Brian sits down with his mentor Ken Ravizza, a legend in the field of sports psychology and peak performance. Ken shares his experience in Major League Baseball, working in nine Olympic Games, and with multiple NCAA National Championship-winning teams. Pick up a copy of Ken’s new book Heads Up Baseball 2.0 at HeadsUpBaseball2.com!
Ravizza breaks down the differences between Heads-Up Baseball and Heads-Up Baseball 2.0.
- One pitch at a time
HEADS-UP BASEBALL 2.0
- Be a team player
- Simplexity – simple and complex – chicken sandwich analogy
He also breaks down the importance of:
- Revisiting the mental game on a daily basis
- The three steps to being an elite competitor (Know it, Do it, Own it)
- The importance of elite training and practice
- Developing a system that works for you and identifying that system with your A, B, C games
- Compete over confidence, and how fragile confidence can be
- Finding a way to get it done when you don’t feel great
- Refocusing over focusing
- Being external vs. internal
- Thinking at the right time and distinguishing thinking from awareness
You’re not always going to feel great. But the issue is you give 100% of what you’ve got to win that pitch. That’s what it takes to compete.
Cain: Hey, how are you doing? Brian Cain, your Peak Performance Coach, here with the Peak Performance Podcast. Today it’s truly an honor and a special gift to be able to interview my mentor, the master of the mental game, the greatest Peak Performance coach that’s ever been around – Dr. Ken Ravizza.
Let me give you my background here with Dr. Ken Ravizza. I remember it clear as day. July 4, 2000. I’m in Boston, Massachusetts. I walk into a Barnes & Noble for whatever reason. I don’t know why I was walking into a bookstore that day. Probably the person I was with wanted to go in a bookstore. I went over to the sports section and I pick up a book, Heads-Up Baseball. If you have not picked up Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 yet, hit pause and go buy it on Amazon because it’s the greatest book I’ve ever read.
I’m sitting there in Barnes & Noble that day. The best part about the way that Dr. Ravizza wrote this book is there are little black boxes that give you basically the 20% or the CliffsNotes version of the book and you get through it in about 30 minutes. I read it and I said, “Good God.” As a college baseball player, how come no coach I’ve ever had has talked about focusing on the process over the outcome? How come no coach I’ve ever had has talked about just trying to win a pitch instead of winning a game or winning a job? How come I’ve never heard someone say You’ve got to be in control of yourself before you can control your performance? God, that makes so much sense. So I actually bought the book.
I bought the book. I go back to Vermont. I send Dr. Ken Ravizza an e-mail just on a whim saying, “Hey, I loved your book, I’ve never heard someone coach like this, I’m going to graduate from college here in about a year and I would love to come out to Cal State Fullerton and study under you and oh, by the way, I want to be a college baseball coach – could maybe I volunteer with the Titans and learn that program?” Three weeks later I get a handwritten letter back to my dorm in Vermont.
That book and that e-mail to Ken and then the handwritten letter back completely changed the course of my life and everything that I’ve ever been able to do, whether it be traveling out of the country to do different events in baseball in Holland, in Austria, in Japan – whether it’s being able to go around the country and do what I would pay to do as a Peak Performance Coach – all of that ties back into my relationship with Ken Ravizza. He was my mentor and my advisor at Cal State Fullerton in 2002-2003 and I asked the man to be the best man at my wedding. He was the first person I called when I had proposed to my wife and she said yes.
So, Ken Ravizza, his resume stands alone. Over 40 years of Major League Baseball experience and psychology with the Angels, with the Dodgers, with the Rays, with the Cubs, and I’m sure there are other teams as well. Experience with the New Zealand All Blacks, the most successful sports organization in the world. If you’ve been to the College World Series in Omaha, you’ve seen him in the dugout with various programs, winning a National Championship with Cal State Fullerton in 1979, 1984, 1995, 2004, then again with UCLA in (I believe it was) 2010, and also many times there with the University of Texas and the legendary coach Augie Garrido.
It is truly a privilege to be able to interview my mentor and the author of the new book Heads-Up Baseball 2.0: Five Skills for Competing One Pitch at a Time, Ken Ravizza. Welcome to the Peak Performance Podcast and thank you.
Ravizza: Brian, I’ve got to pick myself up off the floor after that. Unbelievable. You just went on and on. Really something. But I’ll tell you, BK, the thing that’s very important here is I had the good fortune of being able to learn from so many great coaches and so many great athletes. Not only great athletes, just the athletes and students that I had the privilege of working with. I’ve just been so fortunate in terms of that. Then also being able to have the graduate students like yourself and the others that were here with you over the years to be able to share information for students to question what you’re doing, ask questions – it only helps you get better. So, yeah, my career has been a blast. And you were always fun to work with, Brian. No question about that.
