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It's 12U Baseball. And I Still Lose My Mind! Three Ways to Keep Your Cool On the Field and Off!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #206 – Listen or watch HERE (and subscribe!)


It’s 12 U rec baseball.  And yet, it can get me all fired up. 


Our team is in the semifinals for our league thanks to a 3 ½ hour game last night.  I was exhausted.  Partly because it was exciting, partly because I threw BP before and did some coaching after looking for anyone else who can pitch since we are pitch count bound.  But mainly because I let my emotions get the best of me at times throughout the extra-inning marathon!


I am sure you’ve been there before, too.  Whether it's during a critical game, facing a questionable call, or dealing with an incorrect ruling or a lost sale or customer, the pressure mounts, emotions surge, and before you know it, you've flown off the handle. Understanding why this happens and how to manage it can significantly impact your effectiveness and the morale of your team.


To be better tonight…yes…tonight (see the pitch count issue?) I thought it might be a good time to bring the science behind these reactions to the forefront of my mind and explore strategies to maintain composure under pressure.


Our amazing yet frustrating brain gets us in trouble in these scenarios…but, as author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl so eloquently (and I hear with guilt) “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


Yes, we have a RESPONSE-ABILITY and CHOOSE our responses.  Yet, we often choose things we later regret! 


One of the primary reasons we lose our composure in high-pressure situations is due to what psychologist Daniel Goleman calls the "amygdala hijack." The amygdala, a small, almond-shaped part of the brain, is involved in emotional processing and is all about triggering a fight-or-flight response when it perceives a threat…or a bad call! Under stress, even in 12 U baseball, the amygdala overrides the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for rational thinking and decision-making, and often leads to irrational and impulsive reactions.


As Goleman explains, "In the midst of an amygdala hijack, rational thought is often suspended, leading to actions that are later regretted."


Yep!  And then we get sucked into the left side of our brain and can’t let it go!  How fun!


Want more science about outbursts?  Throw in psychologists Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman's cognitive appraisal theory posits that our emotional responses are determined by our evaluation of a situation and it seems like I am offering excuses for bad behavior, but that’s not the case.  Even so, it is important to understand WHY we go off the rails when a 14-year-old ump calls a kid out at 3rd so we can choose our responses more appropriately!


When we perceive a situation as threatening or uncontrollable, our stress levels increase, resulting in heightened emotional reactions.  We see an out change an inning, start to project that on the result of the game and all of a sudden we are fired up and frustrated and these emotions cloud our judgment!


Throw in what I call “managing our state” or in this case, not managing it, and the Yerkes-Dodson Law suggests that there is an optimal level of arousal for performance. Too little arousal can lead to underperformance due to a lack of motivation, while too much arousal can cause anxiety and impair performance. In high-pressure situations, arousal levels often spike, pushing individuals beyond the optimal zone and resulting in decreased performance and irrational reactions. 

I’d say I have a tendency to spike.  You?


We all do this, but what do we do to be better in what we label as pressure or slightly infuriating situations?

If we want to be more RESPONSE-ABLE, practicing mindfulness is a start.  It sounds so kumbaya, but read or listen to anything related to wellbeing and a mindfulness practice is sure to come up.  Mindfulness involves staying present and fully engaging with the current moment without judgment. Research by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in mindfulness-based stress reduction, shows that mindfulness can reduce stress and improve emotional regulation.


If we practice deep breathing exercises and mindfulness meditation regularly – not in the heat of the moment, during high-pressure moments we are more likely to pause, as Dr. Frankl suggests, and take a few deep breaths to ground ourselves and bring our focus back to the present.


Another option for coming back into or staying in the stratosphere is to apply the concept of cognitive reappraisal.  This is simply (but not so easily) changing the way you interpret a situation to alter its emotional impact. Instead of viewing a bad call as a threat, reframe it as an opportunity to demonstrate resilience and leadership to your team. 


What a cool way to look at what first feels like a jolt of lightning up your back!


When faced with a stressful situation, we can ask ourselves, "How can I view this differently?" This shift in perspective can help reduce emotional intensity and promote rational thinking.


Isn’t it sort of funny that we ask those we lead to remain calm in stressful moments and give them tools and all kinds of advice to do so, yet we are just as likely to lose it (even if it is under our breath, which can be just as distracting) as they are?  We, too, could benefit from developing strong emotional regulation skills we ask of them.  These are crucial for maintaining composure. Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation – or a quick ‘tighten it up/let it all go with a breath’ exercise that takes 5 or 6 seconds, mental rehearsal and self-talk tools can help manage stress and prevent emotional hijacking.


Tonight, before the game…another “high stakes” 12 U situation, I need to mentally rehearse remaining calm and composed regardless of the situation.  I know something will go sideways.  It always does.  So, picturing myself managing it will help lay the blueprints for how I am supposed to respond!  I can also talk to myself and others productively…I know what to say…which will reinforce my ability (and the team’s) to handle pressure effectively.


Finally, it’s time to move things to the ‘solutions’ side of the board…they say within 60 seconds is key!  Instead of fixating on the problem, we can shift our focus to a solutions-focused frame of mind. Again, simple but not easy, we can ask ourselves "What can I do to improve this situation?" Engaging in problem-solving helps redirect energy from emotional reactions to productive actions…and is a much better RESPONSE…EVERY SINGLE TIME!


The first step to change is being aware.  I am fully aware that I am wound very tightly!  That is good in some ways, and not in others! 

The next step is understanding what pushes my buttons and accepting that I am wired to lose it, just like you are! 

The next and most important step is deciding to use a few of these tools.  It’s the “pause” that determines what happens next.  Do you make the situation better or worse?  Can you influence the situation to be a little more in your favor, even though you got screwed (in your opinion, of course!)? 


There is often little we can do to make something that already happened better, but there are a million things we can do to make it worse.  If we are aware of what gets us off the rails, if we can build a habit of being more mindful (before the pressure starts), if we can reappraise the situation and our perspective and/or if we can look for a solution so we can move on to a better place, we are going to be happier and more successful in the end, no matter the outcome!


Now…on to tonight’s game.   We’ll see how it goes. 


Time to manage the moments!




P.S.   Reach out and get scheduled for a THREE-PART MENTAL REHEARSAL PROGRAM. Shoot me a text at 234-206-0946 or an email at and get on my schedule as you wrap up fall and look ahead to the next phase of the season!


Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946 

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