Friday, November 18, 2011

Pressure - Good Or Bad And How To Handle It?

By Jim Bain Baseball is no different than other sports, there are times of coasting and times of extreme pressure. Everyone pretty well knows how to coast, but not everyone knows how to handle pressure and there is no cookie cutter formula which applies to everyone on the team, so pressure can be good or bad depending on how it's handled. Even though, at the time of this writing, we don't know the final outcome of the 2011 Wild Card Race in the National league, the intense battle between the St. Louis Cardinals to catch the Atlanta Braves for that spot is exciting and quite a demonstration of handling, or not handling pressure. The Cardinals, just as any other ball club, has sustained numerous injuries to key players throughout the season. Their superstar, Albert Pujols, sustained a fractured wrist in a collision at first base and Matt Holliday, their enforcer whose powerful bat forces teams to pitch to Pujols, has suffered numerous injuries which have sidelined him for extended periods. There were many other injuries, including the loss of their Cy Young winning pitcher, Adam Wainwright, before the season began, but these are the types of situations which all teams must play through. The Cardinals led the National League Central division for months, slowly putting distance between them and the Brewers, Reds and the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates. Suddenly, for some unknown reason, the Cardinals went into a tailspin where instead of not being able to lose a game, they were incapable of winning a game. As the hungry pack behind them inched closer, the Cardinals began to buckle under the Pressure, as their starting pitching, which had been praised for exceeding all expectations despite the loss of Wainwright, began to fail them. This in turn placed an ever increasing amount of pressure on their bullpen, which became overworked and began to fail miserably, continually blowing 1 and 2 run leads in the 9th inning, only to lose the game in extra innings. The inability for the Cardinal starting rotation to have quality pitching appearances and the failure of the bullpen to maintain 1 & 2 run leads, put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Cardinal offense, which many sports writers have declared the most powerful lineup in the National League, to not only produce runs, but produce an exceedingly increasing amount of runs per game. With this extra pressure the offense began to falter, hitting into more double plays than any other team in baseball and the once, very reliable 2 out hit, completely vanished. When teams are pressed offensively their defense usually suffers, which was the case for the Cardinals. Their offense produced 8 runs, but between walks, hits and errors, they allowed 9 runs and still lost. The Milwaukee Brewers caught and surpassed the Cardinals, completely dominating them in head to head play, and the Cards appeared to completely crash and burn. The Pressure had overwhelmed them. August came and the Cardinals, pre-season picks to win their division, were struggling to maintain their self respect with little thought given to playoff contention. All pressure to win was gone, only professional pride kept the team afloat. As the season continued through August, the lack of pressure on the team and the addition of few new faces, through trade and elevation of Minor League players to the majors, the team began to put together winning streaks, taking 2 of 3 or 3 of 4 games in each series against different opponents. Suddenly, the thought of playoff contention began to permeate through the club house. The pressure to win, as the Braves began to lose, increased with every game as they began to inch closer to their target, Wild Card Team. Ironically the pressure endured previously, which had all but sapped the strength from the club, had now turned into a driving force. The pressure, which had been a paralyzing effect, now became a motivator, and with each win the pressure increased. What happened? What caused the change? How could something so harmful to the club suddenly become their best ally? How pressure affects a team, or one player, is determined on how mentally tough that team/player is. A mentally tough team, which can be greatly influenced by the manager, knows what they have and are capable of accomplishing. They question the "bad luck" which seems to have them losing & losing, but they never question their abilities, and the ability me to play through the bad times, when even the toughest wonder if it'll ever end, once it does end and success returns, the pressure becomes the thrill of playing, of hitting next or pitching today. It's viewed with great anticipation, not dread. Pressure will always be a factor in sports, as in life itself. It's how you handle that pressure which determines if its' a friend or foe. Jim Bain, former Minor league baseball player, who since retiring has dedicated his life to teaching baseball to youth, shares his advice on pitching baseball drills on his exciting info packed website: Article Source: Article Source:

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