Cain: Well, I appreciate that, Ken. I think the people listening to this – there are the people that see Ken Ravizza the teacher and they see Ken Ravizza the sports psychology person. What they don’t probably realize, maybe if they haven’t spent enough time around you, is that you’re a learner first. And I think you just nailed it by saying from the great coaches you’ve been around and the students you’ve had, you’ve probably learned as much from them as maybe they’ve learned from you. At least that’s what you would think. But I’m sure they’ve taken much more out of their relationship with you just being as experienced and well versed and into the field of sports psychology. Really I would say kind of the pioneer and the creator of the mental game in sports psychology when it comes to applied sports psychology, not something that you do in a lab.
Ravizza: Right. And I was very fortunate in the sport psych world of having the real pioneers – Bruce Oglesby was just incredible in sports psychology. Harvey Dorfman in the baseball world, sharing ideas with Harvey. In one time, 1985, when I started in Major League Baseball, Harvey was doing the Oakland A’s, I was doing the Angels, and we were the only two people doing the world. Then Charlie Maher came in with the Indians a couple years after that. It was the three of us doing the work.
What’s amazing, Brian, is in 2017 now 28 of the 30 teams have sports psych programs for their organizations. It’s really been in the last 5 years that this has really taken off in Major League Baseball so it’s very exciting to see the way it has come and it’s evolved. No question about it.
Cain: Well, and most organizations (like the Chicago Cubs that you’re with), they’ve got more than one person, don’t they?
Ravizza: Yeah. What most of the organizations have is someone at the big league level and then a various team of people working the minor league levels. With the Cubs we’ve got Josh Lifrak, who coordinates our program. Josh does a really good job of just making sure all the pieces are working together. Then we’ve got Darnell McDonald, an ex-player, and John Baker, aplayer. John is working on his degree in sports psych and he’s helping out. Then we’ve got Ray Fuentes from a Latin background and he works with our Latin players. It’s really a collaborative team approach. My work is primarily with the big clubs and a lot of that is because of my relationship with Joe, because Joe and I go back 25 years. We’ve been doing this together for a long time.
Cain: Ken, I always get asked as a student of yours – they always say, “What makes Ken Ravizza so good at what he does? Is it the content, is it the system, is it the energy? What is it?” And I think I know what my answer is to that, but I’d like to ask you that question, Ken. As a guy who’s been able to get in Major League Baseball when it started and now you’re still in there 40 years later, what makes you successful when it comes to the mental game, do you think, and being able to serve as a mental conditioning coach or a peak performance coach?
Ravizza: One thing I’ve got to clarify, Brian, is it’s really only been 25 years since I’ve been involved in Major League Baseball. But I think in terms of that, one of the things is just going in and being able to keep your eyes open and learn from what that environment and what those people are teaching you so that you understand the culture you’re walking into.
I think one of my attributes is the ability to be patient. Ironically, like you know when you were here as a graduate student, all of the things that we talk about in working with athletes we have to use on ourselves, to work on ourselves because if we’re working on ourselves, that means when we go to the athletes it comes from the heart. It comes from the soul more than just from the head. Do you have to have the information? Definitely. Do you have to know some of the research? Definitely. But the key becomes being patient and packaging it in a way that coaches and athletes can relate to and they can understand.
The key with that, Brian, is it’s like that quote from Einstein: “You have to make it simple but not too simple.” You have to simplify things but you’ve got to keep the essence. You’ve got to keep the core in there and still have the point come across. So those are a couple of the things that I think are very important. In my years of doing it, it became – one of the things is I’ve worked in different environments. Environments where people were totally supportive. Environments where there wasn’t as much support. There are many times when you’re in that world, the clubhouse, that you feel uncomfortable and you have to deal with it. Even at this stage in my career there are times where I just sit back, center myself, take a breath, and just at times remind myself to be patient.
As my wife Claire shared with me one time when I was sharing the frustrations of the club, she said, “Try just going in there; keep a straight back and an open heart.” That sounds corny but it’s been very helpful. Because there are times that you feel a little out of place and that’s part of the work. I’m still trying to get my arms around it. It’s an ongoing process, no question about it.
That’s what’s different about Major League Baseball, professional ball – why the minor leagues are different than the big leagues. That’s what different than the college ball, high school ball – that’s a totally different scene. When I go into UCLA, Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton – when you go in there, I mean you’re in charge. You do what you want to do. You present the program and you are on it. It’s just a different context that you’re working in.
Cain: Than at the Major League level?
Ravizza: Major League level is different because you end up working with the players mainly on an individual basis. Being a teacher, at times I miss, when I’m with the Major League club, getting in front of the group, doing the presentation and really getting into it.
Cain: I think part of, too, of why you’ve been successful, Ken, is because of your ability to develop relationships.
Ravizza: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You have to. One thing we know is people have to know you care before they care what you know. You have to spend the time taking care of the relationship building. No question.
Cain: Fantastic. For the coaches that are out there that are listening to this podcast, before we start getting into Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 and the new book that is coming out – which is incredible. I mean, I don’t know how you – when you said you were coming out with Heads-Up Baseball 2.0, I was thinking well, Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 was so good how do you write a sequel to that? And we’ll go into that in a second.
