Is Visual Psychology Answer To Performance?

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

CHESTER, N.Y. — When the performance levels of baseball players go south, coaches often look at mechanics, vision and the mental state of the player.

Tony Abbatine, a consultant who has worked with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies and New York Mets, feels that defining and integrating visual psychology in the sports performance world is important to explore.

“What comes first in an athlete’s slow decline into a slump?” asked Abbatine.

“Is it negative self talk, self induced pressure or perhaps a change in his visual habits and focus targets?

“Put another way, does your loss of confidence and loss of emotional control stem from a temporary change in your visual search strategies?”

Abbatine teaches sports psychology at St. Thomas Aquinas University and believes that we must first understand and acknowledge that the human eyes are the only external part of the brain.

The debate about whether the athlete’s problem is visual or mental is pointless.

“In 20-plus years of working with college and professional athletes that live and perform in the visual world, I believe the long term fix and underlying source of performance problems should first be addressed in the visual world.

“Let’s further example how the eyes are truly the windows to the soul and gatekeeper to the brain. Why do we feel so relaxed and calm sitting on a beach or walking through the woods?

“One of the teaching cues I use now is making references to sunsets, mountains and oceans. Every human being has the visually ‘feel good’ image.

“When I work with athletes, I will give them these three choices. All the players on the west coast typically think about oceans or gorgeous sunsets. Where I live in New York, we have stunning mountains which players feel relaxed walking through.

“So the athletes have this image in their mind that relaxes them.

“It is a reminder for the eyes to be in a sweeping and scanning mode or what is called Open Focus. That is a term that is now just getting into baseball. When I learned about Open Focus, it was a life changing moment for me even though those two words have been around for centuries.

“Open Focus is non-judgmental seeing. Here is the quote that came out of Manny Ramirez’ mouth in 2005 when he was talking to me about hitting, and I’m trying to explain to him what is happening in clinical terms.

“He turns to me and says, ‘Tony, when I look at nothing, I see everything.’ When he first said that, I thought Manny was being Manny.

“But when I reflected on what he said, it dawned on me that his comment coincides with all the research that is out there on Open Focus. When you are in Open Focus, you have much more awareness of space and time. You see all the little movements that typically aren’t observed.

“It basically shattered the old soft focus, fine focus methodology that the baseball industry has embraced for so many years.”

Abbatine then talked to a number of other Major League baseball players.

“They felt the sunset, mountains and oceans mind set makes sense. When they started to describe Open Focus, it wasn’t this hard, fixated fine to soft focus like many people have taught in baseball, including me.

“Major League hitters would talk about how they utilized vision with a sweeping and scanning posture because that is where the eyes are at their most natural state.

“Think about sitting on a beach with perfect weather. You aren’t fixated on the seagull. You aren’t staring at the breaking of a wave. Your eyes are in constant horizontal viewing of the landscape. After these elite hitters started talking about this, I’m thinking to myself, wait a minute. Open Focus might be the way to go for hitters.”

To read more of this article, purchase the March 9, 2018 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE. The rest of the article delves into much more of this topic, including studying marksmen, why relaxed hitters perform, the training of Open Focus, overusing eyes daily, information overload, thinking outside the box and observations Abbatine has heard from elite athletes related to visual habits.