Trusting Second Half – Hells Angel Thought of the Week
“Hoka Hey” – The War Cry of Clutch Performers


("Hoka Hey" dog tags available to any interested staff members - Contact Bernie if interested)

Crazy Horse is regarded as the greatest Sioux warrior in Native American history and “Hoka Hey” was his famous war cry.  Crazy Horse led his people’s struggle against the overwhelming odds of the U.S. Federal Government who invaded the Sioux territories and drove the Sioux people from their lands.  He gained widespread respect of the people he led through courageous fighting and cunning leadership in battle.  He was revered for riding ahead of his warriors and charging directly into the thickest of fights where the weapon fire was most concentrated.  His greatest victory occurred at the Battle of the Little Big Horn where his greatly outnumbered tribal protectors outfought and outmaneuvered General Custer’s U.S. Army (this battle is also known as Custer’s Last Stand).  On the day of the battle, he encouraged his warriors by shouting his customary war cry –

“Hoka Hey!  It is a good day to fight…It is a good day to die!” 

Hoka Hey” translates to “It is a good day to die.”  Interestingly, this concept extends far beyond the Sioux territories.  It’s been discovered to be a key quality of elite warrior civilizations throughout history regardless of race, religion, or geographic location – a universally recognized attitude that enhances high stakes performance by prompting warriors to fight freely without fear of consequences.  This mentality has found a lasting home in high stakes competition as well.  Professional baseball players and athletes from countless other sports have adopted a more contemporary “Urban Dictionary” translation of this war cry – “Fuck it!”  This self-statement helps generate the reckless abandon needed to unleash their best stuff when the game is on the line.  Good things typically follow the pairing of quality preparation with this risk-taking attitude. 

“Hoka Hey” embodies the Trusting Mindset qualities of conviction, reckless abandon, and absolute acceptance

  1. Trust your training.  “Hoka Hey” is not a death wish, nor is it an admittance of impending doom.  Rather, “Hoka Hey” urges players to trust their preparation and their stuff.  The fallacy that preparation leads to confidence is oversimplified and WRONG.  Quality preparation is certainly a necessary condition for confidence, but it is not sufficient by itself.  Athletes view their experiences through their own lens; one that has been shaped by a lifetime of living among mediocre thinkers.  Consequently, many athletes have learned to think poorly about the quality work they’ve put in – They lie awake at night worried about how the two wild pitches of an otherwise stellar 40-pitch bullpen might lead to their unraveling during their next start.  As a result, championship preparation fails to result in championship confidence.  Hoka Hey means to bring quality thinking to quality work.  As coaches, we can provide athletes with evidence to trust their training and we can model quality thinking about the work they put in so they can eventually learn to think this way themselves and ultimately trust their training. 
  2. Fight with reckless abandon. – Reckless abandon (definition):  Acting freely and uninhibited by the consequences of one’s actions.  Competing with reckless abandon does not mean playing reckless baseball.  Being reckless results in making stupid decisions and attempting things you’re not prepared to do.  This is not what we’re talking about.  Competing with reckless abandon means controlling the controllables, bringing a stubborn conviction to those things you can control (e.g., your preparation, your routine, and your approach), and letting go of those things you can’t control (e.g., the outcomes and results that are largely influenced by your teammates, opponents, coaches, the umpires, “bad bounces”, etc.).
  3. Accept whatever follows.   Many players are reluctant to accept the consequences for their actions because they equate acceptance with surrender.  Acceptance is not surrender.  To surrender means to give up or give in.  Acceptance directs attention to the process that underlies performance outcomes – it means making sense of what happened, making peace with it, and moving forward.  Successful pitchers understand that they only have control over the process until the ball leaves their hand but cannot control the results that follow – Trust your stuff, pitch with reckless abandon, and accept whatever follows.  Similarly, hitters only have control over the process leading up to swinging the bat and making contact but cannot control what happens once the ball leaves the bat – Trust your training, hit with reckless abandon, and accept whatever follows.  Many rocket line drives end up in the glove of a middle infielder with quick reflexes.  The best players have learned to bring complete conviction to their process and then accept whatever follows – they no longer allow the threat of a negative outcome to confine their aggression or erode their conviction.