But let’s stay on this path about relationships because I love what you say about people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. The best coaches that you’ve been around – and you’ve been around Hall of Fame coaches in almost every sport, Olympic level – what are some of the ways that you see, whether it’s Joe Madden with the Cubs or Augie Garrido when he was at Texas, what are some of the ways that you see coaches connect with athletes in a day and age when maybe it’s harder to connect than ever because of just the world that we’re in?
Ravizza: I think first and foremost, Brian, is that coach knows himself as a coach and knows himself as a person. That they’re authentic in the way they’re presenting themselves to the team. With those coaches you have to do it with your personality.
I remember way back in the day being with Tom Osborne at Nebraska in my early years of sports psych. His presence and his awareness and sensitivity to his players was in his way. A true gentleman. But that was his thing. Augie had a different approach. Augie’s approach was more philosophical, spiritual in perspective. Joe Madden, walking around in the outfield with a fun belt bat talking to each guy individually.
Then Mike Scioscia Mike has his approach. A little more distant from the players but they know he’s into the game. They get it, they respect the way he goes about his work. The key is, as a coach, you’ve got to spend time getting to know yourself. You can’t be somebody else. You’ve got to be authentic to you. Can you make changes and adjustments? Absolutely. As you need to. In this day and age the athletes are different; it’s a different time and you do have to make adjustments. No question about it.
Cain: When you talk about kind of getting to your core (let’s say) as a coach and knowing who you are so you can better connect with those that you serve, if we look at the core of Heads-Up Baseball, the first book, playing the game one pitch at a time, that you coauthored with Dr. Tom Hanson – when I read that book, the core of that book that really changed my life and changed my course, and as well as the tens of thousands of people I’m sure it has had the same impact on, is about taking responsibility. That you control your reaction to everything that happens. It’s that whole Victor Frankl mindset. It’s one pitch at a time. It’s really present, process, positive.
Then just getting into that at a super-deep level, if you were to say what’s the core of Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 and then kind of how that has evolved into Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 – let me rephrase that. If I were to ask you to talk about the core of Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 and then what has kind of evolved and really motivated you to write Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 because of what you’ve learned – let’s go back to Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 and talk about the core and then talk about the need for Heads-Up Baseball 2.0.
Ravizza: I think it’s a great question, the evolution of Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 to Heads-Up Baseball 2.0. Let me start with getting started in baseball. I probably worked in baseball at the college level, at the professional level with the Angels, working with their minor leagues big club – but a lot of colleges. Learning from Dave Snow, Mike Weathers, George Horton, Jerry Weinstein – just great coaches – Skip Bertman. I mean, just having the privilege of being around those guys is incredible. It was probably after about 15 years I finally felt I was ready to write something. I have something I have to share.
When Tom and I – because I’m not the greatest writer, as you know, Brian – Tom was a very energetic young coach at that time. He kept pestering me to do this and finally I said, ”Okay, let’s do it.” It was fascinating because what we were going to do in Heads-Up Baseball was we were going to write a sports psych book, which meant it would have goal setting, it would have self-regulation, it would have imagery and visualization, it would have self-talk monitoring. We’d have the classic psychological skills.
As we started getting into the book, what we found real quick was we didn’t want to do that. Instead of taking psychology and applying it to sport, what we wanted to do was look at the sport experience and let it come out of sport. So then we started getting into things like one pitch at a time and how do you play one pitch at a time. I think that was one of the things that really I found, as I was reflecting on those coaches that pulled this all together, it was about keeping the process greater than the outcome, and to do that you’ve got to take care of one pitch at a time.
With Heads-Up Baseball the three major things were one pitch at a time, process over outcome, and the third factor being routines. Those were the big three in Heads-Up Baseball. So, Heads-Up Baseball, we finished that, and then for 20 years that book just – I mean, hey, it said everything. Brian, there isn’t much I’d change in the first book. Then finally, after about 20 years, I said things have changed. Just with the athletes talking with the coaches, I kept hearing from coaches at the college level especially, the athletes don’t know what it means to be on a team. Whoa.
Now in 1995 when Heads-Up Baseball was written, guys knew what it meant to be on a team. It also talked about the athletes don’t know what it means to compete like they used to. 1995 you didn’t have to talk about what it meant to compete. 2005 you didn’t have to talk about what it meant to compete. 2017 you’ve got to talk about what it means to compete. Why? I think a lot of that is because the kids don’t go out and do the sandlot thing, play Wiffle ball, and compete. I mean it’s all organized, travel ball, these types of things – which has incredible advantages, let’s be clear. They do. In terms of skill development and things, the athletes are probably better off. But in terms of getting dirty and competing, that became an issue that I kept hearing from coaches.
The two big things in Heads-Up Baseball – well, there’s I would say three big things. One is that the book is about how to compete. Tied into how to compete is taking one pitch at a time. I remember when we were writing the book, there was a certain point where we were into it and Tom said to me, “If you had to summarize what this book is about in one sentence, what would you say, Ken?” This was probably after two years of working on it. I said, “Tom, it would be real simple – give 100% of what you’ve got to win the next pitch.” Give 100% of what you’ve got to win the next pitch. You’re not always going to feel great. But the issue is you give 100% of what you’ve got to win that pitch. That is what it takes to compete.
