Monica Abbott is the D1 Softball All-Time Career Leader in Wins, Strikeouts, Shutouts, Innings Pitched, Games Started, and Games Pitched. After her collegiate career, she signed the most lucrative contract ever for a female in professional sports.
In this episode, you will learn…
- How Monica went through the 4 Stages of Buy-In before participating in mental training.
- The situations she visualizes and puts herself through (both negative and positive) before going out to pitch.
- When she uses visualization and breathing outside of softball.
- Monica’s definition of success both on and off the field.
- And more…
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION BELOW
All the mechanical things – did I hit my spot, did I not hit my spot, could I have thrown the ball harder, could I have broke this rise ball a lot faster, could my change-up have been slower – all those things you’ve got to worry about in practice. In the game I’m going to worry about am I fully committed to this pitch and am I in the moment to throw it. Those are the most important things.
Cain: Hey, how are you doing? Brian Cain, your Peak Performance Coach, here with the Peak Performance Podcast. Today our guest is quite possibly the greatest female athlete on the planet, Monica Abbott. She was a four-time All-American pitcher at the University of Tennessee and set the NCAA Division 1 softball all-time record for career wins (you might want to take note because there is a lot), strikeouts, shutouts, innings pitched, games started, and games pitched. She was the 2007 Consensus Softball Player of the Year and the 2007 Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year. The Santa Cruz, California, native is the only player in NCAA history to register 500 strikeouts in each of her four collegiate seasons. She threw 23 no-hitters in six perfect games, one at Tennessee.
She was a member of the Team USA softball program in 2005 and in 2008 was a part of the silver medal-winning softball team at the Beijing Olympics. In May of 2016, she signed a six-year contract with the Scrap Yard Dawgs of the National Pro Fastpitch League worth one million dollars – the most lucrative ever paid by an individual American professional franchise to an active female athlete in any team sport.
You can learn more about Monica at www.MonicaAbbott.com and on Twitter @MonicaAbbott. Please welcome to the Peak Performance Podcast, again one of, if not the greatest female athlete of all time, Monica Abbott. Monica, thank you for joining us.
Abbott: Hi. Thanks for having me. Such a great introduction.
Cain: I’ll have to record it and send it to you so you can use it as an alarm on your phone when you wake up.
Abbott: Oh, no! Please no!
Cain: Monica, if you would for our listeners, let’s talk to our audience as if they’re softball coaches/softball players. We’ve got coaches and athletes from all sports, but if you could talk about your mindset and the importance of the mental game when it comes to softball success.
Abbott: Well, I think every day we practice. We practice a lot on all of the little things – pitching, hitting, softball. Any sport you’re always practicing. But when it comes down to that big moment, you have to know. You have to know somewhere deep inside yourself. You have to know somewhere deep inside your heart, inside your brain, that you can do it and that you want to compete in that moment. You never know when that big moment is going to come in a game, in a competition, and those moments can come once during a game and they can come continually and you have to be ready. You have to know both mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, all that good stuff; you have to know that you’re ready to capture that big moment.
Cain: Are there times, Monica – and obviously with the success you’ve had in your entire career – are there times where, maybe it was in the Olympics or in your freshman year at Tennessee or even now playing professionally in Japan, are there times where maybe you don’t feel great but you still go out and perform at a high level? Maybe your confidence going into the game that day from a feeling standpoint is not where it could be or where you’d want it to be but your performance is still top-notch?
Abbott: Yeah, of course. I mean, there’s everyone – it’s human nature to have a little bit of doubt or nervousness or just not knowing if you’re 100% ready. Did I do everything? All those questions that kind of pop up in your mind, like should I have practiced a little bit more? Should I have run more? Should I have lifted more? All these questions that people have before the game starts, when you’re warming up the night before. Am I ready? Do I have everything? Those types of questions. You still get that feeling. That never goes away. But it’s that level of trust.
Do you have that level of trust that the work that you did will suffice for what you prepared? Are you prepared enough? Did you do what you needed to do to prepare for this moment? Then once the game starts you’ve got to kind of push it all to the back and throw it out, throw all that negative – I always say throw it out of your brain. That’s kind of like my thing. Let it fly over. That’s another good one. Let it fly over, throw it out, and stay in that moment.
Cain: Talk about let it fly over and throw it out. It’s kind of like a baseball player that wears a hat. Taking the hat off, letting the negative go away, put the hat back on. It sounds like maybe you’ve got some Ken Ravizza at one point in your career. Have you worked with Ken at all?
