Cognitive Skills in Baseball By Garrett Pape Lamar Community College The skills that people use on a daily basis are extraordinary, the way we use these skills can be extraordinary or disastrous. There are so many things that a human accomplishes with physical activity, yet these physical activities are started with a set of skills that most human beings have. These skills involve the brain and are called cognitive skills. The brain is where all activity starts; before a person does anything their brain tells them how to do it.
For example, if a person wants to pick up a cup of water off of the table, their brain will order their hand to the right placement for you to be able to accomplish the task at hand. Cognitive skills, also known as cognition, are known to influence peoples lives daily. These influences will affect a person’s life in ways that are not understood by most. A person’s thoughts can be described as a use of cognition. This cognitive skill is very broad, but when one looks at their thoughts they will understand why things happen the way they do.
Now we’re talking about something known as, “The Self-fulfilling Prophecy”. This prophecy is looked at in particular to negative thoughts, but the same consequences hold true for positive thoughts. Kenrick describes the Self-fulfilling Prophecy in his online book, Social Psychology: Goals in Interaction, (2011) 5th Edition, as when an initially inaccurate expectation leads to actions that cause the expectation to come true (Kenrick, Neuberg, and Cialdini pg. 79).
When a person has thoughts about something they can easily change the outcome of the thought by changing their attitude about it. For example, in baseball cognitive skills are taught exclusively at times, allowing players to repeat simple tasks that can easily go wrong. In baseball, there are many aspects of the game that differ physically but have little difference mentally. During practice a pitcher on a baseball team practices his physical skills by throwing what is known as a “bullpen”. A bullpen is when the pitcher practices throwing all of his pitches for strikes.
This consists of a pitcher and a catcher. It is easy for a pitcher to go into his bullpen and throw strikes because he does not have a high risk of failure, there is not a hitter there competing against him. So, he can easily succeed by throwing strikes. When a hitter steps into the batters box facing the pitcher there is physically only one difference in a game to the bullpen, the hitter. The pitcher must still throw the exact same strike as he did in the bullpen, now the use of cognition really affects the pitcher.
With the hitter putting for risk for failure into play, the pitcher can either use his cognitive skills to help or hurt him. If the pitcher throws the exact same pitches that he practiced, the hitter would not have a very high chance of hitting the pitch. The way a pitcher can help himself through cognitive skills are simple but affective. “When evaluations are positive, thoughts are completed rapidly, and you get right on with your thinking about the next pitch. When the evaluations are negative you have a difficult time forgetting the event.
Many times you’re still thinking about what went wrong on the previous pitch or play, as you’re beginning to throw the next pitch”(Dorfman and Kuehl pg. 301). This can directly result in a repeat of the outcome, positive or negative. If something has gone wrong and a person is still thinking about it while trying to perform the next task, they are mentally preparing themselves to repeat the failure. Same holds true for positive outcomes, and the repetition of success. The key to using this set of skills is to master a positive outlook on whatever it is one is trying to accomplish.
This sounds very easy, but if you have ever failed in your life, it is very easy to quit or say, “I can’t do it”. Children learning new things in school will tell themselves that they cannot do something after failing at it once, they will get frustrated and quit. Good teachers will pick them up and show them that they can do this, and they can do it on their own. With baseball the term “don’t” is used quite often. This term is actually frowned upon in baseball because of its meaning, or lack there of.
There is really no definition for the word, “don’t”. An example of this term for a pitcher could be, “don’t give up a homerun”, if there is no definition for the word don’t, then what is really being said? If a person asked 100 pitchers, “what happened after you told yourself don’t give up a homerun? ”, 100 pitchers would say they gave up a homerun. Keeping the positive outlook and picturing oneself succeed will result in success. One way to keeping the positive outlook is to picture the event taking place in your head, picture success.
After picturing yourself succeed, you have already seen yourself accomplish the task. This makes it much easier and proves in your own head that you can do it. Seeing yourself in your head fail will also prove that you cannot do it and are incapable with that outlook. Gary Mack, the author of, Mind Gym, quoted Ty Cobb saying, “ The most important part of a players game is above his shoulders. ” Mind Gym is an athletes guide to inner excellence. This promotes positive thoughts and picturing yourself succeed before ever physically performing the task.
Referring to baseball, Yogi Berra a famous catcher said, “90 percent of the game is half mental”. Yogi is known for saying bizarre things that somehow makes sense. This quote is hard to understand but is viewed as the majority of the game has to do with your mental approach. Thinking positive thoughts is easy, but how easy is it when somehow failure seems to take over. Athletes get into what is known as, “slumps”. Slumps are a period of time when the athlete is performing poorly, or below their ability.
How can a person stay focused on thinking positive thoughts when they are in a slump? It is a hard thing to do, but Getting Focused, Staying Focused takes on an approach to keeping a positive head on your shoulders. “By studying the highly developed minds of the Yogis, Martial Artists, and Zen Masters of China, Japan, and India, the Soviets devised and instituted mental training techniques that enabled their athletes to perform under the most pressure-filled conditions with a clear, calm and controlled mind”(Jaeger pg. i). Further in the book explains that once competition starts, the game is purely mental. Practice and preparation will get you ready and prove you are able to physically perform the event, being confident and picturing success will let you use your physical skills to their full capability and the game becomes easy. Practice is meant for the game to become second nature, it is when we are not confident with ourselves that the game becomes a foreign language. Most mental flaws come from what is known as “dead time”.
Dead time is a gap in performance that interrupts our performance. Athletes can get in the zone and success becomes effortless. Its when failures or dead time occur that athletes lose focus. This dead time can cause an athletes thought’s to wonder, this is not good for mental approaches. When minds wonder, thoughts creep in and take over. Most athletes can remember a time when they said, “what if? ” or “I should have”, this is bringing up the past and thinking of things they did wrong, this is only bringing failure and negative thoughts to mind.
A coach will say take out of the game the positives and dwell on those, not the bad things that may have happened. Shawn Green, a retired baseball player said, “There, I’d learned to separate my awareness from my mind and move it into my body and ultimately into the present moment. There, I first began to understand what it means to chop wood and carry water”(McAlpine pg. 156). In, Introduction to Psychology, Plotnik and Kouyoumdjian describe something known as a cognitive map, a mental presentation in the brain of the layout of an environment and its features (Plotnik and Kouyoumdjian pg. 23). This was first shown by rats learning to move through a maze with a reward at the end. Once the task has been accomplished, it is known that it can be done again, the mind barrier is a powerful thing. So powerful that once a mile was ran in under 4 minutes people realized it could be done, and now it is done daily by people everywhere. In baseball the reward is success, and the cognitive map is known as practice, and for pitchers, bullpens. References Dorgman, H. A. (2002). The mental game of baseball. 3rd ed. ). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield. Jaeger , A. Getting focused, staying focused. Alan Jaeger. Mack, G. (2001). Mind gym. New York, NY: Stone/Robert Daly. McAlpine, G. (2011). The way of baseball. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. Plotnik, R. (2008). Introduction to psychology. (9th ed. ). Canada: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. Santrock, J. (2010). Children. (12th ed. ). McGraw Hill: Social Psychology: Goals in Interaction, (2011)5th edition Kenrick, Nueberg, and Cialdin
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