The second thing is we had a talk about what it means to be on a team and how you contribute in so many ways when you’re on a team. Part of it is embracing your role. Some guys are starters and some guys come off the bench, but the key becomes we’ve got to get our players to that rail supporting their teammates. We’ve got to teach our players to enjoy another teammate’s success. Those are skills that come into play, no question about it.
The third thing with Heads-Up Baseball 2.0, Brian – and we can get into these more in our discussion, these three points – but the third thing that I’ve come up with and where I’m at right now is the mental game is very complex. It’s so complex but at the same time it’s simple.
Tom came up with the term “simplexity,” which I love. The game can be simple at times but it’s complex. It changes. It’s not black and white. It ebbs and flows. It’s undulating. It’s moving. I mean, where you are one day you may not be the next day. It’s this idea. I think in Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 it was like read the book and maybe some guys would go back and look at different pages and things, but sometimes a guy would read the book and put it on the shelf because it’s read.
Where I think the mental game is at today, man, you’ve got to revisit it on a daily basis. Just like you tape brown balls, just like you play catch, you’ve got to be working your mental game because it’s an ongoing process. It’s also about you’ve got to know the mental game, you’ve got to do the mental game, which is a whole different thing because we know an intelligent young athlete can learn it pretty quick and how many times for the coaches said, “I know, coach, I know.”
For the coaches out there, when you hear that – the next time the kid says that to you – ask them, “What do you know?” so that they can at least give it to you. And be thankful at least they can verbalize it. But it’s a whole other level taking it from knowing it to doing it. Doing it, you have to do in practice. It begins there. Practice is where the action is. Then you go from practice into the game and then you’ve got to own it.
Own it is where you’ve got to develop your system that works for you. You’ve got to have that system that works for you when you’ve got your A game, you’ve got your B game, and you’ve got your C game. In Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 we talked about routines. Really, we had everyone looking at the label, at the bat, pick a spot, take a breath, yeah. But where that has moved for me is that works for one guy. Another guy, it may be the sound of the tap of the plate. Another guy, it may be squeezing his bat with his hands when he’s in the box. Another guy – I remember Peter Bourjos; his thing was he would smell the pine tar on his bat. People have to come up with their system that works for them.
When we say that – it’s what I was saying about they have to know themselves when they’re going great, when they’ve got their B game, and when they’ve got their C game. One thing – and you and I have gotten into this discussion, Brian. I know you talked a lot about dominating. But there are also times where what I’ve learned is confidence is fragile. Confidence is fragile. It ebbs and flows. You’re not going to maintain it all the time.
It was like this year in spring training with the Cubs, my first meeting with them. We had all the players in the room. I said, “November 3, that night in Cleveland when we won the World Series, how many of you guys felt great?” Not one hand went up. “How many of you guys felt really good?” Not one hand went up. I said, “How many of you guys didn’t feel great but you competed your butt off?” Every hand went up. After 162 games, 18 playoff games, who is going to feel great? It’s about compensating and adjusting.
Peak Performance is more about refocusing than focusing. It’s more about having a good crappy day and getting it done. The question I’m asking athletes all the time is, “Hey, are you that crappy that you have to feel good to perform well?” I think we get too damn into I’ve got to feel good, I’ve got to feel just right, I’ve got to have this energy, I’ve got to be here. BS. You’re not that bad. And if you are, start practicing, start creating more blisters, and do the work so that you have that inner confidence in your preparation and the way you go about playing the game.
Brian, I went off a little bit on that but I couldn’t help it.
Cain: No, man, I followed. So you’re saying that the core of Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 if you had to boil it down to the three things would be process over outcome, one pitch at a time, and routines. And the core of Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 is going to be how to be an elite competitor, how to be a team player, and then kind of the simplexity of the mental game. But I think that even in Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 the process, the one pitch at a time, and the routines also comes out.
Ravizza: Oh yes. I’ll tell you it was amazing doing the book because when we did it – and I remember talking to you about that I was going to do it and you were pumping air in my tires about it, and I thought I was going to bang it out in a year and it ended up taking Tom and I four years to do it. The reason for that was we bounced ideas back and forth and just really got into it and interviewing so many coaches and getting the different perspectives and trying to put that into a framework that could be teachable.
What I’ve really seen – and it’s one of the things with the work for me that’s a challenge, because where we’re at today with our athletes is they want something quick and simple and it’s right here. But once again, we can’t make it too simple because it’s not that simple. What we have to do is we have to present it in a way that works for them but they also have to understand the complexity of the thing. No question about it. No question. It’s these undulations between. Is there pressure? Yes. But you’ve got to keep the pleasure greater than the pressure.
