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Play Ball! How a Tiny Toilet Can Help You Focus … and Flush

By Marilynn Preston

Dr. Ken Ravizza, a sports psychologist, who had more than 40 years in the field, training baseball players to knock it out of the park, died this summer.

I’m guessing you’ve never heard of him. Neither had I before I read a touching tribute to him in The New York Times by Billy Witz, who calls Ravizza a “pioneer” and a “trailblazer” and one big reason why the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.

Ravizza “changed the way athletes think about the games they play,” Witz writes.

Back when Ravizza was preaching his oddball theories, sports psychology was right up there with shamanic drumming as a way to get baseball players to hit better, field smarter and win more games.

“I don’t believe in it,” Witz quotes a dubious player from 2005. “I think it’s for people who are weak-minded.”

Hah! Now, 26 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams have a “mental conditioning coach,” and players in any sport who ignore the powerful mind-body connection have two strikes against them.

“Baseball is rooted in failure,” Witz reminds us. “The best hitters are out two-thirds of the time. So hanging on to hope is vital, even for elite athletes.”

Hanging on to hope is more important than ever, no matter what sport you play or newspaper you read. So let’s review a few of the revolutionary mental conditioning tips that Ravizza taught, because there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t have to stand at the plate, take our best swing and wait for the next pitch.

BE IN THE MOMENT

There’s no woulda, coulda, shoulda in Ravizza’s theory of winning baseball. He used to give out miniature toilets to his players, tiny enough to tuck into their baseball gloves.

“It became a fixture in the dugout,” Witz writes, “a metaphorical cue to flush away a bad at-bat, a poor pitch or a fielding mistake.”

FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE

This is the great gift of modern sports psychology, ever since the experts learned about being in The Flow, and how we mortals can get there. It’s true for baseball, and it’s true for golf, tennis, running, basketball and showing up at work every day, hoping to be your best.

No negative self-talk. Never beat yourself up. Your mind will want to dwell on the negative – “You idiot, why’d you swing at that?” – because that’s what minds left unattended are hard-wired to do.

It’s your job as a conscious being wanting to improve your batting average, or your life, to let go of negative thinking and focus on the positive.

Find the one thing you are doing well, Ravizza would tell his players, and put your attention on that, not on the 10 mistakes you can dwell on in the game video. For a deeper dive into all that, read the classic book Ravizza wrote with Tom Hanson, “Heads Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch At a Time.”

FORGET THE PAST

“When the Cubs won the World Series two years ago,” Witz reports, “one of Ravizza’s proudest moments was the pep talk Jason Heyward gave to his teammates while they were waiting out a rain delay in the ninth inning of Game 7.

“The gist: Forget about anything bad that had happened that night – like blowing a late lead – and play like the team that had the best record in baseball.”

And they did. And so can you, if you’re willing to bring your mind into play and practice, practice, practice positive thinking. It takes time and resilience. They don’t call it mental training for nothing.

HAVE A ROUTINE

It’s one thing to say you’re going to “be in the moment,” but how do you actually make it happen?

Kurt Suzuki, a veteran catcher for the Atlanta Braves, is a devotee of Ravizza, and here’s his routine: He stands in the batter’s box, “fixes his gaze on the trademark of his bat and takes two deep breaths.” He resets after every pitch.

Another player, Luis Severino, slows himself down by writing the word “paciencia” – “patience” in Spanish – on the bill of his cap.

What routine can you develop, in your sport, your life, to slow down, focus, breathe in, breathe out and get ready for the next pitch?


– Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America’s longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book “All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being” is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

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