Ask any MLB hitter and they’ll tell you that without confidence, they’re an out.
Confidence, it turns out, is as vital to a players success as is talent. A boost in this magic elixir directly translates to a better chance to reach base safely and hit for power. One of the lesser-known ways to impact that confidence is body language.
It’s been well-publicized that our body language can have a remarkable impact on the way people respond to us. Books have been devoted to the non-verbal communication of our great leaders. More importantly, there is growing sentiment that your body language changes the way you respond to you.
Armed with that information, I’m going to pose a question. Compare two men stepping into the batter’s box– one hitter strides in and stands tall (think Derek Jeter), his shoulders back and chin up; the other hunches over timidly, eyes on home plate. Which seems better equipped to handle their impending plate appearance?
Now, what if I told you that not only would you perceive that person as stronger after digesting his posture, but that your perception would be reality?
Social scientist Amy Cuddy has researched the topic from multiple angles. She’s written and lectured on the issue and has one of the most popular TED talks on the web today.
“Amy Cuddy shares an easy way that anyone can change not only others’ perceptions of them, but the way they feel about themselves — spending two minutes "power posing" with their arms or elbows out, their chin lifted and their posture expansive. Cuddy’s research, done in collaboration with Dana Carney, has shown that adopting the body language associated with dominance for just 120 seconds is enough to create a 20 percent increase in testosterone and a 25 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. In other words, adopting these postures makes a person feel more powerful.”
A 20 percent increase in testosterone? Isn’t this what A-Rod, Ryan Braun and the like gambled their careers trying to acquire? I once asked a pitcher teammate what it was like to be on steroids. He said, “Kap, it’s like being 10 feet tall and bulletproof on the mound.” I’ve never met a man who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to increase their levels without the use of drugs.
On a plane ride in 2002, while with the Colorado Rockies, Larry Walker held court and shared with me the importance of standing on deck with a specific posture.
“Kap,” he said, “when I’m in that circle, I’m standing with my shoulders back, staring at the pitcher in a position of power. I want to make eye contact with him. I want him to know how confident I am.”
Walker knew precisely what he was doing, but I ponder if he associated the feeling he had with an actual change in hormone production.
I recall “Walk” standing tall and generally displaying uniquely masculine energy but I always chalked it up to his physical size. Given Amy Cuddy’s research, I can go back and put the puzzle pieces together. His was a calculated power posture.
It wasn’t just on the field that he displayed this body language. When he walked into a room, people took notice. Larry took up space.
“By inflating his chest, widening his shoulders, putting his hands on his hips, and/or spreading his feet apart when standing, he’s attempting to appear larger”
In appearing larger, he felt larger. In feeling larger, he felt powerful and in control.
Taking up space is also about “opening up,” according to Cuddy. She suggests that we are the most impacted by our own body language.
“We are influenced by our non-verbal. We do this when we have power chronically and when we’re feeling powerful in the moment,” she says in her TED talk.
Independent of the strength implications, baseball, like most athletic events, is a game of feeling capable of handling the current challenge. With that bravado, we’re Dustin Pedroia, a man without the physical stature of many of his peers but a perennial All-Star. Without it, we’re in Triple-A. Or released No wonder these guys risk their legacies to acquire that state of being.
We can teach ourselves to feel more powerful and create confidence when performing activities like playing baseball. When do we “crack” and succumb to peer pressure in sports? Most often, it’s when we feel weak.
In order to teach ourselves this power, we should emulate Walker. Before an athletic competition, Cuddy suggests power posing in the mirror for two full minutes to inspire this increase in testosterone and decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. Lower stress equals a calmer approach at the plate. Calm equals a still head, allowing us to see the ball better. Confidence and relaxation; the hitter’s Holy Grail.
What digesting these studies ultimately suggests to me is this: As we as players continue to discover new techniques that allow us to both mentally and physiologically impact our performance, we can break new ground, smashing those records we always thought were unbreakable. We simply need to be bold enough to implement the science that is continually evolving.