Abbott: Way back in the day. At Tennessee I worked with Dr. Joe Whitney. He was on our campus. I worked with him a lot on visualization and mental training. Ken Ravizza worked with our national team a little bit here and there. But I’ve always kind of had this thing and Dr. Whitney kind of helped me find something to kind of just shake off the negative, whether it’s a thought or whether it’s a moment when the game gets really fast. We talk about hey, all of a sudden you throw one pitch and then there’s a runner on first and all of a sudden there’s a runner on second and “what’s happening” and you start spinning a little bit and the game gets really fast. How are you going to throw it out or forget about it so that you can make your next pitch in that big moment for your team?
Cain: You mentioned Dr. Joe Whitney and small world – I actually did my Masters at Cal State Fullerton under Ken Ravizza and then was going to go pursue a PhD at Tennessee with Joe Whitney and decided to take another course. So small world.
Abbott: He’s a good one, yeah.
Cain: Yeah, fantastic.
Abbott: He helped me a lot at Tennessee. I worked with him all four years. Even when I was competing with the national team afterwards he helped me kind of really get a lot stronger mentally. A lot tougher, I guess I would say. A lot tougher.
Cain: So, Monica, for a lot of athletes when they first get turned on to sports psychology and they’re like, “Oh hey, we’ve got this sports psychologist on campus or one that works with our team,” the initial response – and maybe you went through this, I went through this as an athlete – was like, “Hey, I’m not screwed up. I don’t need to go talk to this sports psych person.”
Cain: But I think when we come to a certain point where you’re like, “Hey, I want to be the best I can be” – and obviously for you, you want to be the best that’s ever played the sport, the best in the world, so you’re exhausting all opportunity to get better. Did you go through that with sports psychology or were you immediately open-minded to it?
Abbott: I did. I did because my freshman year of college I went away for school so I was kind of far from home, and being a young 18-year-old and a lot of new things going on plus I went across the country to the University of Tennessee. It was actually suggested by my college coaches (Ralph and Karen Weekly) that I go and just try it out. At first I was kind of like, “I don’t need to go to mental training, I’m fine, I don’t need to see a sports psychologist.” I had all these kind of weird thoughts. But then after a while I kind of realized that it wasn’t really – it was more so just kind of preparing me. I felt a lot calmer in the games. I was able to control my emotions, especially in big situations. I really latched on to the visualization and then just creating kind of a routine that sets you up for success.
So my freshman year I was kind of like “this is weird.” But then as I went on I decided, “I think this can really help me out, if I want to compete in the Olympics in 2008, if I want to play professionally after college, if I want to try and compete for a national championship, I need to get it together upstairs as well.”
So then later in my career – my junior, senior, and sophomore year – I really took advantage of Dr. Whitney. He even ended up coming to the World Series with us. I called him from Beijing. He was a great asset to me.
Cain: That’s awesome. You mentioned one of the things that you worked on with Dr. Whitney was visualization and mental training. Would you talk a little bit specifically about visualization and how you used that maybe leading up to a game, and then do you actually ever use that in the bullpen or in a game and maybe see a pitch before you throw it? Is that something that you do consistently?
Abbott: When I first started doing it – so I think (and you can speak on this) visualization is something that kind of has to be practiced before you become really good at it. When I first started, we would play Saturday and Sunday and I would go see Dr. Whitney on like Thursday, and we would visualize in his room and he would kind of walk me through like a breathing routine to kind of calm my mind and calm my body a little bit. Then we would walk through the game, the first inning through the seventh inning, and we’d create fictitious situations like runners on, no runners on, how am I going to react, watch yourself do this routine afterwards. After something negative happens. Watch this routine after you give up a hit. Watch this routine after you strike someone out. What are you doing and what is your visualization? How do you see yourself? That was how it kind of first started.
As I’ve gotten better at actually visualizing – because you’ve got to practice it – as I got better at visualizing, sometimes I would do it right in between innings sometimes or just a little bit at night before I go to bed on game day. Now I tend to do it before I pitch at some point during our warm-up when I just have a little bit of quiet time. Maybe if I’m stretching alone or sometimes I use these bands (J-Bands, Jaeger Bands) and sometimes I do it when I’m doing the bands. It doesn’t take me long to kind of just see because now I just walk – I don’t walk through an entire game. I walk through a few pitches or a few moments depending on what I feel I need that day.
Cain: You mentioned a breathing routine. Could you talk a little bit about that, and do you actually take a breath in your wind-up (let’s say) as you’re getting on the rubber and you’re looking down and then the head comes up? Is there somewhere in there where you’re taking a deep breath every pitch to help you go one pitch at a time?
Abbott: Yeah. Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think if anything, I really focus on my breathing routine in-game. The visualization kind of out of game. I don’t really do that in-game as much. But breathing for sure. In between pitches I do this little routine where I kind of like dust off the mound or something. I do different little things that have kind of helped me kind of reset myself.
