Tag Archives: Mental Performance

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).

Grateful Gomez shares knowledge at PRP Baseball

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

Anthony Gomez is full of gratitude for a career in baseball.
The Director of Player Development for Pitching at PRP Baseball (Passion Resilience Process) housed at Mojo Up Sports Complex (formerly known as Finch Creek Fieldhouse) in Noblesville, Ind., joined the company in August 2020.
He recently gained more daily operations responsibilities with PRP Baseball Founder and Director Greg Vogt becoming the Rehab Pitching Coach for the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.
Before coming to PRP Baseball, Gomez spent four years as a coach/instructor at Morris Baseball (now 5 Star Great Lakes) in northwest Indiana, working with Bobby Morris and Dave Sutkowski. In the summers, he coached for Morris Baseball (2017-19) and Chicago-based and Al Oremus-led Prairie Gravel (2020).
“I have thankfulness for Bobby Morris allowing me to work at his facility and the things that he taught me,” says Gomez. “That’s another another part that’s allowed me to be where I today.”
Gomez called his training group of 150-plus players raining from middle school to collegiate to professional levels the Region Jabronis.
“That was 22-year-old me being funny,” says Gomez of the satiric name. “A Jabroni is a term is to describe someone is all talk.
“We don’t want to be all talk. Let’s put in the work. I don’t want to hear you talking about it.
“Results always speak.”
Gomez, who has various certifications including OnBaseU pitching evaluation and Driveline Baseball and studied with Randy Sullivan at Florida Baseball Armory and taken the Brian Cain mental performance class.
“All coaches should be equipped to handle the psychological end,” says Gomez. “They can be mentors to them to handle stresses when they’re treading water.
“Ultimately, we’re trying to help people.”
Gomez, who has read “Old School vs. New School: The Application Of Data & Technology Into Baseball” by Eugene Bleecker is always growing his baseball knowledge. He shares his insight on the biomechanics of throwing, intertwining weight room work to benefit throwers and understanding human movement to help PRP Baseball athletes become more efficient movers on the field.
The man who turns 28 on March 4 is all-in for baseball and the development of players, particularly pitchers. There was a time when Gomez lost his zeal for the diamond.
A left-handed pitcher, Gomez was not planning to play baseball in college and was going to focus his attention on his studies.
Then just as his senior year at Munster (Ind.) High School was ending in 2012, Gomez received an offer from Vincennes (Ind.) University coach Chris Barney and a scholarship to play for the junior college Trailblazers.
Gomez saw a liveliness in Barney.
“He was filled with fire and passion for his coaching,” says Gomez of Barney. “He’s an energetic dude. He was ready to get after it each day. He would hold you accountable. That’s what you want from a coach.”
At Munster, Gomez played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Shinkan.
“That guy’s got a huge heart,” says Gomez of Shinkan. “He cares about his players down deep.”
After Gomez finished college, Shinkan allowed him to help coach at his alma mater.
“I have a lot of gratitude for him,” says Gomez of Shinkan. “He allowed me to help on staff and run workouts.
“I thought I’d be an actuary, but he helped put me on my current path.”
Looking back to Vincennes, Gomez was throwing a bullpen during his freshman year when his back lock up on him. It turned out to be a bulging disk and kept him from playing.
“I lost my passion for the game,” says Gomez, who decided to follow his original plan and told Barney he was transferring to Ball State University to be a student only and begin working toward an Actuarial Science degree and Computer Science minor.
Then George Bizoukas — longtime Highland American Legion Post 180 manager — let Gomez know that he was still age-eligible to play for his team that summer.
Gomez, who split his last two high school summers between Post 180 between the Downers Grove, Ill.-based Longshots Baseball, decided to give playing another try.
“George allowed me to have fun with the game,” says Gomez. “Without him I don’t know if I’m in the position I am now.
“It went phenomenal. I decided ‘I’m back.’ I’m going to work as hard as I can the rest of the summer and go to (Ball State) walk-on trials.
After seeing Gomez throw about 10 pitches in the bullpen, Cardinals coach Rich Maloney called the lefty that night letting him know he had made the team.
Gomez redshirted in the spring of 2014 and made one mound appearance in 2015 before being cut.
“Coach Maloney is someone I really respect,” says Gomez. “He’s a straight shooter. I was not meeting the expectations. I could be considered as a waste of a roster spot.
“(Maloney) is a phenomenal culture coach. We had an awesome tight-knit group (as 2014 Mid-American Conference champions). I still keep in-touch with those guys.”
Gomez grew up in northwest Indiana with a talent for baseball. His 15U summer (between freshmen and sophomore year), he played with the 17U Indiana Breakers.
“I made varsity the next year,” says Gomez. “I credit that to playing 17U ball as a freshman.”
In the summer of 2010, Gomez was on the Ed Woolwine-coached 16U Indiana Prospects.
Then came the two summers with the Rob Rooney-coached Longshots and Highland Post 180.
At PRP Baseball, Gomez spends the bulk of his time on the throwing floor. He estimates that there are close to 300 athletes just in the youth and high school groups.
Gomez is also in charge of running a remote service that currently has about 25 players. They send him weekly videos of them throwing, lifting etc., and they talk on Zoom and phone calls.
“It’s all about communication,” says Gomez. “I can’t coach what I can’t see.”
Anthony is the son of Edward Gomez and Karyn Condes and has two sisters and two brothers. His father played soccer at Indiana University. His stepfather is Michael Condes.

