Mental Toughness: A Champion's State of Mindby Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl, Casey Tefertiller
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Mental toughness is the art of turning promise into performance. It's about individuals taking control of their lives in order to gain the most from their abilities. In baseball, every at-bat or pitch is a test of mental toughness, particularly as players advance to higher levels. Here Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl, and Casey Tefertiller, working from a vast combined experience, have broken down the elements of mental toughness into an easily understood package. Not only baseball players but other athletes as well as managers, coaches, and parents can learn how such elements as attitude, confidence, and the ability to focus and make adjustments are built and how they can help players reach their maximum performance. In Mental Toughness, many leading professional players share their insights and offer a glimpse into the minds of major leaguers—how they think and why they act in the ways they do. Among the players and coaches who took part in the writing of the book are Sean Casey, Dave Stewart, Robin Yount, Scott Spiezio, Bud Black, Scott Brosius, and Mike Bordick. Readers will find that the same skills of mental toughness that lead to success on the playing field also translate into personal life and business. Individuals who develop efficient attitudes and learn concentration skills are far more likely to succeed. Mental Toughness is about forming a strategy for baseball—and for life—that is most likely to bring achievement and satisfaction. With 20 black-and-white illustrations.
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MENTAL TOUGHNESSA CHAMPION'S STATE OF MIND
By Karl Kuehl John Kuehl Casey Tefertiller
IVAN R. DEECopyright © 2005 Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl, and Casey Tefertiller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMENTAL TOUGHNESS: A WAY OF LIFE
In the racially torn America of the 1940s, the idea of bringing African Americans to major league baseball seemed abhorrent to some players and fans alike. But with a growing social undercurrent that opportunity should be open to all races, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey set out on a noble experiment: to begin the integration of baseball by bringing a black player to the Dodgers. What Rickey understood completely was that the man who broke the color barrier would need intestinal fortitude and tenacity almost beyond realistic measure. Rickey knew that fighting back physically against generations of inbred racial attitudes would serve only to intensify tensions and probably turn the noble experiment into an ignoble flop. For this mighty role, he made the surprising choice of Jackie Robinson, a man who had made a life of fighting back, both in college at UCLA and during his World War II stint in the army. When Rickey made the offer to Robinson in August 1945, he said:
"We can't fight our way through this, Robinson. We've got no army. There's virtually nobody on our side. No owners, no umpires, very few newspapermen. And I'm afraid that many fans will be hostile. We'll be in a tough position. We can win only if we can convince the world that I'm doing this because you're a great ballplayer and a fine gentleman."
Rickey detailed the troubles he expected Robinson and the Dodgers to face, from taunting fans to slashing spikes, all of which Robinson would have to endure without reprisal. Robinson looked at the general manager and asked, "Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?"
"Robinson, I'm looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back," Rickey told him.
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier during the 1947 season with restraint and resolve. Early in the season the Dodgers hosted Philadelphia. Alabama-born Ben Chapman managed the Phillies and instructed his players to heap abuse on Robinson in order to shake him and throw him off his game. The Phillies yelled at him to go back to the jungle, hurled racial epithets, and slung hate. Bench jockeying was a norm for baseball of that era, but this level of abuse exceeded any standard.
"I have to admit this day of all the unpleasant days in my life brought me nearer to cracking up than I ever had been," Robinson wrote a quarter-century later. "For one wild and rage-crazed minute I thought, 'To hell with Mr. Rickey's noble experiment. It's clear it won't succeed. I have made every effort to work hard, to get myself into shape. My best is not good enough for them.' I thought what a glorious, cleansing thing it would be to let go. To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create. I could throw down my bat, stride over to that Phillies dugout, grab one of those white SOBs and smash his teeth with my despised black fist. Then I could walk away from it all. I'd never become a sports star. But my son could tell his son someday what his daddy could have been if he hadn't been too much a man."
Instead Jackie Robinson showed restraint. He seethed under the surface but never let an emotion show on his face or in his body language. In the eighth inning against Philadelphia he singled, stole second, and scored the winning run. Robinson won the game, and he won the day-not with his fist, but with his mind.
This is mental toughness. It is the mind-set to meet a challenge and overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of success. It is the inner strength that creates resolve and dedication, the courage to fight back from failure. It is the understanding that achievement rarely comes without enormous hardships along the way, and that the mentally tough are those who can work their way through the ordeals and persevere to success. It means keeping your head when others around you are losing theirs, and it means having the courage to speak up at the right time-or stay silent, as in the case of Jackie Robinson. The goal for mental toughness is a conscious decision a person makes in order to increase his or her opportunities for success.
Baseball is a game, a lifestyle, in which mental toughness is particularly necessary. It is a sport in which the mental elements are as demanding as the physical; where talent and mind-set combine to create achievement. Enormously talented athletes wash out because of a lack of desire or a breakdown of mental toughness. Far less talented players find their way to the major leagues for long and successful careers because of their mental strength. Of Jackie Robinson's teammate, Eddie Stanky, Rickey said, "He can't hit, he can't field, he can't throw. All he can do is beat you." In baseball, many less talented players reach higher levels of achievement than their more talented brethren. This happens in high schools, colleges, and on to the professional levels. It is almost always because of the formidable combination of desire, perseverance, and attitude that makes up mental toughness.
