Tag: Mindset Training

The Super Bowl: Playing to Win or to Improve?

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


If you live in Minnesota, odds are you know Super Bowl VII will be held at US Bank stadium on February 4th. What you may not know is the driving force behind these teams that makes them so successful. Motivation style plays a huge role in performance outcome. Is it more important to have a drive to win or a drive to improve?

Any team that has made it to the Super Bowl would say it is more important to win. What many teams do not know is that performance is linked to motivation style, and according to research athletes are more successful when they are motivated to improve rather than to win (Vallerand, 2012). Motivation purely to win can actually result in a poorer performance from the athlete due to pressure from uncontrolled outcomes.

Improvement may not be the main goal for many athletes or teams competing in the Super Bowl, however, it may be the key to victory. According to the Theory of Self-Determination, athletes perform better when they are intrinsically motivated, for example by a desire to improve, compared to being extrinsically motivated by an outcome such as wining (Cameron, 1999).

When athletes are extrinsically motivated it means their motivation comes from an outside source, such as winning. This may lead athletes to feel as though their behavior is controlled by external, material rewards like trophies, scholarships, or recognition. Therefore, their personal motivation level decreases and can lead to a loss of interest, value, and effort resulting in higher anxiety, poor sportsmanship, and decreased performance outcome (Vallerand, 2012). This being said, if an athlete plays in the Super Bowl with the mindset of wanting to win rather than wanting to improve, their performance can suffer and may cost them the game.

Intrinsic motivation is just the opposite; athletes participate in a sport for internal enjoyment and satisfaction through skill improvement and personal growth resulting in an increased confidence level, reduced stress from mistakes, and an overall higher satisfaction in the game (Vallerand, 2012). The behaviors associated with those who are intrinsically motivated are more self-determination and fulfillment in their sport (Cameron, 1999). These behaviors allow athletes to grow and improve their focus and performance without the worry of external factors such as the pressure of winning or any other outside expectations. These behaviors are related to growth mindset; the belief that abilities are developed through dedication and hard work.

The motivation style each team chooses can immensely influence the outcome of the game. Motivation is the force that drives athletes to succeed both physically and mentally and will be a key factor in the outcome of Super Bowl VII.



Mental Toughness A Myth Or A Must In Hockey?

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Without question, playing hockey requires toughness.

But that’s toughness of the physical variety — defined by the ability to take and deliver a hit, to hold your ground in the crease or the corners, to leap over the boards for one more shift when your legs and lungs are screaming “no.”

What of mental toughness? Maybe more to the point: What is mental toughness?

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi defined it thusly: “Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind — you could call it character in action.”

Feelings Aren’t Facts

Some sports psychologists will tell you mental toughness is a myth, arguing that convincing yourself to be constantly tough is to live perpetually in denial, and further such denial is a tacit admission that you don’t know how to handle negative thoughts and emotions. Some would argue the semantical flip side, that what the above argument describes — conceding you have to learn to handle those perfectly natural thoughts and emotions — is the very definition of, or at least the pathway to, true mental toughness.

Perhaps, though, mental toughness is best thought of in terms of Mark Twain’s classic definition of courage: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Components Of Mental Toughness

Complete mental toughness is the sum of many parts, but no one ingredient is more essential than preparation. An athlete who knows he has given his best to prepare his body will not doubt its readiness for those “crunch time” moments that arrive in every contest. And an athlete who has given his best to prepare his mind will trust conscious training that has become subconscious instinct.

So, it takes work. But work on what? What are the components of mental toughness? It depends on whom you ask.

Some cite determination, concentration, self-confidence and poise. Others prefer flexibility, responsiveness, strength, courage, ethics and sportsmanship. Nearly everything you’ll see on the subject of mental toughness, however, will deal in some way with the notion of resiliency, or failing well.

This is to say, learn from your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make them (as long as you’ve not crossed that line from max effort to out of control). Be ready to endure the downs that inevitably arrive, remain optimistic, and be willing to make adjustments.

Head Games and Hockey Games

On the ice, opportunities to be mentally tough will manifest in essentially three ways:

When factors are out of your control: A mentally weak player will give full throat to his displeasure over a lousy referee — no doubt creating a ref willing to give him more reasons to yell. A mentally strong player will realize most refs, if they know they’ve blown a call, will try to even it up — and if the refs are just bad, it’ll even up naturally.