You’ve got to be external when you compete. You’ve got to be out there. The pitchers, you’ve got to be in the catcher’s mitt. The hitters, you’ve got to be out on that release point. But there is also a time you’ve got to be internal. For a pitcher, when you’re committing to your pitch. For a hitter, when you’re committing to your plan at the plate, what your approach is going to be. But then when it comes time to compete, you’ve got to be external.
One of the biggest problems I’ve had in my career – and I apologize to all the athletes. I think especially of the 2004 Long Beach State Team that got Evan Longoria, Troy Tulowitzki, Jered Weaver, and we did not get to Omaha. I take responsibility for that because the guys were too darn internal with their routines and they weren’t external enough out there competing. From that failure I’ve really gotten a good routine, takes you out as a hitter to the release point and as a pitcher it puts you in the catcher’s mitt. When you’re there, that’s where the competing is. But the game is filled with these undulations – external/internal, pleasure/pressure, process/outcome, being a teammate/taking care of yourself. How do you find those balance points in between? That’s where the game gets a little messy.
Cain: You talk about the undulations and in your book Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 you share the example of a chicken sandwich. Would you talk a little bit about the chicken sandwich now? I think it’s so fitting for what you’re talking about right now.
Ravizza: Brian, I was thinking of bringing that up. Thank you for encouraging me on it. The chicken sandwich analogy was at one point when we were doing the book, a good friend of mine – as a matter of fact, the guy that got me and Bob to Major League Baseball, Marcel Lachemann – we were having dinner in Arizona during spring training with Marcel (I had interviewed him for the book), and he asked me how it’s coming. He said, “What have you got on the mental game, Ken?” I remember he said. At that time a chicken sandwich was – I ordered a chicken sandwich and it came and I said, “Marcel, the mental game is like this sandwich.”
The bottom layer of the bun is the player’s self-doubt, fear, confidence level. The chicken – that’s when you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to execute yourself. The cheese – that’s where your body is at. You’ve got aches, you’ve got pains, you’ve got sore arms, a sprained ankle, whatever. The tomato – the tomato is how has your practice been going, how have your bullpens been going, how has BP been going? The lettuce – the lettuce is your personal life. Some days you take the field you’ve got a fresh piece of organic romaine lettuce. Other days you take the field and you’ve got shredded lettuce. I mean, you’ve got a lot of stuff going on. That’s going to undulate because for the student-athletes we’re working with, they’re coming from stuff across campus and classes and social life and family, and all of these things get put into what they’re going through. The dressing represents the ballpark I’m playing in, the venue that I’m in. I like the field. I don’t like it. I like the lighting. I like the infield. Whatever. The top part of the bun is the competitor who is trying to beat you. He is the guy that you’re battling.
What holds this sandwich together is a toothpick, and the toothpick is self-knowledge. You’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to know where you’re at with all of these things. When you eat the sandwich, you take the toothpick out, you pick up that sandwich, it smells great, you take a great big bite from that sandwich and the goo comes down the side of the mouth and you wipe it, and then the chicken slides over and you adjust it. Then you take your next bite and the tomato moves over and you’ve got to move that. The lettuce slides and you move that. Then you take the next bite.
That’s what’s happening as you play the game. Each pitch the game is changing. That’s the beautiful thing about baseball and it’s a beautiful thing that we see when we get to playoff level, Omaha. It gets down to pitches. It gets down to pitches that people are engaged in – even in Major League Baseball World Series, it’s pitch down to pitches. After 162 games, 18 playoff games, it’s down to winning pitches. That’s where 100% of what I’ve got to win the next pitch. I do everything I can to get that chicken sandwich as neat as I can and I take my bite. But it’s constantly moving.
Cain: In Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 that’s how you guys define what it means to be a competitor, is to give everything you have to win the next pitch. Is that right?
Ravizza: Absolutely. Absolutely, Brian. The thing that I’m excited about that we’re doing is, yes, the book is going to be a read that people can read in sections, short pages. I made sure, like Heads-Up Baseball 1.0, the text is big. There are a lot of cartoons. There is a lot of good stuff in it. But it’s not where you sit down and you’re going to read the book in three days. No. You’re going to read parts of it at different times because the mental game is an ongoing journey.
What I’m really excited about that is different in 2017 than 1995 is that – and Brian, you’re not going to believe this, but I am getting pushed into the next century and we are going to have a Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 membership that once a month people can contact us, ask questions. We can have dialogue with them. This really comes from the work that you’ve done and getting the message out there to people and coaches. I know for me the only way people see me is if I’m physically there. What I’m finally getting – and some of it comes from your encouragement, Tom Hanson’s encouragement, Matt Morris – “Ken, we’ve got to get you out there.” I’m sort of Humble Ken. Well, but I’m finally doing it and it’s going to be an ongoing thing where people can check in and we can talk about it.
The other side of this, Brian – and you know this – is there are pitfalls that go with the mental game and obstacles that people run into. Very quickly. For me some of the pitfalls in the original issue with sports psych, back in the day, was you’re going to get my athletes thinking too much. That’s a problem. But good mental game isn’t thinking too much. Good mental game is doing the thinking at the right time and being able to distinguish thinking from awareness. Those are two different things because you do have to be aware and you do have to be focused.
