LOS ANGELES — When it comes to winning any type of championship, survival is the operative word.
Baseball routinely has longer seasons than any other sport with more games.
And how teams handle trying times during the season determine their fate. Teams will move forward with renewed vigor, level off or go backwards without ever recovering.
In this story, we delve into what techniques can be used to turn around potential powder kegs with teams.
In addition, we have a special look at what the U.S. Army is doing with performance enhancement techniques that are being utilized in combat. Some of the key ingredients to this puzzle are being taken from sports psychologists.
One of those remarkable sports psychologists the Army has worked with is Ken Ravizza, Ph.D., an internationally acclaimed performance consultant who co-authored the best selling book Heads-Up Baseball with Tom Hanson.
A professor in the Kinesiology department at Cal. St. Fullerton who has worked many years with pro and college baseball teams as well as other sports, Ravizza was involved in one of the greatest turnarounds in college baseball history.
During the 2004 season, the Titans started with a 15-16 record after 31 games and were on pace to become the worst team in school history.
Head Coach George Horton was perplexed. He had tried every physical and mental technique he knew to turn around this team. But nothing worked.
At this time, he brought in Ravizza to try and turn the season around with his mental techniques.
“During the season, there are always thunderbolts that hit,” said Ravizza.
“When I became involved that season, they (Cal. St. Fullerton) were ripe fruit. I came in at exactly the right time. They were ready for what I had to say. It was one of those things where the coaches were only telling the players what they were doing wrong. The players were frustrated that they are doing it wrong. I remember after hearing George (Horton) and his staff talk for about 10 minutes, I asked him, ‘George, are they doing anything right?’ He said, ‘Yes, we are fielding the ball.’
“I said, ‘OK, let’s build on that.’ That was the first thing. The next day, I sat the team down and challenged them by telling them that they were the worst team in Cal. St. Fullerton baseball history, which they were. They had the worst record (15-16) and had lost to teams that this program had never lost to.
“I told them they had an opportunity to have the greatest turnaround in Cal. St. Fullerton history. Then we got back to focusing on the process instead of outcomes and focusing on doing the little things, focusing on the small steps. With that particular group, they were able to get it turned around.”
Ravizza said only a handful of players had been involved in one of his classes prior to this point in Kurt Suzuki, Ricky Romero, Jason Windsor, plus others. They knew who I was and were comfortable with me. From there, it was an issue of the coaches, Rick Vanderhook, Dave Serrano and most importantly George Horton, really reinforcing these concepts.
“They talked about the process, discussed Titan baseball and talked about getting to the next pitch. I think it was very important when you talk about high level performance. It is a matter of managing the moment. Instead of looking at the big picture, just take care of the moment of how I am going to get from here to there.
“When you confront crisis, amazing things happen afterword to many people. The Chinese have the term for it, and they even have symbols for crisis. One is opportunity and one is danger. A lot of times we just talk about opportunity. But there is also danger. The Fullerton baseball team in 2004 could have ended up being the worst team in school history. There was a chance they wouldn’t turn it around. I told them they were facing this reality, and I didn’t sugar coat it.
“It’s not like the book, The Secret, where if you believe, you will achieve and everything works out. Reading that book is like going to Disneyland. It ain’t that simple. The thing I have learned from the military guys is that you may have some anxiety, but you have to focus that anxiety and sharpen your sword with it and use it toward your advantage.
“The 2004 Titan baseball team became one of the best teams I have ever been involved with in getting to the next pitch and being prepared to win the next pitch. It took several times a week talking with them from halfway through the season all the way to the end.
“The 2004 Fullerton ball club experienced the happy ending as they went 32-6 the rest of the season after a 15-16 start and won the national championship. But I still haven’t let go of the 2004 Long Beach St. team that didn’t make it to the College World Series that I worked with as well. There is no magic to this. Too many people believe that if you do A, B and C, you will be a champion. That simply isn’t the case.”
To read more of this article on dealing with military performance, purchase the Oct. 2, 2015 edition of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.