Tag Archives: J.R. Haley

Zeese talks about mental performance, championship mindsets

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tapping into potential is what Kelli Zeese does as director of operations and a mental performance coach for Selking Performance Group.
Coming straight from helping the University of Notre Dame softball team, the South Bend, Ind., native shared ideas on the mental game and championship mindset Tuesday, March 29 at the final South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club meeting of 2021-22 at Four Winds Field.
A graduate of Saint Joseph High School in South Bend, Zeese has a Psychology degree from Saint Mary’s College, a Masters of Business Administration/Masters of Sports Administration from Ohio University and is pursuing a Masters of Performance/Sport Psychology from National University.
She went to work for Selking Performance Group in 2020 after serving as assistant director of Athletics Facilities and Operations at Boston College.
Among many other experiences, Zeese has been Director of Baseball Operations at Notre Dame, where she had been head baseball student manager and also a football student manager.
Kelli grew up playing sports — her favorite was softball — as the oldest child of Mark and Linda Zeese. She has two younger brothers — Aaron and Kerry. The latter was the starting third baseman on Saint Joseph’s 2017 IHSAA Class 3A baseball state champions and is now a junior infielder/pitcher at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
J.R. Haley, son of South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director Mark Haley, was a senior on that John Gumpf-coached Saint Joe squad.
Zeese (pronounced Zay-zee) said that the purpose of mental performance training is to answer the question: How can I deliver my best, consistently, when it matters most?
“Recognize that (delivering) very best is going to be different from your very best,” said Zeese. “How can I do so consistently whether it’s the first or last pitch of the game, we’re up by 10 or down by 10? We want our mindset to be the same.
“We don’t want to have these (Instagram-like) filters like this is my mindset when we’re up by three, but when we’re down by three this is my mindset.
“How do I respond in pressure situations?”
While her talk was in the context of sport and specifically baseball, she said these concepts have helped in academic, business and life situations, including preparing for a test, presentation, job interview and or difficult conversation.
Zeese talked about brain science and presented tangible training tips, including positive/productive language, perfection vs. excellence and being in the present moment.
Achieving optimum mental performance means to “Know you why.”
“Why do you do what you do?,” said Zeese. “What type of important or legacy do you want to leave? What do I do today to make that happen? Why do you coach? Why are you part of this organization?
“We talk with our athletes about different forms of motivation. Who’s the source of your motivation? What types of rewards are there?”
Zeese gave advice to the coaches/instructors in the room.
“Part of your objective is to create that environment in which they can grow and thrive,” said Zeese. “What a great vehicle sports and baseball is to be able to do that.”
Selking Performance Group — led by Dr. Amber Selking, whose new book is “Winning the Mental Game: The Playbook for Building Championship Mindsets” and is host of the “Building Championship Mindsets” podcast — likes to set itself apart by helping people understand who the brain works.
“It allows people to be more intentional about the training itself,” said Zeese.
She showed this with a hex nut dangling from a string — an activity former Notre Dame soccer player Selking shows in her “Dare to Think Like A Champion Today” TEDx Talk.
The activity demonstrates the brain-body connection and psycho-neuromuscular theory at work.
Participants are asked to hold the string out with the nut dangling and stationary and using only their thoughts they are to think about it going forward and backward then side to side then in a circle and then stopping.
“Our thoughts are sending these electrical signals through our brain to the neurons in the muscles and nerve endings throughout the body,” said Zeese. “That’s how truly powerful our thoughts are.
“The brain-body connection says thoughts affect our emotions which affect our physiological responses which is going to dictate our performance.
“When we were are thinking we don’t want to strike out our emotions are often fear or anxiety. Our physiological response is that our bodies and our muscles are tense and our visions constricts and narrows. Our performance is going to show.”
Zeese said that science shows that 70,000 to 80,000 thoughts enter the mind each day.
“We can’t control that these thoughts are going to enter our brain,” said Zeese. “However, we can control which ones stay.
“We identify whether (a thought is) productive or unproductive. Does it serve us or not. We’re going to release it if it doesn’t.”
The objective is to change a negative into a positive.
It’s a mindset (a patterned way of thinking about anything).
Alex Smith was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 National Football League Draft by the San Francisco 49ers and struggled as a rookie quarterback.
“I felt I just had to be perfect to justify by draft status,” said Smith in a video clip presented by Zeese. “I became my own worst enemy. I constantly strove for others’ approval and and worried about what they were thinking.
“I felt like I couldn’t even make the smallest of mistakes. This became a paralyzing cycle.”
Smith changed his mindset and went to three Pro Bowls with the Kansas City Chiefs and was the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year with the Washington Redskins/Football Team.
“Accept what you cannot control,” said Smith.
“We grow through failure,” said Zeese. “Identify your weaknesses and turned them into strengths”
Zeese interjected the acronym F.A.I.L., which stands for First Attempt In Learning.
“It’s OK to fail, but let’s get better from it,” said Zeese.
She said that most people think you either win or fail and that successful people know you may fail multiple times before winning.
There’s a difference between perfection and excellence.
Society tells us we need to be perfect. Failure is part of the process. It’s OK to fail. But it’s how you respond and how quickly you recover.”
Zeese said being in the present moment and setting ourselves up for success means our mind needs to be where at the same pace as our feet. The body is always present and we want to be strategic about the use of the past and future.
“We’re going to think about past performances and if it was a poor performance, we’re going to learn from it,” said Zeese. “You can create a highlight reel in your head of positive past performances to build up your confidence.”
After showing clip from the ESPN E:60 special on Evan Longoria and his mental approach, Zeese talked about how the major leaguer approaches the game “one pitch at a time” and uses the visual cue of looking at the top of the left-field foul pole to release and re-focus. These cues or triggers can be visual, physical or verbal.
There is an acronym used by Zeese and her colleagues — W.I.N., which stands for What’s Important Now?
“What’s important THIS pitch?,” said Zeese. “Just it matter that you just swung at a ball in the dirt? Does it matter that you just overthrew a ball or that you just walked a batter?
“When we talk about winning games we break it down. We win innings — both offensively and defensively. We win at-bats by winning one pitch at a time.”

“Dare to Think Like A Champion Today” TEDx Talk by Dr. Amber Selking
Kelli Zeese (Selking Performance Group Photo).
Kelli Zeese (University of Notre Dame Photo).

Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)