when their opportunity comes, they will have more confidence in their preparation.  Separation is in preparation and Ole Miss has found a lot of success in pinch hitting opportunities while using this mental imagery (Pillar #6) routine (Pillar #7) as a part of their preparation process (Pillar #5)

 

#7 MENTAL IMAGERY

The night before each game, Coach Bianco and I take the players through a deep relaxation, meditation and mental imagery session (Pillar #6).  Everything happens twice, first in your mind and then in reality.  Laying the players down on the floor in the hotel, talking them through and having them reflect on the successes of that day and what they will experience the next day is a huge competitive advantage as the brain does not recognize the difference between what you physically do and what you vividly imagine.  It’s processed with the same psychoneuromuscular pathways.  In my MPM Certification Course I give you the exact script I use while taking baseball teams through this mental imagery exercise.  This skill alone will increase the confidence, decrease the stress and improve the performance of your players.

 

#8 THE QUALITY AT BAT WHITE BOARD

Baseball is one of the few sports where we keep track of your errors and stats that you largely don’t control, like batting average.  As a part of our commitment to process (Pillar #5), we focus (Pillar #3) on quality at-bats over batting average.  The reason is that our players have a lot more control and influence over having a quality at-bat than they do getting a base hit.  We evaluate quality at bats (Walk, Hit By Pitch, Hard Hit Ball, See 8+ Pitches in an at bat, go down 0-2 and see 4 or more pitches, any RBI, Any Sac Fly/Bunt, Moving a runner from 2B -> 3B with no outs, quality placed bunts) and keep track of them in-game to keep our teams focus on the process, winning pitches and controlling what we can control.

 

#9 ROUTINES

Baseball is a game of consistency and routine (Pillar #7) is the foundation of consistency.  Coach Bianco often reminds his players that the secrets of their success are hidden in the routines of their daily lives.  As a part of the pre-pitch routine, we emphasize taking a breath on a focal point (a pre-determined spot you look at that demonstrates that you are in control of yourself, critical because you have to be in control of yourself before you can control your performance), this breath helps facilitate the self-control (Pillar #4) and present moment focus (Pillar #3) that our players need to give themselves the best chance for success in winning the next pitch.

 

#10 RELEASE

When you compete in baseball and the other team is close to or equal to your level of ability, the game will be riddled with failure, frustration, adversity and challenge.  In baseball, unlike most others sports, you can do EVERYTHING right as a pitcher or hitter and still not get the result you are looking for.  With all of the failure that in baseball, we train the players and coaches to have a 3 step release process that when they have the self-awareness (Pillar #4) to recognize that they are losing control, what we call in yellow or red lights, they have something to go to to get back in control of themselves.  That process includes a (STEP #1) physical action with an association to release the last pitch, (STEP #2) deep breath on a focal point to help further release the frustration and get back to the present, and (STEP #3) a verbal trigger to move on to the next most important task with a clear and present focus.

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  • Create the championship culture you need in your program to develop elite athlete leaders and cultivate a clear vision that keeps your people motivated and juiced up.

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