Similarly, concede that there are other things out of your control — ice conditions (hey, they’re the same for everybody), hostile crowds (won’t it be great to shut them up?) — that can be viewed either as bad breaks or opportunities for greatness.

When you’re off your game: This goes back to preparation. Do you know why 3-point shooters in basketball can keep shooting even though the best of them miss more than half their shots? Because they’ve seen thousands go in at practice. They always believe they’re going to make the next one.

Confidence comes from preparation. Preparation doesn’t guarantee you will never fail, but it helps you bounce back when failure inevitably arrives.

When you’re in pain: We’ve all been hurt enough to be affected by the injury, but not so hurt as to stop playing. In those moments, we turn to our minds — our mental toughness — to get us through.

Distance runners might close out thoughts of pain by consciously running for all those who can’t, but hockey players might better concentrate on “why.”

Not “why am I doing this?” Don’t ask in the moment. Know before you step on the ice. Your “why” is your strength.

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. Lee was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and has yet to put it down. He played hockey at Illinois State University while earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing. 

At Premier Sport Psychology, we help athlete’s train their mind to manage fears and still perform under pressure, on demand, and when fatigued. To work on your mental toughness and other mindset skills, check out our Mindset Training Program at https://www.mindsetprogram.com


The Psychological Effect of Long Distance Pacers

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


If you have run or even watched a marathon, you have surely seen the pacers leading packs of people while carrying pieces of paper on poles signifying the time that they are pacing for. Pacers are experienced runners who keep track of the time during a race and run at a pace which will allow them to finish the race at the time their sign publicizes. Less experienced runners run nearby the pacer during a race to be sure that they finish at the time they desire without over exerting themselves.

Pacers take much of the thought out of running. Instead of a runner having to pace himself or herself, one simply has to keep up with the pacer. Because of this, pacers have been used throughout the history of running to break world records. One of the most significant of these records is Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile. The sub-four-minute mile was thought to be unreachable. Athletes had tried time and time again, often running the mile just seconds above four minutes. Bannister was the first to run a mile below four minutes, finishing the mile at 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds in 1954, and he credits much of this time to the two pacers who helped him during the race, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher. More recently, Nike put on a project for three champion marathoners to break the two-hour marathon with the help of pacers and Nike’s new marathon designed shoe. With multiple different pacing groups containing many different experienced runners, Nike created an intense pacing plan which allowed one runner to finished at 2:00:25, 2 minutes closer to the sub-two-hour marathon than ever before.

From these examples, it is clear to see that pacing is a way to both assist and push runners. But how does it work? While much of the effect of pacing can be said to be due to physiological effects, psychologically, pacers allow runners’ focus on more important aspects of race. During a race without a pacer, runners have multiple things to think about. Runners are receiving many signals throughout a race including those of pain from their aching bodies telling them to slow down or stop. If a runner is not focused on something ahead of them, they are likely to have their focus drift to the feelings of pain, causing them to slow down without even noticing it. A pacer in front of the runner allows that runner to focus solely on keeping up and keeps the runner in check.

One research study measured the effects of a self-controlled pace versus a pace set by a second runner on a nonelite runner. The results showed that when the second runner was setting the pace, the nonelite runners perceived the run as easier, despite the fact that it was still the same 5 km that they had run at a self-controlled pace (Bath et al., 2012). Yet another study showed that an externally-controlled pace aided performance when compared to a self-controlled pacing strategy due to increased attentional focus (Brick et al., 2016). The results of these two studies suggest that running alongside a pacer aids performance because it reduces the amount of mental energy a runner has to use on thoughts regarding their pace. A runner who is focused on maintaining their pace sacrifices mental energy that could be put towards more important aspects such pushing himself or herself to the finish line.

So what does this mean for other sports? While the concept of a pacemaker cannot be introduced into many other competitive realms, such as basketball, learning from the benefits gained from pacemakers can help your own performance. The main benefit gained from pacemakers is, evidently, that reducing the amount of required thought about topics which can be externally controlled can aid in both focus and performance. With this, you can take the idea of narrowing your focus, apply it to your own performance, and like a runner following a pacer, keep your head up and look forward.



Bath, D., Turner, L.A., Bosch, A.N., Tucker, R. Lambert, E.V., Thompson, K.G., & St Clair Gibson, (2012). The effect of a second runner on pacing strategy and RPE during a running time trial. International Journal of Sport Physiology Performance, 7(1), 26-32.