One of the things I mentioned earlier, another thing where we’ve got athletes and problems, we get them too into their mental game. Too into their routines. They’re not external competing with what they’re doing. Another pitfall we’ve ___ is just that there is too much going on in their performance instead of keeping it simple. As coaches you run into problems with the mental game and we want to be able to be there to troubleshoot some of those and help people in working their way through them.
Cain: I was just working with a college baseball team last week and teaching the concept of the pre-pitch routine. A player – we were giving him kind of the framework for here’s what’s in a routine, here are what routines look like, you guys have got to take this here and know what we’re trying to get to, which is control yourself and get in the box to be able to compete one pitch at a time with what you’ve got. Here are some ways other people have done it. We showed different videos. Then you want them to own it by coming up with their own.
This one player, it literally took him like a minute to talk about his routine. He goes, “Well, I tap my cleats twice and I put my bat under my arm and I undo my gloves and I stretch and I do this and I hit my toe and I hit my toe” and it was like just trying to get to what is the one thing for you that is the most important? Is it smelling the pine tar? Is it taking a breath on the label? Is it taking a breath even at the pitcher? Like let’s cut out all the shit and get to the one thing that is the most important thing for you to do, that if you do that is your trigger (like looking at a focal point and taking a breath) that says you’re in control?
Could you talk a little bit about that importance because I see it with the volleyball teams you work with – the player taking a breath on a focal point before she serves or before they pitch. You see it with the Cubs if you watch them and they go to the postseason here. You’ll see it all over the place. Talk about the focal point because I know that is one thing that really resonates through both Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 and Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 that I think people can often get confused on, the importance of that and what it is.
Ravizza: The focal point is something, Brian, that it really came back from my work with the Olympics. The last Olympics was my ninth Olympic Games. I’ve done six Summer Olympics and three Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics were all with figure skaters. Going into Olympics I had the chance afterwards to really interview the athletes and ask them what were the most helpful things that we talked about. The overwhelming reaction first and foremost was the breathing and how important that was.
But the second thing was the focal point – the focal point being something when you go into that venue and you’re just familiarizing yourself with that field that you take a moment and you select something, whether it be the ball on the flagpole, a tree, and then of course a foul pole. That goes to Evan Longoria because Evan had a foul pole and we did that thing with E:60, which I think is a wonderful teaching tool for coaches because to hear someone of Evan Longoria’s caliber talking about the mental game and his ability to articulate it was huge.
Cain: That was unbelievable.
Ravizza: That focal point when you look at it, one, it brings your attention external, but the second thing is it’s a reminder. It’s a reminder of the blood, sweat and tears. The hay you put in the barn. The practice. It reminds you to pull your chest up and “I belong here.” It’s a way to get that 100% of what you’ve got and you’re ready to get into the next pitch. It’s something to go to when the garbage hits the fan. As we always talked about, Brian, yeah, the garbage is going to hit the fan at times. It may be between at-bats that you go to it. It may be for a pitcher after he gives up a home run going to that area where he releases the pitch, flushes it. Very often I recommend they stand on grass and feel their spikes dug into the grass, go to the focal point, pull the chest up, and then BOOM, come back.
Some players will do it pitch to pitch and that’s where the focal point may be the label on the bat. It may be the tapping. But it’s more locking into this pitch. The focal point as a whole I view as something a player may go to 3-4 times in a game, when it’s really going sideways, to regroup. Except for the at-bat. They have their routine to start the at-bat.
As you said, I find players are different. With the guys that I had in Long Beach, in Cal State Fullerton, over the years, I asked them – the ones that are in the big leagues – I asked them, “How did this stuff help you?” They said, “What helped with the mental game is it gave me something to go to; what’s different now in the big leagues is I’m not doing it every pitch, I’m not doing it every at-bat – I’m doing it when I need it.” I said to the guys, “Well, does that mean then when I’m working with a college team, we shouldn’t be doing it as much as we are?” They all said – every guy said – “No. At the college level you’ve got to learn your system and you have to do it, but at this level I’ve been doing it so long that now I’m able to recognize that signal light, that I need something to go to, and I’ve got my system I can go to.”
That’s the type of thing that is a little bit confusing, because before it was crystal clear, now it’s a little muddy – but hey, you’ve got to figure it out. One thing we always talked about is one pitch at a time is an onion. There are so many layers to one pitch at a time and stuff that goes on with it that it is incredible. You just go deeper and deeper into it.
Cain: I’m sure you’ve seen the article that came out on ESPN right after the All-Star break in 2017 where Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, who was being talked about as American League MVP, American League Rookie of the Year, just taking the game by storm for the Yankees, and he wins a home run derby and then he goes 1 for 21 after the All-Star break.
There was an article on ESPN where he talked about Aaron Judge uses dirt to clear his mind. In the article he references that when he was at Fresno State playing for Mike Batesole he started to read Heads-Up Baseball. When he recognizes that he is in a yellow light or a red light, he’ll step out of the box, he’ll grab dirt, he’ll put it in his hand, he’ll feel the dirt, he’ll throw it away to bring himself back in control of himself.