When professional scouts or instructors refer to "makeup," they mean mental toughness. It's a collection of values, attitudes, and emotions, a blend of the flexibility to make adjustments with the stubborn perseverance to overcome obstacles. Players who are mentally tough know how to control their emotions to perform in clutch situations; they can stay calm when breaks go against them; they avoid becoming intimidated; they don't give in by changing plans, losing sight of goals, or taking the easy way out; they do the work to grow tough physically as well as mentally; they push themselves to become their best, even working through exhaustion; they are disciplined and avoid easy distractions; they bounce back from disappointments and adversity; they are prepared and know how to prepare; they do not make excuses, particularly to themselves; they overcome fear. Mental toughness requires a state of alertness that allows the player to react quickly to changing situations while remaining intensely focused. It is a combination of self control and discipline that allows quick, intelligent decisions at the most intense moments. Everyone feels fear; the mentally tough learn to execute despite fear.
Mental toughness and physical toughness are very different. Bulging muscles and brawn are no measure of the person within. Confusing the two is a mistake that athletes often make.
The vast majority of people bound through life almost adrift, reacting with emotions and feelings rather than reasoning out the consequences of their actions or their best course for success and achievement. When something goes wrong around them, they fail to evaluate the reasons; instead they make excuses, rationalize, and blame others. Mental toughness would enable them to take control of their own destiny and get the most out of their ability. It will not always work; there are no perfect solutions to every problem. But it is, simply, the most effective approach to virtually all arenas of competition. Mental toughness is a quality that has been exhibited by virtually all leading athletes, by military leaders from Hannibal to Colin Powell, and by exemplary titans of business.
Baseball is different from most other sports in that it is a team game filled with individual challenges. In football, all players must work together to make an offensive play click, and other defenders can make up for a missed tackle. But in baseball the batter stands alone in the box, and there is no second chance if the outfielder fails to catch that drive in the gap. Yet teams must work together to score runs or turn double plays.
Within the game itself are subplots and dramas. A pitcher may try to gain an advantage over the hitters by using intimidating body language, such as the fabled "death stare" of Dave Stewart, his almost bloodthirsty gaze of defiance toward every hitter. Pedro Martinez pitches inside with force, and he never allows a hit batsman to affect his concentration. Martinez gains an advantage because no one enjoys being bludgeoned by a ninety-five-mile-per-hour fastball. A subtle psychological drama unfolds on nearly every play, since every event is a failure or success for one side or the other. If a hitter has a bad at-bat, or has a hit stolen by a great play, he must learn to put the failure behind him immediately and not allow it to affect his defense. Baseball demands dealing with failure-the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time.
Without mental toughness, failure eats at the soul, erodes confidence, and can snowball into disaster. Although the basic concepts of the mental game in baseball have been part of the sport almost since its inception, it has received growing emphasis in the last dozen years. Athletes and coaches have begun to recognize that talent alone does not translate into success. Many college coaches emphasize a player's mental skills in recruiting, choosing players with a strong work ethic and great competitiveness over players who may be more talented but less motivated. Major league teams ask their scouting staffs to grade personal attributes-such as dedication, aptitude, and maturity-along with a player's physical tools. This allows teams to better understand the person as well as the player. A few teams even perform personality tests on prospective draftees to get a better handle on a player's mental makeup.
Everyone who has participated in sports has a mental game at some level of refinement. In baseball the mental game is critical because of the idle time involved in the game, which allows the mind to wander. What is the player thinking about between pitches, at moments of inaction? Is his mind on the game, considering the next set of possibilities? Or has his mind drifted to his date after the game? TV analyst Bob Costas wrote in his book Fair Ball, "In any sport, the anticipation of what might happen is almost as important as what actually happens." Confidence, concentration, attitudes, and an approach to learning are all elements of the mental game. Mental toughness brings these elements together and allows an athlete to perform to the best of his or her ability.
But mental toughness is a skill, not a talent or a gift of nature. It is learned and developed. The individual must determine whether to choose a path of honing his or her mind toward a course of strength, power, and preparedness. It is a personal choice to take control of one's abilities and strive for success. Mental toughness is a process of using your mind to gain the most from your abilities. It is, very often, the difference between being a talented person and being a successful one.
Excerpted from MENTAL TOUGHNESS by Karl Kuehl John Kuehl Casey Tefertiller Copyright © 2005 by Karl Kuehl, John Kuehl, and Casey Tefertiller.
Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Karl Kuehl is special adviser for baseball operations for the Cleveland Indians. Formerly manager of the Montreal Expos, he has also been a minor league manager; a coach for the Minnesota Twins; a scout for Houston, Seattle, and Milwaukee; and director of player development for the Oakland A's. He wrote The Mental Game of Baseball with Harvey Dorfman. John Kuehl played in the minor league organizations of the Oakland A's and the San Diego Padres, and was named to three all-star teams before injuries abbreviated his baseball career. He has been a regional scout for the A's and has managed in the minor leagues for their organization. Casey Tefertiller wrote on baseball for the San Francisco Examiner and is now a staff correspondent for Baseball America. His earlier book, Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, was a New York Times Notable Book of 1997 and a History Book Club selection.
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