Breathing Techniques

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“Take a deep breath” is a common saying in sports whenever someone is facing a pressure moment.  Whether it’s before a 3-2 pitch in game 7 of the World Series, a game-winning field goal, a critical free throw, or a par-saving putt, we’ve all seen great athletes inhaling and exhaling deliberately before they clinch a victory.  But why does this simple technique always seem to work?

Benefits of Taking a Deep Breath
Taking a deep breath has physical and mental benefits.  When you feel pressure, your adrenaline helps you kick in the “fight or flight” response, a reflex that helps us survive danger by either defending ourselves or getting as far away as possible from the source of trouble.  We feel this response in our normal modern lives as “stress”, and on the baseball field, it kicks in when we are facing an 0-2 count or a bases loaded jam.

Physical Mental
Gets oxygen to the muscles Lets you RESET situations
Relieves muscle tension Gets your focus back to center
Slows heart rate Slows the game down
Allows adrenaline to pass Turns the page to what’s important
Lowers center of gravity Quiets the voice of doubt

When you take a deep breath, you allow the rush of adrenaline and all the other physical and mental stress reactions to subside.  Most of us don’t realize when we are feeling pressure until it’s too late.  So the more you can include slow, deep breaths in your routines between pitches and even before you come to the ballpark, the better off you’ll be when you are asked to execute in the toughest spots.

Two key words to remember as part of the importance of breathing: Center and Reset.

Breathing as a technique for performing under pressure is also called Centering. Centering refers to physically lowering your center of gravity (important for good balance at the plate, on the mound, or in the field) and mentally returning your concentration to that comfortable place where you can focus on what’s important instead of on negative thoughts.

That returning of concentration to center can also be thought of as hitting the Reset button in your head.  When you’re playing a video game and you have a bad start, the first thing you want to do is hit the reset button.  When a computer gets stuck and can’t process any more information, it must be reset before it can be of use again.  The same goes for baseball players.  There are moments in every game that can take us away from trusting what we know.  Taking a deep breath and telling yourself to Reset allows you to start fresh with a new count, a new at bat, a new inning and helps keep one mistake from leading to others.

Taking a deep breath to reset yourself is the way to play the game One Pitch at a Time.

Using Breathing on and off the field

On the Field Off the Field
Before facing a hitter To lower general stress level
While coming set As part of daily routines
In the on-deck circle To help fall asleep
Before stepping back into the box Keep calm dealing with family/friends

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Geoff Miller is a partner at Winning Mind, LLC; a San Diego-based company that helps elite performers in sports, business, and the military perform under pressure. He has served as a Mental Skills coach for the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates and is the author of Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, Byte Level Books, 2012. For more information on his work, please visit his website at: http://www.thewinningmindinbaseball.com

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