The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes   Get your copy of Steven Yellin and Buddy Biancalana's new book:
The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes

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Every athlete has his “what ifs.”

Mine came after the 1985 World Series, when I played shortstop for the World Champion Kansas City Royals...

George Brett -
Baseball Hall of Fame

"I spent three hours with Buddy on the golf driving range. It was an extraordinary experience. I am a 5 handicap golfer and I have a fairly consistent swing. But after working with Buddy and his program, my game went to another level. I was hitting the ball further with less effort and making more solid contact with the ball. Even some shots I normally had problems with were corrected and became more consistent."

Dr. Fred Travis On How
Fluid Motion is Created in the Mind

Dr. Fred Travis Talks About
EEG Coherence and Putting

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Baseball Prospectus Article
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mental training with Biancalana
for his September success

'Getting out of your own way'

The X Factor

By Steven Yellin and Buddy Biancalana

How many times has this happened in the Big Leagues?

A good prospect all of a sudden makes a huge jump in his playing ability and is sent to the majors.

Take the case of pitcher Chase Wright of the Yankees.

The Yankees drafted Wright out of a Texas high school in the third round of the 2001 draft, and he developed slowly. Through his first four seasons, he was 13-21 with a 4.84 E.R.A. and had not yet reached Tampa, the Yankees’ high Class A team.

But in 2005 at Charleston, a low Class A team, Wright accelerated. He was promoted to Tampa last season and won the Florida State League’s pitcher of the year award with a 1.88 E.R.A. Since the start of the 2005 season, he is 23-7 with a 2.76 E.R.A.

Now it could be that over time his pitching mechanics improved. This is a likely scenario. But something else happened with Chase as something else usually happens with players who all of a sudden start to hit or pitch on another level.

Let’s call this something else the X factor.

What is the X factor?

Well, when his Yankee pitching buddy Sean Henn noticed Wright’s numbers and sent him a text message a few days ago, he joked in the message that Wright would take his job if he kept this up.

Wright replied back saying, “I’m throwing out of my mind; I don’t know what it is,” Henn replied, “don’t try and figure it out. Just keep doing it.”

This is a perfect explanation of the X factor — there is no explanation. At least there is no explanation that current managers and players can succinctly describe.

Mark Newman, the Yankees senior vice-president for baseball operations is also quite familiar with the X factor. His description unfortunately is also quite hazy. When asked to comment about Wright’s sudden progress, he said:

“Stuff happens like that; there’s a lot of kids who don’t improve incrementally, but something just clicks. With him, he just started throwing more strikes, and his changeup has really improved.”

With all the coaches, the managers, the scouts, the front office people with extensive baseball backgrounds trying to figure out a way to best develop a player as quickly and systematically as possible, the whole process can at times be boiled down to a statement that “stuff happens like that.”

Well guess what? Stuff happens like that a lot.

Not too systematic an approach there.

But let’s say that there is a very accurate understanding of the X factor.

Let’s say that the X factor can be defined as having three characteristics:

  Time slows down

  The intellect shuts down

  Fast-twitch muscles are activated

This is what a player feels when the X factor kicks in. All great athletes have this experience. When the intellect shuts down (remember Wright’s statement, “I am throwing out of my mind.” This just means he shut down his intellect), time takes on a different dimension which in turn activate those muscles that are responsible for fluid, effortless motion.

This explanation takes all the mystery out of all the statements (including Chase’s and Mark Newman’s) about why a player mysteriously gets better so quickly and makes a quantum leap in performance.

But remember as quickly as the X factor kicks in, it can leave just as quickly. Just ask all those players who were pitching or hitting lights out in the minors, were called up, and then fell flat on their face.

If it were possible to develop in a systematic way these three characteristics, then a team would not have to wait until the stars are aligned perfectly for the X factor to kick in. They would be able to align the stars themselves

That is a very comforting feeling to have.

That is what we do.

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