Lastly, “Hoka Hey” is an attitude, a choice, and a paradox that defies conventional wisdom.  It means to seek out what others avoid, to embrace what others fear, and to fight when others retreat.  Hoka Hey is truly a paradox.  Great baseball is also a paradox – In baseball, less is believed to be more; letting it happen works better than making it happen; “effortless power” trumps “powerless effort”; trying less produces better outcomes than trying more; not thinking about results generates the best results.  It’s important to remember that conventional wisdom leads to conventional results and normal thinking results in normal levels of performance.  Great baseball requires an uncommon mindset and a paradoxical perspective that defies conventional thinking – “Hoka Hey!  It’s a good day to fight…It’s a good day to die!”

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Trusting Second Half – Hells Angel Thought of the Week
Can an “External Focus” Benefit Practice and Competition?

(Contact Bernie for the actual PDF journal article of Wulf's 10-year review of scientific research on External Focus)

Today’s “Thought of the Week” highlights our Thursday emphasis on External Focus and Competition.  Another crucial “Trusting Mindset” technique is helping athletes to focus externally more than internally when learning and executing skills.  While there is a general agreement among veteran coaches that an external focus benefits competition, few would agree that it fits as the optimal focus for practicing mechanics.  Coaching dogma has traditionally encouraged an internal focus (e.g., emphasis on bodily movement – “get your foot down early”, etc.) for mechanical work during practice and an external focus (e.g., emphasis on things happening outside bodily movement – “see the ball big”, “cover the outer half”, etc.) when performing during competition.  More than a decade of scientific research has put this conventional wisdom to the test and the results are both surprising and somewhat counterintuitive. 

Gabrielle Wulf is considered to be one of the world’s foremost sport scientists exploring how athletes focus attention to optimally learn, retain, and recall athletic movement.  Her findings across ten years are profoundly consistent for all experience levels and sports – (1) Players who adopt an “external focus” during practice and competition consistently outlearn and outperform those athletes who adopt an “internal focus”.  (2) Instruction that directs players to adopt an “external focus” leads to better learning of fundamentals during practice and better execution of fundamentals during competition.  Her findings can also be described as “subtle” because the slightest changes in the phrasing of coaching cues (e.g., changing “throw your hands” to “throw the barrel”) can lead to breakthrough moments with players making limited progress.

This week, let’s dig a little deeper into this new science and apply it to the developmental landscape of professional baseball.  First, we need to understand how sport science defines internal and external focus…

Internal Focus:  Instructions that direct an athlete’s attention to his own bodily movements.  For example, in almost any training situation where sport skills are to be learned, athletes are given instructions about the correct movement pattern or technique.  Those instructions typically refer to the coordination of the performer’s body movements, including the order, form, and timing of various limb movements.

External Focus:  Instructions that direct an athlete’s attention to things happening outside of his own bodily movements.  This can include things the player uses to compete (e.g., his bat, his glove, the ball, etc.), (b) the target or the desired result of movement (e.g., a pitcher focusing on the catcher’s glove, a hitter focusing on the pitcher’s release point, a middle infielder focusing on contact, etc.), or (c) the environment itself (e.g., the mound, the rubber, the box, the stakes, etc.).


Internal Focus   (emphasizes bodily movement)

External Focus (emphasis outside of bodily movement)

“Throw your hands”

“Throw the barrel”

“Head down through contact”

“See the barrel through the ball”

“Work your hands on top and inside the ball”

“Hit a low line drive up the middle or the other way”

“Be in a position to hit”

“See the ball BIG!”

