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...

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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."

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Baseball Prospectus

A Conversation with Buddy Biancalana

by David Laurila
Oct. 15, 2009

A great baseball philosopher once said: “Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical,” and it has long been a goal of the game’s intelligentsia to optimize performance by melding the two into a perfect synergy. Buddy Biancalana, a light-hitting shortstop for parts of six big league seasons, believes that it can be done systematically through a program called Perfect Mind Perfect Motion. Biancalana, who starred in the 1985 World Series with the Kansas City Royals, talked about the concepts behind PMPM, including what differentiates it from sport psychology, and why it just might be the next big thing in baseball.
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David Laurila: What was the genesis of Perfect Mind Perfect Motion?
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Buddy Biancalana: I had a zone experience playing in the World Series, back in 1985, where everything just slowed down for me. It was a wonderful experience, and one that is not uncommon for athletes in any sport; mine just happened to come at the most critical moment of my career, the World Series. Basically, everything just really slowed down and I hit 73 points higher than my career average, and I played errorless ball at shortstop for the entire series. I had a feeling that I couldn’t do anything wrong, but then, a year and a half later, I was out of the Major Leagues because I had no idea how to repeat it. I knew that it was the real thing, and that my full ability had risen to the surface, but it was gone and I was out of the league. My business partner, Steven Yellin, had the same experience. Steven was an amateur tennis champion in the State of Florida, who had won a match against John McEnroe as an amateur, and went on to play Number One singles at the University of Pennsylvania. He became really burned out on tennis, but one day, in a championship match, he just really went into the zone and played great. So both of us, from our experiences, believed that if it can happen once, there is no reason it shouldn’t be able to happen on a more regular basis and that there should be a systematic way to do it by design. Steven, over the course of 30 years, developed a way to teach this. We formed our company three years ago, and started working with, at the time, mostly professional baseball players. We had some great success, and have since added some other sports, doing work in the NBA, PGA golf, and ATP tennis. We have also just recently started working with a quarterback in football.
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DL:
How does the Perfect Mind Perfect Motion system work?
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BB: Over the course of many years, my partner quantified the processes that are taking place in the mind when an athlete is playing his best. He came up with a systematic way to teach it through some very simple, very powerful, yet practical drills and concepts that an athlete uses while practicing and playing. We teach by design what an athlete, in any sport, experiences, usually by chance, when playing his best. Typically, there are three themes that are emerging when an athlete is playing his, or her, best. One is that time slows down. Two is that the intellect shuts down — they’re not thinking. Three is their motion, or swing, becomes very fluid, effortless, and even more powerful, because the fast-twitch muscles — the muscles in the fingers, hands, wrists and forearms, which are responsible for last-second adjustments and perfect timing — become very, very enlivened by these processes in the mind. When those processes in the mind are not set correctly, that’s when the bigger muscles, like the shoulders, the upper body and torso, begin to dominate a motion. When that happens, the motion becomes less fluid and more forced, and less efficient. Also, the chance of injury increases. By experiencing certain processes in the mind, the motion becomes very fluid and the athlete is able to make a last-second adjustment and the chances for success increase dramatically.
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DL:
How was your partner able to quantify those processes?
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BB: Through deep analysis of his personal zone experience. We have since spoken to some brain researchers who have done a lot of research on Norwegian Olympic Gold Medalists. What they’ve told us is that what makes supreme athletes so good is that they are taking in information, as does anybody, through the prefrontal cortex of the brain — the CEO of the brain. What determines fluidity of motion, and effective motion, is how quickly this information, or these signals, move to the motor system, which is the cerebellum and basal ganglia. When these signals move seamlessly, and very quickly, motion is very fluid, and very effortless, and very efficient, versus what happens when they get held up in the prefrontal cortex, which is that the motion becomes more forced, and therefore less effective. We already knew that our program worked, and that it wasn’t just a philosophy or a concept. We knew that, basically, it’s a law of nature; it’s a law of motion. What we subsequently learned. from these brain researchers, is what transpires neurophysiologically.
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DL:
Have you found that certain personality types fare better in the program than others?
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BB:
