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Mental Toughness, Preparedness and Mariano Rivera

I was reading Sports Illustrated, October 5, 2009: One Man, One Pitch The One and Only Mariano Rivera by Tom Verducci and stumbled on a great lesson.

Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera

This year has allowed for a ton of really good reading.  Email me or comment on this article and I will share with you a reading list on a variety of topics:  leadership, basketball, mental toughness, fiction, and quotes.  It is a work in progress, but what I have read so far – I recommend.  None of us make the time to read.  We must.  I will take that into the next chapter of my professional career for sure.

I was reading about the man whose right arm is called “The Hammer of God.”  Baseball, football, basketball – the sport itself doesn’t matter if the teachings transcend the sport and these certainly do.

This is about mental toughness, physical commitment, purpose and preparation.

In 117 1/3 career postseason innings Rivera has allowed but 10 earned runs; his 0.77 ERA is the lowest among all pitchers with at least 30 innings.  He is the only man in history to get the last out of the World Series three times.1 All of this, while working within arguably the most stressful sports environment there is, the New York Yankees.

All of us strive to help our players create a high level of mental toughness, physical toughness and preparedness for our games.  We hope this carries over into their everyday life and enables them to be successful long after basketball is over.  If there were a single way to “train” this, like having pregame meal, we’d package it – sell it – and move to an island full of frozen, fruity drinks, sunshine and surf.  I am one who believes it can be trained.  In graduate school I was fortunate to meet a brilliant man who was a soccer coach at the time.  His gift, aside from a tremendous intellect is: communicating with athletes.  Allowing athletes to be comfortable with him, to trust him and to work through their issues with him.  To empower their own mental powers to be to their advantage instead of working against them.

Here is Rivera’s mindset… “To me October is what we do in spring training; October is what we do in February,” Rivera says, “We don’t do all that preparation and all that teamwork and all that running for the season.  I don’t just think regular season.  I think playoffs.  World Series.  That’s how I think.”2 This would be just media, interview language if the numbers didn’t prove the words.  There is no one better.  No one better in the regular season, no one better in October, no one better period.

Rivera’s secret is not so much his confidence as it is his focus.  Chad Gaudin, a Yankee pitcher asked Rivera and found out this.  “Nothing derails him, no emotions get in the way.  Ever.  He is able to take all that energy of the moment and channel it into everything he has to do.   Why doesn’t everybody do that?  Not everybody has the power or self-discipline.”3

Rivera’s approach… clean shaven, soft-spoken, unhurried, understated and humble, he is an organic closer, free of the add-ons and posing and histrionics that so many athletes have needed or manufactured to deal with the stress of the job.4

David Ortiz of the Red Sox said of Rivera, “He’s just different.  If you talk to him at an All-Star game, it’s like talking to somebody who just got called up.  To him, everybody else is good.  I don’t get it.  To him everybody is the best.  It’s unbelievable.  And he is the greatest.”5

Rivera’s response to the praise of his peers, “I don’t wait for people to give me respect.” Rivera says.  “I always give them respect.  Any player.  Even a rookie, an old player, a veteran.  I never try to show up anybody.  I go to my business.  I always take my time for somebody who wants to talk to me.  That’s my thing.  It comes from back home.  Family.  My father was strict and always taught me no matter who it is, everybody is an uncle.  To me, everybody is someone I respect like family.  I grew up with that.”6

Whoa!  There it is.  Lessons transcending sport.  Our purpose and role as coaches.  If we can instill in our athletes this lesson… give respect, where it is not deserved, respect the game, the people in the game and those around us.  Never show anybody up.  We are the “Family” that will create that atmosphere and set that example for our student-athletes.  Some will come to us with some of this, many will not.  Either way, we can choose to do this.  We can create this environment.

This article has a few other really good points and quotes.  The link for SI.com achieves doesn’t take you to it now, but perhaps it will later.  I couldn’t tell you what SI cost at the newsstand, I‘ve been getting the subscription since I was 10, but it’s worth it for this article alone.

For more lessons on Mental Toughness Training check out this BOOK.

1:  Tom Verducci.  “One Man One Pitch  The One and Only Mariano Rivera”  Sports Illustrated October 5, 2009: pg 46.

2:  Tom Verducci.  “One Man One Pitch  The One and Only Mariano Rivera”  Sports Illustrated October 5, 2009: pg 47.

3:  Tom Verducci.  “One Man One Pitch  The One and Only Mariano Rivera”  Sports Illustrated October 5, 2009: pg 47.

4:  Tom Verducci.  “One Man One Pitch  The One and Only Mariano Rivera”  Sports Illustrated October 5, 2009: pg 47.

5:  Tom Verducci.  “One Man One Pitch  The One and Only Mariano Rivera”  Sports Illustrated October 5, 2009: pg 47.

6:  Tom Verducci.  “One Man One Pitch  The One and Only Mariano Rivera”  Sports Illustrated October 5, 2009: pg 47.

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