Thursday, February 02, 2012

Philadelphia Phillies Use Mental Conditioning Techniques to Take 3-1 Lead In NLCS Series


“A lot of teams say they play all 27 outs, but I’ve never seen a team actually do it as well as we do, I mean, there’s really no score in the ninth inning we don’t feel we can come back from.”

--Brad Lidge, Phillies relief pitcher, who struck out the only two batters he faced in the ninth inning and earned the win — his first of 2009.

CONFIDENCE AND SELF-TALK TO OVERCOME FEAR AND ADVERSITY

The Philadephia Phillies are one win from advancing to their second consecutive World Series after edging the Dodgers, 5-4, at Citizens Bank Park with a ninth-inning rally. Down 4-3 to the Dodgers, Jimmy Rollins delivered the game-winning hit, a two-out, two-run double off Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton.

“It’s one of those situations where I wasn’t afraid,” Rollins said. “I’ve faced him a number of times before.”

In three of their six postseason victories, the Phillies have scored the winning runs in the ninth inning. During the regular season, the Phillies led the National League with 43 come from behind victories.

FINISHING

“Like I said before, we play the whole game,” Manager Charlie Manuel said. “We play 27 outs, we think we can win.”

VISUALIZATION AND RITUALS

Perhaps no player utilizes mental conditioning techniques as effectively as the Phillies' Ryan Howard. In preparation for his turn at bat, Howard begins his mental routine. He sits on the Phillies’ bench with bat in hand, head bowed, eyes closed. For these few seconds, Howard is in a quasi-meditative state. He is letting go of his last at-bat, putting it out of his mind. He is channeling positive, upbeat thoughts.

Howard is visualizing results and getting them. No one has driven in more runs this major league postseason than Howard. He set a major league record Sunday by driving in a run for the seventh consecutive game in one postseason. After a home run in his first at-bat in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night to extend that streak, he had 14 runs batted in this postseason, more than he had in 17 playoff games the past two years. After Monday’s 5-4 victory for the Phillies, Howard was batting .379 with seven runs scored and two homers in eight postseason games.

“He goes to his quiet place,” the Phillies’ hitting coach, Milt Thompson, said. “When he’s there, he’s ready to hit.”

Thompson said Howard had been using visualization techniques all season, as a way to focus on the present, to enjoy the moment. When players see him meditating on the bench, they know not to interrupt.

“I’ve noticed it,” Manager Charlie Manuel, who is an advocate of positive thinking, said. “I haven’t talked to him about it because it’s something I think — that’s his own thing.”

Howard is in a zone, but it is simply the continuation of his impressive regular season, in which he had 45 home runs, with 141 runs batted in.

RELAXED FOCUS

“I think it’s more just the experience that I’ve gained from last year to this year, just the entire feel of the playoffs and just kind of taking a step back and looking at last year, at what kind of happened last year,” Howard said. “I just kind of gathered that experience of just being more relaxed, going up there and being loose and having fun playing the game.”

“For some reason, I just went up there and just started seeing more pitches,” Howard said. “Just told myself to relax and try and see as many pitches as I can and just wait for a mistake.”

RESULTS

“You never know with our guys,” Lidge said. “They’re capable of some amazing things.”

The Phillies are one win away from consecutive trips to the World Series.

Excerpts from the New York Times (October 20, 2009).

For more on mental conditioning, click on The Handbook of Peak Performance.
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