Brick, N.E., Campbell, M.J., Metcalfe, R.S., Mair, J.L, & MacInyre, T.E. (2016). Altering pace control and pace regulation: Attentional focus effects during running. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(5), 879-86. doi: 10.1249/MS.0000000000000843.

Friel, A. (2016). Hired guns: A brief history of the pacer [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://thelongslowdistance.com/2016/02/09/hired-guns-a-brief-history-of-the-pacer/.

Huebsch, T. (2017). Big names in running comprise roster of pacers set to lead Nike’s Breaking2 attempt [News Article]. Retrieved from http://runningmagazine.ca/nikes-sub-two-marathon-breaking2-pacers/.

Nolan, A. (2017). So close! Kipchoge runs a 2:00:25 in the Breaking2 attempt [News Article]. Retrieved from http://www.runnersworld.com/2-hour-marathon/so-close-kipchoge-runs-a-20025-in-the-breaking2-attempt.



Selective Attention in Irish Dance

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


Just over 3,000 Irish dancers from all regions of the world flocked to New Orleans early this month for the North American Irish Dance Championships, the biggest Irish dance event of the summer. As dancers and spectators walked into one of the many ballrooms, they were immediately blinded by the sparkling dresses and the curly wigs of those competing. In the front of the room, competitors danced on the raised stage with seven snappily dressed judges watching, pens positioned to write their comments.

There are thousands of distractions for the dancers on stage. The audience talking, the other dancers practicing backstage, the sparkles shining off of the bright stage lights, and the thoughts circling inside their heads are some of the many distractions dancers face. One of the most potentially harmful distractions in all of Irish dance, though, is the competitor dancing alongside you on stage. The question posed is how can you focus on your own dancing when your competitor is on the stage at the same time as you, dancing to the same music, but doing a different dance? It seems almost impossible to ignore the thought of accidentally colliding with him or her. Not only do you have to perform your own dance to the best of your ability, you have to dodge the other competitor while doing so. How can you pay attention to your competitor while still maintaining focus on the task in front of you? It ultimately comes down to this question: what are the right things to focus on and how do you focus on those things alone?  We call this selective attention, and it is a critical skill to optimizing your performance in any skill or setting.

There are many uncontrollable parts of dancing, but luckily, your focus is one thing that you can control. Thousands of pieces of information are processed by your brain each and every day, and every second you can actively choose to focus on one specific thing and attempt to tune out all other background information. With all of the competing stimuli around you, thoughts that are not relevant to your performance are inevitably going to run through your head. For example, an Irish dancer on stage may think about what that other dancer on stage is doing. How you respond to that thought is crucial. Acknowledge that thought, whether good or bad, and then let it go. Because focus is a limited resource for the human brain, realizing what thoughts are necessary for performance and what thoughts are not is imperative to focus.

One way to improve your focus is to plan ahead and recognize, before you begin a performance, what will distract you and what will help you during the performance. In the context of an Irish dance performance, a dancer may note that worrying about running into her competitor will distract her during the performance.  Planning ahead and knowing that this distraction may occur will help the dancer to acknowledge the thought and then let it go, making room in her window of focus for constructive thoughts which will help performance. Constructive thoughts for an Irish dancer may include aspects of dancing that the dancer can control, such as foot placement and navigating around the competitor.

Lastly, it is important to remember that improving focus requires persistence. Even with training, your focus may occasionally drift, especially when your mind is tired. Training your mind to refocus when you start to concentrate on thoughts irrelevant to your performance is key. Refocus yourself by concentrating on behaviors that you can control and that will be helpful and relevant to your performance.

Focus is not just important for Irish dancers, though. Every sport has hundreds of distractions calling to the athlete from all sides. Every task you perform has the possibility of being impacted by the many distractions around you. Zoning in on what is important, recognizing what is not, and being able to refocus your attention helps to organize the thousands of bits of information that the world is throwing at you into productive and useful thoughts that can move you forward.



“Mindset Training Program: Focus.”  Premier Sport Psychology.

Goleman, D. (2014). Focus: the hidden driver of excellence. New Delhi: Bloomsbury Publishing      India.


Positive Self-Talk and Flow

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


Close your eyes for a second and think of a time when you were at your best in a competition or performance. Put yourself back into that mindset and recall the feelings you experienced. Remember your thoughts from that moment. Did you know exactly what you wanted to achieve? Did you feel that you were equipped with the skills to achieve it? Did time seem to slow down? Did you feel completely in control? Were you concentrated solely on the task in front of you? Did you seem to stop judging yourself?  Were you enjoying yourself completely?