Anthony Gomez (PRP Baseball Photo)
Anthony Gomez (PRP Baseball Photo)
Anthony Gomez (PRP Baseball Photo)
Anthony Gomez collects data (PRP Baseball Photo)
Anthony Gomez with players at Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind. (PRP Baseball Photo)
Anthony Gomez (PRP Baseball Photo)

Shafer enjoys player development as Kankakee CC assistant

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

Bryce Shafer faces a distinctive challenge as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the Kankakee (Ill.) Community College baseball program.
A former right-handed pitcher at Northfield High School in Wabash, Ind., and Valparaiso (Ind.) University as well as in the Chicago Cubs system and independent pro ball (Frontier Greys and River City Rascals), Shafter is preparing for his seventh season at KCC — a two-year school and a member of National Junior College Athletic Association Region 4.
“Junior college is definitely unique,” says Shafer, 33. “You’re always recruiting and trying to get your guys recruited.
“Year to year, your roster changes so much.”
As the Cavaliers get ready for the 2022 season opener on March 4 at Southeastern Illinois College, four of Shafer’s sophomore pitchers — starters Kyle Iwinski (Purdue), Matt Lelito (Toledo), Dylan Wolff (Eastern Michigan) and reliever Gavin King (Eastern Michigan) — have already made commitments to NCAA Division I schools. Three others are close to declaring their next stop. Right-handers Iwinski (Griffith) and Lelito (Andrean) and left-hander King (Bluffton) are from Indiana high schools. Righty Wolff hails went to Joliet (Ill.) West.
Since 2016, Shafer has seen 25 of his pitchers move on to four-year schools or the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Eleven to NCAA Division I; six to NCAA Division II; five to NAIA; and two (West Noble’s Waylon Richardson and Dylan Dodd) to the MLB Draft.
Richardson was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies (2018) and Dodd was selected 96th overall by the Atlanta Braves in the third round in 2021. Last spring, the Cavaliers pitching staff broke the KCC single-season strikeout record with 491.
“It’s really about development,” says Shafer. “We have something going the full year-round. “There’s pitchers’ strength and speed development in the off-season. Now we’re now getting them ready for competition.
“It’s all about developing players and getting the most out of them. Junior college is a stepping stone. We realize we’re not a destination.
Shater, who is on a staff with head coach Todd Post and hitting/catching coach Nick Ulrey (a New Palestine graduate), uses networking to find players to develop at KCC.
“As a junior college, you get told ‘no’ a lot,” says Shafer, who looks at a roster full of Illinois and Indiana players but also has a two from Canada, one from Missouri and a shortstop — Beyonce Paulina — from Curacao.
“It’s about the connections you make,” says Shafer of the recruiting process. “You watch film. Some numbers help. Velocity is always nice. We look at mechanics. Can we clean him up and make him better?
“We look at the body type. How does he move?
“We always talk to their coaches. We get their whole background and make sure there’s not any red flags.”
Kankakee coaches Shafer, Post and Ulrey all weigh in on player evaluations.
“I pride myself in being able to look at a limited amount of video to see if this kid can be successful at this level and what can we do to make them better,” says Shafer. “We want good kids from good families that get good grades and want to be better at baseball. My goal is to get our players at their highest level of baseball.”
That means teaching the physical and mental sides of the game.
“We try to put our guys in difficult situations and how to handle it,” says Shafer, who earned a Psychology degree at Fort Hayes State University. “We teach pitchers what they need to think about and to avoid things they can’t control, focus on the next pitch and the hitters’ weaknesses.”
It’s about handling adversity.
“We do a good job of that here,” says Shafer. “It’s definitely a priority.”
Shafer grew up around Wabash and played travel ball for the Summit City Sluggers, Jarrod Parker, Kyle Leindecker, Scott Woodward and Rhett Goodmiller. Parker pitched in the big leagues. Leindecker played at Indiana University, Woodward at Coastal Carolina University and indy ball and Goodmiller Central Michigan University and Taylor University.
