Fight or Flight

Some people have a hard time accepting the fact that their thoughts and emotions can have an impact on their physical performance. Many times, at least here in America, we believe that in order to perform at our highest capacity we have to get “pumped up”. Coaches love to challenge players with fear thinking that this will motivate them and cause them to perform at a higher level. Trying to wrap their mind around the fact that what we think and how we feel impacts our performance may sound a little “new age” but in reality it’s all about our physiology and how the body responds to such stimuli.

As we have grown and evolved as a species many of our primitive responses to the situations life presents have remained relatively unchanged. One of these is our fight or flight response. There are a number of responses that make up the fight or flight response. From pupil dilation, shortened and rapid breathing, to an increase in muscular tension prepare our body to either fight or flee the situation that our mind perceives as dangerous. In addition to an increase of muscular tension there is a decrease in fine motor skill. Our ability to perform tasks that require precision is diminished because the body is preparing our bigger muscles to fight or run.

So how is this related to our thoughts? Before the body can respond to stimuli it has to generate a thought about whether or not a situation is or is not a threat. How we perceive the events on the field dictate the thoughts we think which in turn determine the emotions we are feeling which then dictates the physiological response we experience. Even minor thoughts of negativity create symptoms of the fight or flight response. Why?

There is a school of thought that states that all negative thoughts and emotions are rooted in fear. This might be hard for people to accept yet from a physiological perspective regardless if we are feeling anger, anxiety, frustration, or fear the body’s response is relatively the same lending credit to this school of thought. Getting “pumped up” for example is rooted in the belief that if we don’t try hard then we won’t succeed which comes from a fear of failure. This creates the fight or flight response that reeks havoc on our ability to execute a mechanically sound swing on hittable pitches.

This information is important because it allows us to understand what exactly is taking place when we are getting frustrated or angry at the plate. It allows us to understand how to best prepare for our at-bats. What’s important is that we recognize when we begin to think these negative thoughts or feel these negative emotions so that we can shift our thinking, focus on our breathing, bring ourselves present, so that we’re able to avoid the negative impact the fight or flight response creates.

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