The following are excerpts from “How MLB players have embraced psychology to manage high stress” at Sporting News. You can view the full article here.

Part of managing those moments is that search for the constant. No matter the stadium, players know that certain things, such as the foul poles, will always be there. Losing themselves in the routine leads back to the familiar, the things that do not change no matter the moment. Focusing on a pebble in the dirt, repeating a mantra, even visualizing all allow for sharper focus and, hopefully, a good performance regardless of context.

Dr. Justin Anderson, a sport psychologist who works for Premier Sport Psychology, an independent firm based outside Minneapolis, said this sort of constant is more important than players realize.

“When we’re anxious, the eyes tend to bounce around a lot, and there’s research about getting the eyes settled and set on something,” Anderson said.

Wherever players look, the need is to settle the eyes and calm the nerves. The bat, the foul pole, or a spot in the dirt are common. But White Sox pitcher Carson Fulmer is different. Instead of looking at a particular object, he looks to the crowd in the stands. Not anyone in particular, he said, but the area in general, the blurred mass of faces.

This preparation, Anderson said, begins with assessing how much a player understands the way his mind works. They’re often introduced to this metacognition through things such as yoga or meditation, or even simple self-assessments of how they react to everyday scenarios.

“They could be out mowing the lawn and have some problem with the mower, and where does their mind go? And what’s their tactic or approach to that?” Anderson said.

In those moments, the mind has three directions it can go, and Anderson works to help players become mindful of whether they tend to drift to the past, to the future, or stay focused in the present. This can happen on the field or with a faulty lawnmower. The more players are able to understand where their mind tends to go — and why — the better they are at staying focused in a high-stress situation, Anderson said.

Read the full article at Sporting News