Then ironically, two days ago I was over at Arlington Stadium watching a guy I worked with at TCU who is pitching for the Rangers and they’re playing the Yankees – and I got to see Aaron Judge up close in person and got to see him work that whole routine where I think it was a 1-2 count and he got a fastball that he fouled straight back. You saw him step out of the box, undo his gloves, grab the dirt in his hands, and then toss the dirt. Yesterday he goes 2 for 2 with two monster home runs.
So I think that you can see guys doing it. It’s just if you don’t know what you’re looking for – I think sometimes people who are just coaches that are not versed in Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 or Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 wouldn’t even notice that people are doing it.
Ravizza: The nice thing is, I think, where the game is at and where coaches are at there is so much more acceptance of this. Someone like Aaron Judge, when he was up at Fresno State – he was working with Mike Batesole and Steve Rousey was working with him as well at Fresno State – where he got it was in a class. They have a class for the baseball guys where in the off-season they actually read Heads-Up Baseball and go through it and they get familiar with the terms.
But one thing we’ve got to be real careful with is just because you do your routine – you take your breath, you pick up the dirt – it doesn’t mean you’re going to get your result. What it does mean is you’re working the process, you’re controlling the controllables, you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to succeed, because from my perspective all I’m trying to do when I go in and work with athletes is I want them – what they’re able to do in their practice and training they’re able to take into the competitive arena. If they can do that, that’s all we can ask.
If they can’t do it in practice and training, coaches, you’d better coach them up or you’d better get some other players. But hey, they’ve got to do it in practice, then in the game bring it to the game and you’ve got stuff to go to. You have a toolbox, an assortment of things to help you out so that you know when I’ve got my A game I go to this, when I’ve got my B game I may have to go to something a little different but I have a system in place, and when I have my C game then I may go to something else.
With the C game, for the coaches out there, when your kid is struggling with his C game, stop trying to get him to his A game. Just get him to his B game. Sometimes just make it less crappy instead of trying to make it great. That’s just so important for me. It’s the thing that I find is really exciting. In talking with coaches, I think that’s what your coaches find is exciting – is how you figure this stuff out in working with the athletes that you’re working with and what works best for that young person with where they’re at on that given day.
Cain: Well, to take one of the terms I remember you said so eloquently back in 2002 and 2003 when I was a grad student of yours, is “have a good shitty day.”
Ravizza: I tried not to use the term for your show. I wanted to keep it above board. But it’s “have a good shitty day.” Some days it’s like that. Where that really comes up for me, Brian, is with a lot of the Olympic athletes and professional athletes that I work with – they are driven, they’re perfectionistic, they’re hard on themselves. Let’s be real clear. Being a perfectionist and being hard on yourself, that drives you. That helps get you to that level.
Cain: It’s the double-edged sword.
Ravizza: But the issue is we can overplay that card. That’s where they’ve got to start learning to curb it. The perfectionist views things as great or terrible. That’s where less shitty comes in. How bad was it? Well, it was a little bad. It was moderately bad. It was really bad. Break it down. The other thing it gets you to do is step back and laugh a little bit, and that’s also important. We’ve got to keep it in perspective.
Cain: No doubt. I think that was something that really hit me when I read Heads-Up Baseball the first time as a college baseball player was – and then I heard you talk about it in grad school and so many of the things that stuck with me, this one was as big as any of them. I remember you drawing on the board. With your artistic ways you drew a sword and you said, “Perfectionism is a double-edged sword; it’s going to motivate you to do better but it’s also the constant critic.” At a certain level, when you get to a certain level of performance where talent evens out, the constant critic is going to zap you of any chance at performing at a high level.
Ravizza: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. But also, Brian, it is a strength. It’s not just bad.
Ravizza: It helps get you there.
Cain: No doubt.
Ravizza: Let’s keep that in perspective. I’ve done some work with heart surgeons and they’re pretty perfectionistic. And I’ll tell you if I’m on the table in there, I want them to put in a really good stitch. I’m not sure it has to be a perfect stitch because one thing I learned from the surgeons is perfect stitch kills. Sometimes it takes too long to make a perfect stitch. Just make a good stitch. That’s sort of one of the things Joe Madden talks about with the Cubs: Do simple better. Just do the simple things and just do them really well.
His other phrase is “try not to suck.” Try not to suck. What does that do? (1) It twists your thinking. (2) It gets you to laugh. (3) It gets you to just focus on being good. You’re not that bad you have to be great. Just be good. Just make a good pitch. Not a great one. Just a good one.
Cain: Well, I hope for our listeners on this podcast today, I hope that they look at this and say that it’s at least a good podcast and they got a good understanding of you and your experience and what you’re coming out with, Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 – and if they’re listening to any of the Peak Performance Podcasts, they’ve heard me talk about you for years. I’m super excited to have you on.