If you said yes to most or all of these questions, you may have experienced a psychological state called flow. Flow is an elusive psychological phenomenon that can occur during peak performance of any kind, from playing an instrument, to dancing, working, or exercising. During a flow experience, you have a deep sense of enjoyment and time seems to pass more slowly. Flow is that sort of optimal experience when you feel entirely in tune with your body and as if you are able to accomplish anything (Csikszenthmihalyi, 1990).

The idea of flow developed out of the positive psychology field and with it the idea that thinking positively can influence how you achieve or approach a flow state.  Because flow is a psychological state, developing the mental skill of positive self-talk can help lead you to a psychological state approaching or achieving flow.   In a recent study, elite golfers were interviewed about their flow experiences. They each acknowledged that nothing negative was on their mind and that they felt very confident when experiencing a flow state. They reported thinking to themselves that they could handle any challenge that presented itself and that they were doing great (Swann, Keegan, Crust, & Piggott, 2015). These phrases are examples of positive self-talk.

Positive self-talk is about mentally motivating and encouraging yourself as opposed to letting that critical voice inside your head get the best of you. We all have it, that little nagging voice inside our heads telling us that we will never succeed. By using positive self-talk, we turn those negative thoughts around and prevent them from making us feel badly about ourselves.

Positive self-talk is a powerful mental skill that not only can change your attitude, but also your performance. Let’s say, for example, a soccer player misses an easy shot on goal. The ball goes flying over the net, nowhere near where she planned for it to go. She has two potential paths she can take here: 1) She can think, Wow, that was such a dumb move! I can’t believe I missed it. I must be such a horrible player; or 2) She can think, Wow, that didn’t go as planned, but I’ve been doing great the rest of the game. That just shows I have some room for improvement in practice. It is clear that the second path would be more productive in both the short and long term. In the short term, the second path allows her to focus on the positive aspects of her game, which can help keep her confidence and energy levels high. In the longer term, the second path allows her to identify specific areas she can improve upon at a later time, which will aid her performance in the long run.

In this example, using positive self-talk is uplifting and productive and is related to a flow state. Positive self-talk supports you by providing you with confidence to perform at your best, whereas negative self-talk can serve to eat away at that confidence. Remember, flow can occur when you think positively and you feel that nothing is standing in your way. Using positive self-talk can help enhance your confidence and get you feeling closer to the elusive experience of flow, even though achieving flow during every performance is unrealistic. As Maya Angelou said, “if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Stay Productive. Stay Confident. Stay Positive.



Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Swann, C., Keegan, R. J., Crust, L., & Piggott, D. (2015). Psychological States Underlying Excellent Performance in Professional Golfers: “Letting it Happen” vs. “Making it Happen.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 23. doi:10.1016.j.psychsport.2015.10.008.




The Importance of Deliberate Practice

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

Practice makes perfect. If you’re an athlete, you’ve probably heard this a few thousand times throughout your life. Practice is necessary to improve health, build confidence, gain a better understanding of rules and regulations, and also try out new techniques. But how can practice really bring out peak performance? When athletes partake in “deliberate practice,” they are more in tune with their bodies and see results.

Deliberate practice relates to the quality of the practice time. It focuses on specific goals of improving performance by participating in highly structured activities relating to that sport (Barr, 2016). It may be easy to just “go through the motions” of practice, but if your goal is to gain skills and become an elite athlete, engaging in deliberate practice should be one of your objectives. Dr. Janet Starkes, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University, and colleagues recently concluded a study dating back almost three decades on deliberate practice, and state: “The core of our work has alluded to the important role that self-focused attention plays in helping skilled athletes to refine inefficient movement during deliberate practice.” This self-focus is one of the main factors in developing elite athletes. Her work also suggests that something called “reflective somatic awareness” plays an important role in this process. By learning to feel and understand the body, you will increase your awareness to consciously and deliberately improve the movements within your sport.

So how can we engage in deliberate practice? There are a few steps to take. First, you must be motivated to improve your performance and continuously exert an effort to be better. Second, use your pre-existing knowledge to help you understand the task at hand so you are performing movements properly. Third, ask your coach to give you immediate and informative feedback after your performance so you know what went well and what needs improvement. Lastly, you should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks to increase your awareness (Clear, 2016). Following these steps will help you partake in deliberate practice and improve your overall performance!