“Stay back”

“Inside spikes anchored to the mound”

“Break your hands”

“Get the ball out”

These studies collectively point to four main reasons why athletes learn and execute fundamentals better with an external focus:  (1) An external focus activates the unconscious, fast, and responsive qualities of the body’s motor system and allows the body’s instinctive genius to run the show, whereas an internal focus constrains these movement qualities resulting in sluggish movement and slower reflexes.  (2) An external focus creates easier and more efficient movement with less muscle strain, whereas an internal focus results in increased muscle tightness in the working muscles and a “spreading” of tension to nearby muscles.  (3) An external focus facilitates faster and more accurate on-the-fly mechanical adjustments, whereas an internal focus creates rigid and less adaptable movement patterns.  (4) An external focus produces efficient and agile decision making, whereas an internal focus causes delayed and inflexible decision making.

Let’s be clear – These findings do not imply that mechanics don’t matter nor do they imply that coaches disregard teaching the fundamentals.  Quite the contrary – these findings offer what’s increasingly being recognized as a more effective way to teach mechanics and to successfully perform them during competition.  By directing players’ attention away from the sequencing of limb movements and body parts and redirecting it to relevant and meaningful external cues, the same goals can be accomplished more quickly and in a longer-lasting and transferrable way.  The goal here is not to banish internal focus cues from the coaching vocabulary.  These phrases are often the easiest and clearest way to get a player into a proper position (e.g., “put your hands here”).  But what’s easy is rarely permanent.  By encouraging athletes to adopt an external focus more often while using internal focus cues sparingly, coaches and players both will earn more return for their investments.

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Trusting Second Half – Hells Angel Thought of the Week
What I learned from Tony Gwynn and John Smoltz:  “Take Inventory” and “Hunt the Good Stuff”

Last week, we distinguished between the “Training Mindset” that brings skill in (work hard, try hard, think carefully about everything) and the “Trusting Mindset” that lets skill out (conviction, reckless abandon, and absolute acceptance).  We also painted the picture that today’s player is brought up more Boy Scout (Training Mindset) than Hells Angel (Trusting Mindset).

The Training Mindset is not a bad thing.  In fact, this attitude is absolutely essential to honing the game’s fundamental skills.  However, all strong medicine has its side effects.  While athletes are earning their merit badges and getting better at their fundamentals, they’re also getting better at working, trying, and thinking – these are the side effects of a Training Mindset addiction.  Consequently, work hard/try hard/think carefully about everything become the habitual by-products of the Boy Scout lifestyle and these default tendencies override instinctive genius at the worst possible times.  With the tying run in scoring position late in the game, it’s the Boy Scout that cautiously steps into the box prepared to try hard and ready to give 110% which leads to “powerless effort” when what’s really needed is the Hells Angel’s reckless abandon and “effortless power”!

Peak performance is a balancing act.  The Trusting Mindset attitude (conviction, reckless abandon, and absolute acceptance) must make up the majority of an athlete’s thinking so that this becomes his habitual default response under pressure.  This means, a player must spend 60% of his day as a Hell’s Angel, while devoting the remaining 40% to the Boy Scout – 60% constitutes a “majority” with plenty of the day left over (40%) for thoughtful, effortful, critical, careful, quality work.

Don’t be fooled though – Increasing the percentage of time players spend in the Trusting Mindset does not mean reducing the amount of time spent training – Athletes should never stop working to improve things.  It does mean bringing a different attitude to this work and looking at the training through a different lens – one designed to build confidence more than competence.  Here are two stories that highlight the Hells Angel lens we’re talking about…

Hall of Fame hitter Tony Gwynn earned the nickname “Captain Video” because he was one of the first players to systematically use video to improve performance.  However, the way he used video might surprise you – “Gwynn will take back to his hotel a tape he has made of the game on a small VCR he carries on the road and hooks up to clubhouse monitors. Then, with a second VCR he totes, he will transfer his at bats to another tape. He will actually edit those at bats onto three separate tapes -- one for good at bats, where he might have worked the count, fouled off tough pitches, just generally not gotten embarrassed; one of at bats with hits; and one of the swings that actually produced the hits. If there are bad at bats on the tapes, I just click them out,’ he says. Watch 'em once, click 'em out. You don't want to watch yourself looking like an idiot, waving at some curveball.’”  (Sports Illustrated, September 18, 1995).

