I’m sorry for anyone who isn’t following the World Series this year (and it’s the lowest rated ever) because boyhowdy it’s been exciting. Some people say it ranks as one of the greatest ever. And so tense! By the end of a game, Texas Rangers fans are nearly as exhausted as the players themselves. (I can’t speak for Cardinals fans but I can guess.)
Baseball can be incredibly slow, but it also can be extremely intense, especially in those moments of suspended animation, when batter and pitcher are face-to-face, poised before the wind-up.
These days, cameras put us right up in the players’ faces. In those moments between pitches, we see what focus looks like. Very few of us will ever experience that kind of pressure. Imagine trying to remain both relaxed and focused when you’re about to have a rock hurled at you at 95 mph. Imagine hurling that rock from 60 feet away into an area roughly the size of a microwave. Imagine keeping performance pressure at bay with 50,000 people chanting your name. (Na-po-li, Na-po-li.)
And the thing is, you want to concentrate, but not too hard. Thinking too much about what they’re doing causes athletes to choke. According to a study described in “Links Between Attention, Performance Pressure, and Movement in Skilled Motor Action,” overthinkers get wrapped up in micromanaging the movement, which throws off the biomechanics. Their multi-joint coordination gets wonky; there’s more variability in their movements; they exert more energy, as opposed to having fluidity of motion.
In this study, athletes who focused externally performed better than athletes who thought about what they were doing.
“Keep your eye on the ball,” they say. I always thought that meant watch the ball, but can you really see a ball moving at 100 mph? Perhaps it’s actually a technique for keeping your attention outside yourself so as not to get in your own way.
Deep, right? And it applies to a lot of things, not just baseball and golf.
Writing, for example.
Nothing mucks up a first draft more than overthinking. The more I think about what I’m doing, the more puckered my brain becomes. My sentences become stilted and disjointed, the story doesn’t flow.
I firmly believe in what I inelegantly call “vomiting out” the first draft. Write fast, write dirty, let your brain muscle memory throw it together. See the story, don’t think about it. Think it through before you sit down to write, then keep your eye on your vision and take a swing. (A less revolting analogy, yes?) You can fuss later.
Occasionally, I decide to discard my first draft and take another pass at the story. But the first first draft is always better. Always.
I once lamented on Facebook that the blog posts I work on the least are the ones that get the most views.
“That means you’re working too hard on the others,” a friend advised. She’s right, of course.
Here’s some more baseball advice from Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis, who was asked how he keeps his cool on the mound. “I know who I am and I know what I can do,” he said. “I don’t deviate from that.”
That’s deep, too.
It’s not to say he throws nothing but strikes. But, manager Ron Washington said, “He does exactly what he’s capable of doing, and then whatever the results are, he’ll deal with them…”
Many years ago, a writer friend said something that has become a mantra for me. We were discussing fear of writing (writers are an infamously neurotic breed) and she said that to get to her desk every morning, she tells herself to, “Just sit down and do what I do.”
This is a corollary to the don’t overthink rule. It means not second guessing yourself and letting yourself do what you do.
Or, as Lewis said, “It’s about trusting your stuff and trusting the type of pitcher you are.”