Barr, C. (2016). Deliberate Practice: What It Is and Why You Need It.
Clear, J. (2016). The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice | James Clear.
Starkes, J. (2016). Toward an explanation of continuous improvement in expert athletes: The role of consciousness in deliberate practice. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 46(6), 666-675. Retrieved November 15, 2016.

Rivalry: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


We’ve all heard our coach say, “We are going up against our biggest rivals tonight. Let’s go out there and beat them!” Our rivals may be our greatest enemy, but they are also our best motivators. Why else would we fight so hard to beat them? If we didn’t have any rivals, there would be no one to play against. Rivalries can actually boost our performance in sport, business, and everyday life because everyone has that drive to be the best. Multiple studies have shown that rivalry increases both effort and performance. “An analysis of competitive runners showed that they shaved more than four seconds per kilometer off their times when a rival was in the same race,” (Hutson, 2014).

Rivalry has also shown to increase motivation, group cohesion, and patriotism. Sounds pretty good, right? There can be a downside to rivalries when they get taken too far. If too much focus is placed on beating our rivals, we can develop something called “tunnel vision”. “When success is measured solely by how one stacks up against a single competitor, it can lead to a preoccupation that turns on the blinders to other competitive threats,” (Entis, 2015). By focusing on only beating our rivals, are we holding ourselves to the highest standard of greatness? If we pay too much attention to the outcome of beating a rival, we may forget about the process of how to get there. This can be discouraging and lead to feelings of hostility, resentment, and envy. Rivalries are important for competition, but if taken too far they can be detrimental. Next time you are going up against your rival, be thankful for them. That may sound silly, but they are the ones who push you to become better. Also, remember to keep your eyes open and be observant. Even if you are focused on your rivals, there may be another team/individual sneaking up in your blind spot. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the competition. A good rivalry can be fun and hopefully creates a positive atmosphere for your sport. Valentino Rossie once said, “The great fights with your strongest rivals are always the biggest motivation. When you win easily it’s not the same taste.” Keep this in mind the next time you step on the field, court, course, ski hill, rink, or track with your biggest rival!



What an “Attitude of Gratitude” Can Do for Your Team

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is the time of year where many of us start to think about what we are grateful for. Maybe it’s our families, our good health, or the win we had last week. Did you know that expressing more gratitude on a regular basis could significantly increase your physical and mental health? Having gratitude has been linked to decreased levels of anxiety, depression, and restless sleep. Grateful athletes have been shown to be more satisfied with their teams, are less likely to experience burn out, and have increased overall well-being. “Feeling like we’re part of a supportive team is fulfilling and motivates us to keep going back,” (Chertok, 2016). This can be felt on all levels of the team–from coaches, to fans, and athletes alike.

How can we promote this “attitude of gratitude” within our teams? There are many ways to show gratitude! Before your next game, have everyone on your team write down three things they are thankful for. By doing this, it not only creates a more positive atmosphere, but also promotes happiness and true enjoyment of the game. You can also reach out every day to a teammate, coach, parent, or friend and express how thankful you are for them. Studies have shown that communicating this gratitude can both strengthen the connection you have and boost moral (Lambert, 2010). By developing deeper connections with teammates and coaches, the opportunities for success dramatically increase. It would also be thoughtful to thank your competitors. Sometimes they may not be your favorite people, but without them, who would push you to be better? The game only goes on if there are others to challenge you. Gratitude is a powerful tool that can help teams and individuals reach their full potential, and help them find why they love their sport. As John Wooden said, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointment, we would all be much happier.” Show some gratitude today and everyday! You would be amazed at what opportunities open up for you.




Preparing for Playoffs

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff


With high school fall seasons coming to an end in Minnesota, and across the country, playoff season has just begun. As a high school athlete, you may be prepared physically because you have been training all season, but how much have you prepared mentally? Playoff games can feel much different than regular season games because they have more riding on them; for example, the chance to go to the state tournament. They are typically more intense and require everyone to be on top of their game.

In a study done by the University of Montreal, sport psychologists worked with a professional hockey team to help them prepare for the playoff season. What were their tips on how to prepare mentally for playoffs? Get focused and stay focused so it is easier to “stay in the moment”. Many playoff games go into overtime because ties are not an option. This extra time on the field or on the court may be a challenge for some athletes because they might be physically and emotionally drained. If you can learn to stay in the present moment and overcome that fatigue, you will be more likely perform at your optimal level. One way to stay in the present moment is to think about your role on the team during that game. If you are a golfer, your role may be committing to your putting stroke on the selected line; if you are a volleyball player, your role may be setting up the ball to your teammate who makes the spike. Focusing your energy on the task at hand will keep your mind sharp and help block out distractions.

