Building Mental Toughness

Jan. 19, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There were strangely soft and quick, “thump, thump, thump,” sounds and yet it was oddly quiet Thursday afternoon just east of the John & Mary Brock Football facility.

Player development assistant Steve Tamborra blew no whistle, and he didn’t say much either as he put Georgia Tech baseball players through a workout. It was like they were reading his mind, like they knew what he wanted. By now, they do, in fact.

Cones were involved, and a lot of running. Players were panting. There wasn’t a lot of rest to be had between drills.

And again, it was peculiarly hushed; you could at times hear nearby traffic with occasional panting and thumping mixed in as players’ feet hit the artificial surface over and over.

Softly, it went, “Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!” as Yellow Jackets raced by.

“A lot of people think in baseball all you do is stand around and wait for the ball to come to you, but this conditioning is definitely necessary,” said sophomore center fielder Kyle Wren. “It’s even more important for late in the season because that’s when your body starts wearing down.”

Wren knows from experience.

He tore up the ACC for most of his freshman season. Then, he hit a wall of sorts while slumping down the stretch.

“Definitely. When you get to this level and you’re playing consistently throughout the week, everybody is going to have a slump, or pitchers are going to lose velocity,” Wren said. “For me, it just happened to happen at the end of the season.”

Baseball practice begins in earnest one week from today, and head coach Danny Hall wants the Jackets to get strong now, or rather in the offseason. The goal is more to maintain once the season begins.

So three times a week Tech players lift weights, and twice a week they go through conditioning work like that of Thursday afternoon.

Lots of running, but not very far.

“Ninety percent of it is being explosive, change of direction, being quick,” Tamborra said. “Pitchers are sprinters. They have to be full-body explosive, produce as much force as they can in a short period of time and be able to repeat that — for a starter — 100 times a game.

“Everything in baseball is really power and explosive. The majority of the work we do is within a 30- and 40-yard range whether it’s sprints, or down and back, changeovers, shuffles.”

Wren earned first team All-ACC honors last season after hitting .340, scoring 57 runs, stealing 16 bases and driving in 32 while starting all 63 games in the leadoff spot.

He batted about 100 points below that, though, over the final five or six weeks of the season.

Naturally, he decided to get stronger.

“Basically, this winter I’ve worked on trying to get bigger and stronger while keeping my speed,” Wren said. “I’ve gained nine or 10 pounds and I’ve kept my speed. Some of the power guys may want to cut some weight and keep their power.”

That’s easier done now for Wren than before. Typically, freshmen struggle to adjust Tamborra’s strength and conditioning regimen.

Take the Jackets’ mid-week starter from last season, Matthew Grimes.

He had a solid season as a freshman, putting together a 7-4 record with an ERA of 4.15 while making 12 starts and appearing three times out of the bullpen.

Grimes will have quite a shot this season and one of the coveted weekend starting positions.

“You’ll see a lot of improvement from freshman to sophomore year,” Tamborra said. “Matthew Grimes was a kid who really had a hard time last year in the weight room. He was always nervous, sweating about it. This year, he’s weathered and he gets through it easier.

“Mental toughness is really what we’re talking about. It’s just understanding what you need to get done so that when it’s a long game, you can tell yourself, ‘I’ve been through hard stuff. This is no different.’ Relax, stay loose, and push right through. If you get nervous, tense and uptight, the game gets harder.”

I know it’s only the third week of January and it’s been a mild winter, but I am so ready for baseball season. How about you? Let me know at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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