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What Your Little Slugger Can Learn From The Cubs' Mental Health Coach

Baseballer Anthony Rizzo is on track for his best year. What you might not consider, seeing him at the plate ready to slug one over the fences, is the mental fitness work he does to prepare.

“Bad performance starts with a bad thought,” says Joe Maddon, the Chicago Cubs’ manager who led his team to the National League Championship in 2015, and was named National League Manager of the Year.

That’s why the Chicago Cubs created a mental skills program for their players. These guys were once like our little guys: they did tee ball, they mastered baseball, they dreamed that one day, their lives would be perfect. Except they forgot to focus on their mental skills, which are so important.

Maddon knows what this is like firsthand. After he scored his dream job and was running the Los Angeles Angels, he was getting to the ballpark at noon for a 7 p.m. game, and his mind was constantly racing.

“I knew I needed to choose a different path,” Maddon says.

He had stress in his neck and back, and his entire body ached.

So he began to meditate. And he started using mental and psychological tricks to slow down his thinking.

Instantly — or, to be more accurate — post-meditation - Maddon’s life functioned as it should. He says that these mental skills can and should be applied to everyone who wants to be happy and calm (and who doesn’t?).

“If a guy is going through a tough time, let’s review what you’re thinking about first, and try to change that. When you can’t think, you can’t process.”

When they’re stressed, they struggle on the field.

But what if... these pro ballers step back and work on meditating, on finding their happy place? And what if they also teach those kids who look up to them that focusing on your feelings isn’t a weakness: it’s a strength?

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“If it’s good enough for Anthony Rizzo, [the] Cub's first baseman, then maybe it can help me,” says full-time mental skills coach for the Cubs and retired major league pitcher, Bob Tewksbury.

Tewksbury suggests that everyone from little kids to adults take 12 minutes every day, five days a week to practice their mental skills.

“When we feel miserable, it’s often because we make ourselves miserable,” Tewksbury says. “You can practice it as a bus driver, as a sports player — it’s interchangeable.”

Tewksbury creates his own meditations for his team, but there are many meditations online tailored to kids: simply Google “children’s meditation” and find one that connects with your child.

In his sessions, Tewksbury talks about the little voice in your head that can build you up or knock you down. Turns out, that little voice can be controlled.

“We had a lot of guys with that negative voice,” he says. So he works with them on how to identify that voice, to change the thought and to get back to the task at hand.

It’s exactly the same for kids. They may have a little voice in their head telling them that they’re not good enough, not popular enough, not smart enough, not... ad infinitum.

They’re not weak because they have these thoughts. After all, they’re the same thoughts that professional baseball players have.

“I would love it if kids could get the message that if the baseball players do [meditation], then they should do it too,” says Danielle Black, a Chicago-based family therapist specializing in anxiety who recently met with Maddon to discuss mental skills.

So the next time your little one cracks out the Wiffle Ball set, remind them to also take a deep breath.