Maybe you have never experienced a playoff game before or have had very little exposure. Many “don’t know what to expect and they don’t know how to respond” (Halliwell, 2004). How do you prepare if you’ve never had experience? Watching video clips of experienced performers, preferably of your same skill level, and using imagery techniques can help you “get extra practice in.” Studies have shown that just by using imagery, neural pathways in the brain associated with your sport become more “grooved” and essentially lead to better performance. Another strategy to help give you confidence is taking time to think back to where you played your best. Knowing that you have performed at a high level before gives you confidence that you can do it again. If you are an experienced athlete, don’t forget to encourage your young and inexperienced teammates since it may be a new environment for them.

Stanley Cup winner and Hall of Fame player Raymond Bourque gave this advice, “Enjoy this great opportunity.” Sometimes you may forget why you play or love your sport. It is important to take a minute and think about this statement because passion is essentially why anyone plays the game–they enjoy it. Going into the playoff season with an open mind and a smile on your face is the best advice anyone can give. So, don’t forget to focus about your role on the team, use imagery to give you confidence, and enjoy the great opportunity you were given! Best of luck to all the student-athletes participating in playoff games!


Reference: Halliwell, W. (2004). Preparing Professional Hockey Players for Playoff Performance. Athletic Insight, 6(2), 25-33.

Finding that “Fall Magic”

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

Many people say that there’s magic in the air during October baseball, but what really makes that “fall magic” happen? And what does it look like?

To first answer the question of what this fall magic looks like, consider Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, which from an outsider’s perspective went down in history as one of the greatest baseball games of all time. As Skip Schumacher (a Cardinals outfielder who was on the winning side of the game) put it, “This is the best game I’ve ever been a part of, ever seen.” The Texas Rangers may have been the only ones who did not see the game through the same “best game” lens that late October night. Up two runs and one strike-out away from winning their first ever championship – twice – the Rangers could not seal the deal. They had chances in the 9th and 10th innings to close the game, but the St. Louis Cardinals erased those multiple two-run leads and walked off in home run fashion in the bottom of the 11th. That’s fall magic.

The World Series – a.k.a. “The Fall Classic” – which involves the champion representatives from the American and National Leagues in Major League Baseball has long been titled America’s pastime. Although slow to the plate in comparison to the three other major league sports in the US, (pun intended) the MLB has instituted instant replay these days. Managers (or the umpire crew chief) may now issue a challenge during a game to review a variety of game time calls and situations. However, one of the things managers are not allowed to review is the home plate umpire’s call of balls and strikes, which undoubtedly has the greatest impact on how each game is played. The call of balls and strikes is just one of the things outside the control of this year’s Fall Classic participants, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Additional factors and distractions are endless (home field advantage, crowd noise, weather, the opposing pitcher, the manager’s decisions, etc.) and can all influence the final score. Moreover, all of these factors fall outside the control of the players. With both the Cubs and Indians waiting so many years for the opportunity to win the Fall Classic, tensions are high as is the susceptibility of the players to focus on factors outside of their control. We know that focusing on what is within their control (“controllable factors”) instead of what is not (“uncontrollable factors”), will likely have a positive influence on the ability of the players to regulate their emotions, and ultimately, their performance during the World Series.

To answer the original question of what makes “fall magic” happen, we should consider the importance of these controllable and uncontrollable factors. Looking back to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, was the Rangers’ closing pitcher (who was one strike away from helping his team win its first ever championship) thinking about the ultimate outcome of the game (uncontrollable)? Was his focus perhaps shifted from what he was doing (controllable) to how fans or teammates would react to his potential game winning pitch (uncontrollable)? It’s very likely. When the Rangers were up again by 2 runs and 1 strike away from winning the World Series in the bottom of the 10th inning, the whole team had likely shifted their focus from what was within their control to those things outside of their control.

Although there are many factors that likely went into the Cardinals being able to come back and win Game 6 (and ultimately the World Series in Game 7), accounting for controllables and uncontrollables within the game was likely crucial to both teams’ performances. Replay or not, bad umpiring or not, freezing temperatures or not, one strike away from winning the championship or not, the Indians and Cubs will want to focus on what they can control in this year’s Fall Classic (such as their Attitude, Preparation, and Effort) to give themselves a better chance of performing at their best and creating that fall magic.

Play ball.