A major league baseball player who was mired in a most unusual slump was referred to me. As a first year starting pitcher he was unable to make it through the 5th inning of his first five starts of the season. He rapidly developed an irrational belief that he would never again make it through the 5th inning.
Interestingly, he pitched extremely well during the first four innings of each game he started. After being unable to survive the 5th in his first two starts he began to worry. Specifically, he began to “what-if” about not making it through this most troublesome inning. So, the five days he had to endure between starts became mentally excruciating.
He began obsessively engaging The Toxic Three zone blockers that guarantee poor performance. “What- if it happens again?” “What-if I get sent down to Triple-A?” “Why am I playing like this?” “I don’t belong in the big leagues, I’ll never make it, I’m a loser,” played over and over in his conscious, overthinking mind. Unbelievably, he explained that he would actually calculate his earned run average (ERA) rising during the 5th inning. He would do this after surrendering runs, prior to the next batter stepping up to the plate.
Now, I already understood that anyone who makes it to “the show,” the big leagues, is a world class athlete. Any major league baseball player is better than 99.9999% of the players in the world. So when he said to me at the outset of our session, “I don’t know what you think you can do, I already know I’ll never make it through the 5th inning,” I was prepared.
I continued, “I have a question for you, but I don’t want you to answer it until later in the session. Here goes: ‘What’s so special about the 5th inning?’ I promise we’ll come back to it.”
I proceeded to inquire about his Personal History of Success, his ability to support himself and his teammates when having a difficult time, and about his Future Memories of Success. I was highlighting The Big Three techniques that create Peak Performance.
Personal History of Success: Why-ning (asking, “Why did I play so poorly?”) is used as a positive trigger to magnify your Personal History of Success.
I was curious about the road that brought him to the highest level of professional baseball. “So let’s put the stress and pressure aside for just a moment and talk about pure baseball.” I continued with the following questions, “When did you first realize you loved the game? Who were your primary supporters? What are your most meaningful memories of your life in baseball, from little league, and high school, on to the minor leagues?”
Over the next five minutes I learned a great deal about his passion for the game. He told me of “playing from the time I could barely walk with my brothers and dad; the smell of the glove oil I would use to break in a new mitt; the ping of the aluminum bat when I hit home runs; the sound of my mom’s voice cheering me on; the awesome feeling of getting drafted; the party we had when I signed my first contract,” and on and on he went.
I could feel his energy heightening as he reconnected with and detailed his Personal History of Success in baseball. So I said, “Can you tell me about a time, from little league to the present, excluding your past five major league starts, that you did NOT make it through the 5th inning?” I fully anticipated that he would remember a few times when he was off his game and was taken out prior to the 5th inning. He looked up for a minute and reviewed his career as a pitcher and realized that he could not, amazingly, remember a single time he was removed from a game, on any level, before this season. “So what’s so special about the 5th inning? Don’t answer that yet.”
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