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  • Mental Toughness Tips #1: Lessons in Sport Psychology from Ken Ravizza

    In the worlds of baseball and softball, the words sport psychology are synonymous with the name Ken Ravizza. Ravizza was a long-time professor at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and sport psychology consultant to the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Angels, the Long Beach State baseball team, and numerous CSUF teams. Not only did he work with professional, Olympic, and collegiate athletes but high school and little league athletes as well.

    He would often remind the sport psychology professionals and students that he mentored to bring the same attention and professionalism to work with little leaguers as to work with professional athletes. He would prescribe the same advice he gave athletes about being focused on the present moment to those he mentored in sport psychology. He was known to say, “Be where you need to be, when you need to be there.”

    The book cover of Headsup Baseball2.0 shows a professional baseball player using mental skills

    Ravizza’s original book that he co-authored in 1998, Heads Up Baseball, has long been a manual for ballplayers and sport psychology professionals, alike. In 2016, he updated his classic by co-authoring Heads Up Baseball 2.0.

    On July 8, 2018, Ravizza passed away. This came as sudden and shocking to many of us who had the honor of learning from him. Not only was Ravizza a pioneer in the field of sport psychology, he was beloved by everyone who knew him. The American Baseball Coaches Association held a Twitter chat shortly after his passing. They asked coaches in attendance to share their most meaningful moments with Ravizza. One coach shared that, as a random stranger, he had cold-called Ravizza in order to pick his brain. By the end of the call, Ravizza had invited the coach to visit him in his home.

    I had first learned about Ken Ravizza as a sport psychology intern at the Major League Baseball Youth Academy (MLBYA) in Compton. Although I had an athletic background and I was knowledgeable about sport psychology, I had never played baseball. My supervisor at the time recommended that I read Ravizza’s book. I bought a copy of Heads Up Baseball and I was hooked. I kept the book close to me and reviewed it frequently as I prepared sport psychology workshops for high school and college baseball players.

    After my time at the MLBYA, I was the team sport psychology consultant for the Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) women’s softball team. During my drive to LAVC, I would listen to audio recordings of Ravizza discussing the mental game. With a deadpan sense of humor, he described a nerve that descends from the human brain and wraps tightly around the anus leading to “stinkin’ thinking” or, in other words, negative self-talk. Ravizza went on to describe his methods of combatting negative self-talk and its impact on performance. I never shared Ravizza’s humorous insight on the origin of stinkin’ thinking with my softball players. However, I did my best to share his insights and techniques for helping athletes to perform their best by “being where they need to be, when they need to be there.”

    Ken Ravizza discusses sport psychology with Dr. Jason von Stietz and others

    Photo Credit: Chris Stretch/Instagram

    I went on to attend several lectures by Ravizza at professional conferences. They never seemed to be on the planned topic and they always seemed to go at least a half hour past the scheduled time.

    No one ever minded. I just planned my schedule accordingly.

    At one such lecture, in accordance with Ravizza’s trademark down-to-earth style, he invited everyone in attendance to spend a day at his house in Redondo Beach learning about sport psychology.

    Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. I consider that day to be one of the most formative in my career as a sport psychology professional.

    Not only did I get to learn from Ravizza, I got to spend the day chatting, joking, and rummaging through his personal items such as major league baseball scouting reports and his World Series Championship ring.

    The field of sport psychology owes much to Ravizza. As a professional and as a human being, I wish I had more time with him, but I am grateful for the time I had and the lessons I learned.

    Please continue following this blog to read an ongoing series featuring sport psychology lessons learned from Ken Ravizza. In my next article in this series, I will begin discussing Ravizza’s Heads Up Baseball system that helps athletes and performers to play their best when it matters most.

    Please contact us if you are seeking sport psychology services.

    Author Dr. Jason von Stietz specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Sport/Performance Psychology in Torrance, CA. He is available for a free initial phone consultation. Dr. von Stietz works with individuals from Long Beach, the greater Los Angeles area, and the South Bay including Palos Verdes, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and El Segundo.