Jeff Locke recently shared a similar conversation he had with former Braves pitcher John Smoltz at Braves 2008 Spring Training.  Jeff watched the way Smoltz went about business during big league camp and often noticed Smoltz stop and pause for a moment of reflection during flat ground and side work.  Jeff later asked him about this reflective pause.  Smoltz explained that after throwing a good pitch, he took a moment to mentally file it away so that he could later access the image and recall the pitch whenever he needed to throw it again.  Further, he refused to allow himself to get too frustrated or discouraged following bad pitches.  Instead, he told himself “erase” and mentally deleted the corrupt file from his memory which helped him get back to work and stay on task.

These two stories highlight the Trusting Mindset skills of “Taking Inventory” and “Hunting the Good Stuff”.  Warehouse managers take inventory for two reasons: (a) they must know what they DON’T have on the shelf so they can be sure to place an order for it, and (b) they must know what they DO have on the shelf so that when the job calls for it, they can quickly and confidently supply the demand.  Baseball players are a lot like warehouse managers in that they tirelessly take inventory.  Their Training Mindset calls attention to what’s missing, broken, or in short supply and prompts them to work to fill these voids.  Their Trusting Mindset brings attention to what’s available, working, armed, and ready and authorizes them to trust it and let it loose with conviction and reckless abandon.  At the end of the day (each day), peak performance is a balancing act, and the Gwynn and Smoltz stories highlight two great athletes’ efforts at balancing their Boy Scout self-criticism with their Hells Angel self-confidence.  As coaches, we can borrow from Gwynn and Smoltz and provide our athletes with a more confident lens through which they can view themselves; their work; their game; and ultimately master this balancing act.

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Trusting Second Half – Hells Angel Thought of the Week
Is Today’s Player More Boy Scout than Hells Angel?


Three Golden Rules:  Mac Wilkins, who won the Olympic gold in 1976 and the silver in 1984, told Christine Brennan of the Washington Post that he has always gone by three rules...“Dream and be creative like a Hippie. Be crazy and take risks like the Hell's Angels. Have the discipline and perseverance of a Boy Scout. To me, those are All-American virtues.”

If there were a Hall of Fame for premiere mental game coaches, Bob Rotella would certainly be in it.  As a teacher, Bob has been selected as one of the "Top 10 Golf Teachers of the 20th Century" and has directed the leading graduate program in the country for over 20 years at the University of Virginia serving as their Director of Sport Psychology - one of the nation’s foremost programs for applied sport psychology.  Bob has worked extensively with PGA champions including Hall of Fame players Nick Price and Tom Kite and Major Championship winners Davis Love III, Padraig Harrington, Trevor Immelman, Paul Azinger, Hal Sutton, David Toms, and Jeff Sluman, to name a few.

As I reflect on my own path of mastery and how its twists and turns brought me to 1701 27th Street East in Bradenton FL, I feel fortunate to have been mentored by two of Bob Rotella’s most talented disciples along this journey.  Many of my own philosophies come directly from their teachings.  One teaching in particular transcends the rest, so much that it’s become my mental game “Hedgehog” Core Conviction:

The psychology that brings skill in is different from the psychology that lets skill out.