I know for the listeners they’re going to want to get more Ken Ravizza. They’re going to want to get Heads-Up Baseball 2.0. They’re going to want to enroll in your monthly coaching process and membership group because you’re right – you need to have that support. Who better to have support than the guy who essentially created the mental game of baseball, Ken Ravizza?
I know I don’t get to talk to you as much as I’d like to (because I’d like to talk to you every day) but I know every time we have the opportunity to get together – my hand is sore from taking so many notes on this call already. I still go back in my car and listen to classes that you taught in 2002 and 2003 that I audio recorded so that you’re living in it all the time. I think that for those coaches that want to make that next jump of listening to this podcast to wanting to kind of make it a lifestyle and start to learn more, is the best place for them to go to www.HeadsUpBaseball2.com? They can get the book and join the membership group there? Is that right?
Ravizza: You got it, man. I would be interested in their feedback to it. One thing, Brian, that we really emphasize that I emphasized to Tom and Matt Morse in terms of doing it is, hey, if people aren’t satisfied, any money you contribute you will get it back. I think that’s important because I feel that strong about what we’re doing. It’s not a problem. Some of the things that you shared that I think are very important is just to see the way that you’ve taken this and gotten it out to people is really impressive because you’ve touched a lot of people and that’s very important. In this day and age I think the technology is there. I’m kicking and screaming but I’m getting dragged into it and I’m really excited about where this could go. I’m going to try it out and see if I can fit in. It’s hard getting a dinosaur to move. You’ve always tried. It’s really an exciting time for me.
The other thing, Brian, that you said is when we get together we sit down and we talk. You ask questions and I ask you questions. For the coaches out there, that’s what it’s about. It’s about watching other coaches. It’s sitting down with coaches. Sitting down with people and just exchanging ideas. Not that you’re right or wrong but just, hey, what’s it like to walk in your shoes? What’s it like to coach the sport that you coach? I would encourage some of the coaches – maybe you coach baseball but you have a friend that coaches tennis; go watch his practices and just see what you pick up. After practice debrief. Talk about what you see.
This is something I do when I go to the universities. I have the coaches go and watch each other’s practices and exchange ideas because, Brian, it’s what you’re putting out there. It’s about learning. It’s about getting better. It’s an ongoing journey.
Cain: No doubt. I hope people make the investment to continue the journey over at www.HeadsUpBaseball2.com. I know I have been there when the book first came out. I appreciate you sending me kind of an advance copy. I think I read the thing in one day and couldn’t put it down. Since then I have probably given out over 100 copies to close friends and coaches I work with. I give them your book, not mine, because I still believe that the best book that has ever been written was Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 and I would put Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 right there.
But Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 had so much impact in my life. It’s hard for me to recommend any other book than that one. But I will tell you that Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 I think even takes it and expands on it.
And I think the thing that Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 is so powerful about is in Heads-Up Baseball 1.0 – it came out in 1995 so the players that you’re quoting in there are the Dave Winfields, the Rod Carew The players today don’t even know who those guys are. If you look at – I’m going to just open up and let me flip the five pages and let’s see. Okay, there is David Price. Quote. There is Anthony Rizzo. Quote. Next page there is Ricky Romero, who is a Fullerton guy and an All-Star. There is Kris Bryant. And let me find one more quote here from a player. John Savage and Anthony Rizzo. So when you look at Heads-Up Baseball 2.0, it’s like this is the who’s-who of baseball right now.
If you’re a high school coach or a travel coach or a college coach or you’re a pro baseball player and you want to know what the best guys in the world are doing, because success leaves clues, and if you can follow the processes and the routines and the habits and the way that the best people on the planet think in your sport, then you’re going to give yourself the best chance to try to become one of those elite people.
I think in Heads-Up Baseball 2.0, Ken, you’ve captured it as clear as it’s ever been captured and as current as it’s ever been captured. I just want to thank you for living a selfless life and investing yourself into other people and investing yourself into growing others and growing the game. Thank you so much for just being you.
Ravizza: And thank you, Brian, and thanks for this opportunity to be on your show and contribute. Thank you so much.
Cain: My pleasure. Everybody head over to www.HeadsUpBaseball2.com. You won’t be disappointed. 100% money-back guarantee from Ken and from me. Double back on your investment if you pick up Heads-Up Baseball 2.0 and you say, “You know what? This isn’t the baseball book. Hell, this isn’t the best performance book I’ve ever read” – because I’ve just had two coaches that I work with (a lacrosse coach and an NCAA basketball coach), two of the top in the game, go sit down with you, Ken, and they came back and I said, “How was it?” And they said “It’s unbelievable. That was the fastest three hours of my entire life.”
So if you’re not even a baseball coach listening to this, whatever field you’re in, if you want to be elite and you want to maximize your chance for success and, most important, maximize your chance for service for others by showing up consistently yourself and being present, pick up Heads-Up Baseball 2.0; and if it’s not for you, you will get a double-back investment on your investment – one from Ken and one from me. Thanks for checking it out. Www.HeadsUpBaseball2.com. Don’t wait any longer. Head over there now. See you.
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