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HEAD GAMES

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS MENTAL-SKILLS COACH AND FORMER ALL-STAR PITCHER BOB TEWKSBURY DISCUSSES THE HIDDEN GAME OF BASEBALL
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ON MENTAL COACHING BECOMING A TREND IN BASEBALL

Since I started doing this with the Red Sox in 2004, players have begun to come around as it's become more normalized. [Now, 25 of 30 teams have a mental-skills coach.] But it's not for everybody. Some people just don't want to talk about [the mental process], or they'd rather do something physical to help them perform better. Guys think it's a gimmick or a quick fix.

ON BEING IN "THE ZONE"

When [former Giants pitcher] Matt Cain threw a perfect game, he said he didn't even know what he had until the eighth inning. When people are in the zone like that, they don't think about anything and just compete. But those times are not often. What I hear all the time is athletes say, "I just wish I could stop thinking and just go perform." And I say, "No, I just want you to think the right things."

ON TECHNIQUES FOR BALLPLAYERS

I made an imagery program for [Cubs pitcher] Jon Lester because he was searching for another edge. Imagery is a visualization technique that takes deliberate meditation to stay focused on the tasks. The other part is talking: What were you thinking in a situation? It's the same as psychotherapy: If the client is not 100% honest with the counselor, they really can't help them.

HOW TO MENTALLY PREP

How does an athlete like Jon Lester use Tewksbury's program to get ready to compete?

1. FOCUS

Lester uses index-card-sized "focus grids," where he must locate a number in a jumbled-up puzzle, to help sharpen his focus before ballgames.

2. LISTEN

While he does the focus exercises at his locker, Lester also listens to audio programs designed to help him shift his focus to individual pitches.

3. VISUALIZE

In a sleep room at Wrigley Field, Lester puts on headphones, closes his eyes and does breathing exercises as Tewksbury's voice leads him through game situations.