At Northfield, Shafer helped the Norsemen to the IHSAA Class 2A Final Four in 2006, and graduated in 2007. Tony Uggen, who is now in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, was his head coach.
“He was always very professional,” says Shafer of Uggen. “We had to have our shirts tucked in and look and act like ballplayers. It was a disciplined system. The basics were always there. We did things right.
“If you stay focus and disciplined the whole time, you can have a pretty good high school team.”
While he was barely 5-foot, 100 pounds, Shafer made varsity as a freshman.
“I thought I was getting cut,” says Shafer. “I had to out-work people because I was so small.”
By graduation he was 5-10 and around 150. In college, he grew to 6-1 and 185.
“I learned that you need to need to be big if you want to last,” says Shafer. “We play 56 games in 2 1/2 months at (KCC). Guys can break down if their bodies aren’t ready.”
At Valpo, Shafer played for head coach Tracy Woodson and pitching coach Brian Schmack (who is now VU head coach).
“He taught me to be calm, handle situations and embrace where you’re at,” says Shafer of Schmack. “Just remember the people — not necessarily the facilities.”
While attending the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago in January, Shafer gravitated to mental performance presenters like Brian Cain.
“I got a lot out of it,” says Shafer. “That is the most under-accessed part of the game. To succeed at the highest level need to be mentally tough.”
Some of the books read by Shafer lately are “The Mental ABCs of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement” by Harvey Dorfman and “The New Toughness Training for Sports: Mental Emotional Physical Conditioning from One of the World’s Premier Sports Psychologists” by James E. Loehr.
“It’s how champions think,” says Shafer. “If you can teach that to a young guy really, you’re doing something right.”
Bryce and wife Jill have two sons — Carver (4) and Callum (2).

Bryce Shafer (Kankakee Community College Photo)

Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.

Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.

In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.

Bellak presented “Simplifying the Approach for High Output Offenses” during an American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).

The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.

“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.

He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.

“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.

“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”

Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.

“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.

“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”

Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.

“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”

No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).

“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.

“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”

Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.

Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.

Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.

Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.

Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.

“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.

For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”

Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”

It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”

Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”

Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”

Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.

“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”

Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”

Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”

As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.

“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”

There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”

“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.

“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.

“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”

GRANTBELLAK

Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)