I’m a big proponent for taking a deep breath because I feel like it not only calms you but it keeps you in the moment. It keeps you in the moment mentally. It keeps you in the moment physically. It makes you forget about what has just happened or what’s going to happen and it keeps you in that moment. If you can perform at the highest level in one moment throughout the game in moment, moment, moment, moment, moment, all these moments, then you can throw your best pitch. You can be fully prepared. Then at that moment – if I throw my pitch and let’s say I was in the moment and let’s say I threw it and I was completely 100% in the moment and it gets hit, I don’t have to have any regrets because I know it was in the moment. I know I was there mentally. I know I was there physically. I know I was there emotionally. That’s what breathing helps me do.
If I give up that hit, I can feel like I did everything I did. On to the next one. Then I can continue to be in that moment and know that I can again bring it mentally, physically, emotionally, on that next pitch. So having that constant breath allows you to bring it with everything you have in those moments of the game that you really need to.
Cain: I love it. A friend of ours and mutual, Alan Jaeger… One of the things that Alan has helped me a lot with over the course of our relationship is just doing a simple meditation and breathing exercise out of competition so that when you’re in competition – which for you would obviously be softball. For me it might be being on stage in front of 5,000 people or jumping into doing IRONMAN or something like that. Whatever the time is when you get a yellow light or a red light and you start to speed up a little bit in whatever aspect of life, you can kind of go back to the meditation that you’ve practiced that breath so that you know it’s there, and when you take it – and I feel like when I take it before I go out to perform (per se), I feel like it dials me back in and I get back in the moment and in control. Is meditation something that you do off the field as well?
Abbott: I’m not as big into meditation. I do do it occasionally. But is it very true. I do the same. Whenever I go out to speak in front of big groups or whenever I put on events, I always use my breathing techniques, I use my visualization techniques, because it really does center you and allow you to kind of get that – what would you say? Like a laser focus kind of?
Cain: Get locked in. Yeah. Kind of gets you revved a little bit.
Abbott: Yeah, it gets you revved a little bit and it just brings everything together. If you’re already prepared, just that one moment to kind of take it all in really helps. I do it even when I do my events also.
Cain: You mentioned you only have control of where you throw the softball and you can throw the exact pitch that you want to and sometimes – not often for you – but you make a pitch exactly the way you want to, it’s going to get it. It happens even to the best pitcher on the planet. How do you define a quality pitch and how do you define success for yourself in the circle?
Abbott: Great question. How do I define success? Well, one for me is did I stick to kind of my routine? Did I throw the pitch that I wanted to throw? Did I have doubt? Did I have doubt when I – did I have that little voice in my head saying, “Ooh, maybe this pitch would be better to throw?” So did I fully 100% commit to throwing that pitch? That’s one thing. Then also was I in the moment? Was I in the moment?
Cain: Awesome. So did you throw the pitch you wanted to throw and were you in the present moment.
Abbott: Was I in the present moment. That’s success to me. All the mechanical things – did I hit my spot, did I not hit my spot, could I have thrown the ball harder, could I have broke this rise ball a lot faster, could my change-up have been slower – all those things you’ve got to worry about in practice. In the game, I’m going to worry about am I fully committed to this pitch and am I in the moment to throw it? Those are the most important things to me.
Cain: I love that. So we talked a little bit about how you define success for yourself. If you take your whole softball career – and not just Monica Abbott the softball pitcher, but Monica Abbott the human being – how do you define success for yourself in life right now at where you are?
Abbott: I think for me it’s am I making a difference? Am I making a difference in athletics? Am I being an example for someone else? Am I creating a dream – you can call it cheesy if you want, but am I creating a dream or something for someone else? When I step on the field are the people watching me being inspired by my play? Are they being motivated by how I present myself on the field? That’s for anyone. That’s for someone that’s five years old and just playing softball. That’s for the 12-year-old baseball boys that come out to play, the brothers. And that’s for the parents. Are they inspired by that maybe their daughter could be that same one? Am I being that light, that vision of motivation and inspiration for them? Every time I step on the field in Houston with the Dawgs I really hope that people see that.
Cain: I love that. So you talk about separating the kind of who from the do. Everybody knows Monica as the pitcher, but I think having that mindset that you have of being a role model for other people to look up to. You use the word “cheesy” – I think it’s inspirational that we’ve got professional athletes that are out there trying to live their life the right way and do things the right way to be a model for other people to grow the game and to help inspire other people to do great things.
Abbott: Yeah. When I was younger there wasn’t a professional league. There wasn’t National Professional Fastpitch League. There wasn’t – when I was younger and first started playing softball, softball wasn’t even in the Olympics until I was in like middle school so I didn’t have that vision of the female athlete to look up to. I feel like because I didn’t have that and I was always watching baseball or watching the older kids in my rec league, I feel like if I could be that example that I so wanted as a young kid, then I’m going to leave the game a little bit better than I found it one day. It really does start that way.
