Royals' World Series hero Biancalana helps athletes reach their peak
By Tim Menicutch
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 08/04/2013 04:34:08 PM PDT
Every athlete talks about the zone. The zone is the holy grail of sports performance, a time when mind and body meld and an apparent effortless ease propels an athlete to incredible heights.
Every athlete wants to spend eternity inside the zone. But the zone, at least for most mere mortal athletes, is fickle and fleeting.
Those who enter the zone have a hard time explaining how they arrived in that magical place. Furthermore, they have an even harder time figuring out how to get back into the zone once its powers have subsided.
Buddy Biancalana, a 1978 Redwood High graduate, spent most of a seven-year major league baseball career far removed from the zone. A first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals out of high school, Biancalana had a career batting average of .205.
However, in the 1985 World Series Biancalana slipped quietly and unexpectedly into the zone and helped the Royals knock off the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
Biancalana's on-base percentage (.435) was second best on the team. He drove in the winning run in pivotal Game 5. Biancalana played so well in the '85 Series he prompted Hall of Fame teammate George Brett to say, when somebody asked him how the Royals had won the series, "Pitching and Buddy Biancalana."
The zone time for Bianacalana was more fickle and fleeting than for most. He never found the zone again and, in fact, 18 months later he was an ex-major league baseball player.
"I never quit thinking about what happened to allow me to play so well in the World Series, and even more than that, what does it take to get back to that level of play?" Biancalana said. "It has been my life's journey to figure this out."
Joining forces with former collegiate tennis star Steven Yellin, Biancalana co-authored the book, "The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes," devoted entirely to the subject of systematically training athletes to enter the zone.
"If you ask 100 athletes how they feel when they are playing their best, they typically hit on three recurring responses," Biancalana said. "No. 1, they say time slowed down. No. 2, they talk about the fact that they weren't thinking just reacting. And finally, they all noticed that their athletic motion was more fluid and effortless."
The cutting-edge concepts detailed in Biancalana's book, published in 2010, have slowly but surely gained an almost cult following in the world of sports.
Biancalana says San Francisco Giants' pitcher Chad Gaudin and one of the other Giants' starters, who prefers to remain anonymous, are two of his nationwide legion of disciples.
"I worked with Chad before the 2012 season,"
Biancalana said. "I saw his career was sputtering and called him one day. Since we worked together on the concepts of the book, statistically he has started turning it around."
The numbers bear out Biancalana's claim. In 2010 and 2011, Gaudin's ERA hovered around 6.00. In 2012, after his session with Biancalana, Gaudin improved his ERA to 4.54.
Gaudin seemingly has entered the zone this season, in both starting and relief roles for the Giants, he has a 5-2 record and a 2.64 ERA.
When Brett learned of Biancalana's groundbreaking concepts, he sought his former teammate's help with his golf game.
"I told him I'd help him with his golf game. He had the yips while chipping," Biancalana said. "I told him we wouldn't charge him, but if he liked what we taught, he could give us a testimonial for the book. But I told him, only if he liked what he learned.
"His yips went away very quickly," said Biancalana, who has coached sessions with the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Bulls and two-time U.S. Open golf champion Lee Jansen.
Brett's testimonial appears on the front cover of "The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes."
"This is a strong statement," Biancalana says, "but this is the most revolutionary thing to ever hit sports. Golf is starting to realize it. It is going to revolutionize the game of golf."
Rick McCord, whose McCord Golf Academy in Florida is recognized by Golf magazine as one of the "Top 25" golf schools in America, is on board already.
"About a year ago, I was in my office and Steve (Yellin) called and described what he had," said McCord, who has been a guest on the Golf Channel's academy live show several times. "I started learning about it and it caught my attention. They (Yellin and Biancalana) came in and certified all (five of) my instructors to the concepts."
McCord says the appeal of the concept is its ability to bypass the conscious mind and tap directly into the subconscious mind.
"When you're not playing well, people tell you that you have to focus," McCord said. "But when you try to focus, that involves the conscious mind. Your slump can worsen because basically you are focusing too much. That's the contradiction of people trying to figure this out. In the new concepts, they get people to quiet their mind. From there, they can tap into their fluid motion."
McCord says the concepts of the book have bridged the gap as to why some people are better at sports than others. He says the superior athletes have more of an innate ability to quiet the mind.
"You know how to do it," McCord said. "For example, people go to the putting green very focused on making a putt. But in actuality, when they walk on the green they don't have to think about making the putt. That's why they're there. They think they have to make the putt. That conscious thought puts a lot of pressure on making the shot. But if you instead putt for the general vicinity of the hole the mind defaults to the subconscious, and it only knows one thing — to get the ball in the hole."
University of Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea, whose teams have won eight national titles and have made 21 trips to the NCAA Division I Women's College World Series in the last 24 seasons, is also on board.
"I'm on board because I'm very excited about the possibilities that lie ahead with this concept," said Candrea, who coached the gold-medal winning USA Olympic softball team in 2004. "It might be something that is hard to convince athletes of at first, but once they're convinced and have experienced the benefits, it makes a lot more sense, and with the credibility comes ability."
Biancalana concedes innovative and pioneering concepts take time to gain a foothold, especially in baseball. Still, he is convinced the concepts from his book will be as common as taking batting practice in the next 10 years.
"There are many different ways we could go with this," he said. "My passion, of course, is baseball. Unfortunately baseball is based maybe too much on tradition. But we are going to have an impact on Major League Baseball organizations that is going to be tremendous.
"They just don't know it yet."
Contact Tim Menicutch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
the Biancalana file
• 1978 graduate of Redwood High
• First-round selection (25th overall) of the Kansas City Royals in 1978
• Played six seasons in the major leagues, five with the Royals including the 1985 World Series championship team
• Co-authored the 2010 book "The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes"
• For more information on sports zone training, go to pmpmsports.com.