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Friday, December 18, 2009

Baseball Coaching Strategy - How Jeter Beats Pressure

By Dr Tom Hanson

In 2001 I was working with the Yankees trying to help young players transition from the minors to the Big Leagues. I asked Derek Jeter, "How does a young guy coming into Yankee Stadium to play for the Yankees deal with the pressure?"

His answer dropped my jaw. Here's why.

A year prior I was watching a playoff game on TV from a couch in D.C. where the Yankees were down a run late in the game. They had a man on second and Jeter came to the plate. He settled into his stance and started waving the bat around, much more than a major league guy normally does.

"He looks like a Little Leaguer," I said to myself. But not just any Little Leaguer, a total stud Little Leaguer.

I'm sure you can picture the stud hitter that everyone knows can totally jack the ball. When he gets to the plate the defense swallows hard and takes a step back. Confidence radiates off the kid. In the box he waves his bat around his head menacingly, telling the world he can't wait to rip the next sacrificial offering. It looks like fun. Everyone wants to be that kid. That's how Jeter looked on TV. Except he was now in the Big Leagues, playing in the playoffs! The whole season was on the line. The crowd was going wild. The tension was thick in the playoff air. The emotion dripping off of each pitch.

And Jeter looked like a Little Leaguer having fun.

Flash forward to my interview with him...

"Well," he says, "the big thing is to have fun. That's how you handle pressure."

"Come on," I said, "with tens of thousands of people yelling, your results posted in the paper every day, your every move watched and scrutinized, and you say have fun?"

"Yes. It's just like Little League [that's when my jaw dropped]. It's the same game I've always played and always loved. It's fun. Sure it's challenging, but that's part of the fun."

Me: "Even with 50,000 people yelling and screaming."

DJ: "The more people, the more fun."

Jeter is able to maintain the perspective that the game is fun. Most players I coach come to me when they've lost that. It's become work. A job. A test of self-esteem. A measure of self-worth. It's become who they are. Stress occurs in us when we perceive a threat to us or to something we love. It may be a threat to our physical body, like falling off the back of a set of bleachers. Or it may be a threat to our emotional body, like getting yelled at by our coach. Jeter avoids stress because he doesn't perceive game situations as threatening. He sees them as challenging.

One perception creates tension, fear, doubt, choking. The other creates freedom, relaxation, and top performance. Why do you play or coach? There are lots of other things you could do with your time. One of the greatest but most important challenges is to remember why you got into baseball in the first place, and keep a perspective on it that minimizes the perception of threat.

Put your focus on your answers to this question: What's fun about baseball?

Dr. Tom Hanson helps players, coaches and parents have more fun, perform great, and develop life success skills. Past clients include the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and many other pro and college teams and individuals. He co-authored the baseball classic "Heads-Up Baseball" and gives away his #1 secret to baseball success at

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