If I can just create a little bit of inspiration for all those that are watching and create that excitement, because sports are exciting. They’re fun to watch. I want someone to turn on the TV and be like when they see Lebron James playing basketball, be like “Ooh, Monica Abbott is pitching tonight.” I want them to have that same feeling when they turn on the TV.
Cain: That’s awesome. Well, it’s funny that you were mentioning that because I was just thinking, “Man, I can’t wait for 2020 in the Olympics, to be able to turn it on and see Monica out there in the circle getting after it and ripping it up.” That’s going to be awesome.
In terms of – you talked a little bit about taking your breath before you go to speak or before you have an event. All the skills that you’ve learned coming up through softball – I mean, obviously you get paid to go out there and pitch because you’re the best in the world at that. Well, at some point you’re not going to be pitching softball anymore but you’re still going to take all the lessons you’ve learned through softball and you’re going to apply it to your life and be successful in whatever it is you decide to do.
For the listeners to this podcast, for the young women (let’s say) out there that are softball players that know, “Hey my career is going to be done in college,” what would you say are the skills – whether it’s mindset, routine, controlling what you can control, emotional control, breathing, etc. – what would you say are some of the skills that you’ve learned through softball that softball players can use when their career is over to be successful in anything they pursue?
Abbott: Just in general?
Cain: Yeah, just in general.
Abbott: Pretty open question?
Abbott: Okay. I would definitely say one thing all athletes have (obviously teamwork), I think consistency is a huge one that is really valuable in the workforce. In whatever life after athletics is, consistency coming – as athletes we go to the field every day, we practice, we do our routine, we go home. That consistent aspect is so important in life after athletics. But also being able to capture moments, creating momentum, creating momentum for a big project and capturing that moment to really capitalize on selling your product or whatever it is that you’re doing. So creating those moments for you.
Then also, of course, I’m a big proponent of visualization and taking those deep breaths, because whether I’m standing on the mound throwing a pitch with the bases loaded and trying to get a strikeout or whether I’m going in to talk to my boss about something important, everyone needs that moment to kind of calm themselves and stay centered in the moment and that’s important, and you can use that any time, any day.
Cain: Monica, let’s backtrack a little bit. One of the things you mentioned was J-Bands. If you go to any college baseball program in the country, you’re going to see 12 pitchers with 12 bands out on the fence doing all these different stretches and things like that. I’ve got gold ones out in my garage that I was hitting this morning – as a former college baseball pitcher who is now trying to learn how to swim, trying to keep the shoulder and keep the moneymakers intact here. I don’t see a lot of softball players using J-Bands. I don’t see a lot of softball players doing arm care (it’s like they just get in and get going) but I think that they should. Could you talk a little bit about the benefits that you’ve gotten from J-Bands and why you would encourage other softball players to start using those?
Abbott: Well I’ve been using bands. I’ve been with Alan and I’ve helped Alan Jaeger and the J-Bands and helping him to bring him/break him into the softball community. He’s getting there. Especially after collegiate level. Still working on the youth level but at the collegiate level, it’s a lot more prevalent now. But you’re totally right. We have these great shoulders and our little moneymaker babies here so we’ve got to take care of them. The more that we take care of them, the more they’ll take care of you, so that’s important.
I think it really is important if you’re going to train your body, if you’re going to train for a skill, if you’re going to train your mind, if you’re going to eat right – if you’re going to do all these things, you’ve got to make sure that you’re doing all the other little things too, such as taking care of the little muscles in your shoulder or your knees or those things as well.
Cain: Awesome. Monica, we’re going over our last questions here. If you could go back, let’s say to Santa Cruz, California, 20 years ago and there’s a little girl there in the circle and you could go in and do like a surgery and remove part of her skullcap, plant a couple seeds of success inside of there, put the skullcap back, no one would know the surgery happened and those seeds of success would germinate and make you even more successful, what is it you know now you would plant inside of Young Monica’s head?
Abbott: It doesn’t happen overnight. I think that’s a big one, especially these days with technology it’s just – it doesn’t always happen overnight. Stay consistent. Stay persistent. Continue to believe in yourself. I wish I had a lot more confidence as a younger athlete.
Cain: Let’s talk about that for a second – confidence.
Abbott: I wish I had been a little bit more confident at a younger age and had kind of owned who I was a little bit more. Really owned it as an athlete. And also probably as a woman also. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really learned that who I am on the softball field, that confident attitude and stuff, it’s so important. People are going to react to you how you show them. If you’re acting like an unconfident kind of person, then they’re going to perceive you that way. So it’s important. Little things are important. It’s so important to just believe in yourself even on the days where you don’t feel that great because people are going to see you the way that you’re feeling on the inside.
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