In other words, there’s a style of thinking termed the “Training Mindset” (a.k.a. the “Boy Scout”) that builds skill and ability through working hard, trying hard, and thinking carefully about what you’re doing.  But there’s a different style of thinking called the “Trusting Mindset” (a.ka. the “Hells Angel”) that unleashes this skill and ability during high stress moments.  Ironically, what brings it in – work hard, try hard, and think carefully about what you’re doing – is the very thing that keeps athletes from unlocking and unleashing their best stuff when it matters most – during crucial moments in games, many players work hard, try hard, and think carefully about what they’re doing at the plate or on the mound and consequently end up getting in their own way.  Conversely, ask any ballplayer what it’s like to be in the Zone, and you’ll hear the opposite – “It felt easy, almost effortless.”  “I didn’t try to make it happen, I just let it happen.”  “I wasn’t thinking at all, just sensing and reacting, just playing the game with my eyes and not my head.”  So, this Zone-like “Trusting Mindset” style of thinking is characterized by conviction, reckless abandon, and absolute acceptance.

Most of today’s athletes come to us having already spent the majority of their baseball lives practicing and competing in Training Mindset ways (work hard, try hard, and think carefully about what you’re doing).  Today’s player has been coached 24/7 from the moment he first played tee ball at age five, and well-meaning volunteer coaches and high school educators have relentlessly reinforced the misconception that working hard, trying hard, and thinking carefully about everything are the keys to success.  In truth, these are the keys to acquiring skills and developing fundamentals, but they make up only part of the success equation.  Today’s player no longer hones instinct, learns risk taking, and accepts the consequences of his actions by meeting up in a vacant field, picking teams, drawing up some agreed upon rules, and playing until exhaustion like previous generations once did.  So, it comes as no surprise that today’s player is more coachable than ever and highly adept at structured practice, but is regarded by veteran coaches as “in his own head”, “lacking instinct for the game”, and “not performing to his potential” during high stakes competition – the consequences of an overriding “Training Mindset” and an underdeveloped and/or atrophied “Trusting Mindset.” 

Under stress, human beings don’t “rise to the occasion”.  Rather, they fall back on their training.  They naturally revert back to their dominant habits – The same holds true with thinking habits.  If a work hard/try hard/think about it attitude describes the upbringing of today’s player, and a work hard/try hard/think about it attitude dominates the work day of today’s newly drafted professional player, then work hard/try hard/think about it becomes the habitual and unavoidable approach taken by today’s player when dealing with stressful competitive situations - even with the baseball world cautioning that work hard/ try hard/think about it acts as the Kryptonite to instinctive genius.  Simply put, this is why players can’t get out of their own heads even though they know better!

So, is today’s player doomed to play out these “Boy Scout” patterns of the over-motivated underachiever?  No, but these patterns are likely to be the initial default tendencies we’ll see in our newly drafted players and we’ll have to be purposeful (and counter-culture) in developing more of a Hells Angel default mentality towards competition.  I will be contributing to our Trusting Second Half mission by sharing some weekly “Trusting Mindset” ideas aimed at (a) cultivating the Hells Angel qualities of conviction, reckless abandon, and absolute acceptance in our players, and (b) providing another lens through which players and coaches can view their work days as opportunities to train-the-trust and practice the “Trusting Mindset” style of thinking that lets skill out.

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By Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld
Originally posted to Arizona Airspeed's website on September 28, 2002

Visualization is the ability to create clear, detailed and accurate images in your mind, of events that you want to create as physical reality. We cannot possibly stress enough the importance of positive visualization. Every sports psychology book or peak performance book contains extensive chapters of the benefits and value of visualizing. This holds true in all areas of life far beyond sports.

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More Articles...

  1. Mental Game Tip, Week of May 4 2012: Create Deja Vu Experiences to Breakthrough to New Levels
  2. Mental Game Article, Week of July 25 2011: Pilot’s Checklist
  3. Mental Game Tip, Week of July 25 2011: "Training Mindset – Bring Thrills to Drills"
  4. Mental Game Tip, Week of July 4 2011: "Training Mindset – Deliberate Practice"

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