That’s a great question. The fewer psychological issues an athlete has, the better off they’re going to be in utilizing our program. The players who have had some trouble with our program are typically younger in professional baseball; they’re younger A-ball players who, although they like the program and know that these are the processes that have to occur in their mind in order for them to play their best, they can’t always do it in a game. There may be an addiction; there may be tobacco, there may be alcohol, or other issues interfering. Class A is littered with very talented players who never make it out of A ball. A lot of times, they have some unresolved issues, and we definitely help those players. We help them to identify those other issues, and we help lead them in the direction they need to go for help in order to resolve them. What we find is that an athlete’s full ability rises to the surface very quickly with what we teach, but that can kick up some other stuff, so we do utilize sport psychologists.
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DL:
What differentiates your program from sport psychology itself?
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BB:
First of all, our work takes place on the playing field. Sport psychology deals with a lot with unprocessed emotions, positive thinking, visualization and all of the emotions that might get in the way, and there are a wide variety of things that can get in the way of an athlete performing at his peak level. What we do is teach an athlete how to access deeper levels of mind-body coordination. Everything starts in the mind. You can’t move a finger without a thought, and what’s really important is where that thought is generated from — from what part of the mind. When it’s generated from a deeper level of the mind, there is less interference as the thought moves to the motor system that allows for more fluid effortless motion. The mind is like an ocean. There’s a surface level and a deeper level, and the surface area is very rough. As you go deeper, there’s more quietness; there’s more silence, and when one generates thoughts from that deep level, motion becomes more fluid.
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DL:
How long is the program? Is Perfect Mind Perfect Motion an ongoing process?
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BB:
We’re finding that the more time we spend with players, the better they do. The tune ups are important. Typically, we like to initially spend three or four days with an athlete, for about an hour, or an hour and a half, a day. Then, the follow up is very crucial, because it’s a very subtle arena in which we work. What we have is a teaching technique. It’s a coaching technique, and it’s how sports will be taught in the 21st century. The processes in the mind are more important than the processes in the body. Everybody knows that, and we’ve devised a systematic way to teach it. Just as you would need to treat a tree at the root level, and not just on the level of the branches, an athlete must access deeper levels of the mind to play consistently well. What we commonly hear from people, who have read about our program, and not experienced it, is that it sounds a little vague — that they can’t quite grasp it. But the zone is vague. It really is. When an athlete is in the zone, they don’t know what’s going on at a neuropsychological level. We do, and we help them understand what allowed them to play so well. We have a clear understanding of how to control the muscles in the body, especially the fast-twitch muscles that are responsible for last-second adjustments, which are responsible for fluidity of motion, which lead to perfect timing. We have a clear understanding of how the system works, and our drills and concepts allow any athlete to access deeper levels of mind-body coordination.
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DL:
Have you pursued working relationships with big league organizations?
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BB:
We have. Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals brought us in and did a test pilot, where they gave us five minor league hitters, and those five hitters showed an increase in OPS of 100.8 points each, versus the rest of their minor league hitters, who somehow showed a decrease of 22.45. Daryl Jones, who was their minor league player of the year, was one of the five, and he exceeded his career average by 95 points. So people know about us; it’s just a matter of an organization saying, “Okay, we really want to bring you in,” but unfortunately, our timing wasn’t all that good because of budget cuts in baseball. Also, what we teach is new, and baseball has a difficult time adapting to new thought, and new ideas, and new ways to do things, especially when it is on the field. Some teams will say, “Well, we just don’t have the money,” but they all had money to buy computers and get rid of their typewriters at one point. Once they want to take a close look at the big picture, they will see how we will save them huge amounts of money. One seven-year Major League veteran, who was making five million dollars, said that in a couple of years, this will be part of sports, just like weightlifting is now. Whether an athlete uses our drills and concepts, or not, he has to have these processes occur in his mind in order to play his best. The great ones do it naturally. Guys like Tiger, Federer, Michael Jordan, Steve Nash, A-Rod, and Tom Brady naturally do it, but they might not know how they’re doing it, and they don’t need to. They’re just able to do it, and that’s all that matters. Some players kind of figure things out over time. We can really speed up that developmental process, and that goes for all players, in all sports. But as great as many players are, such as Bonds, ARod, Sabathia, Soriano, Ryan Dempster and Evan Longoria, they all have, for the most part, struggled in the post-season when the pressure is turned up. Their mind-body coordination has broken down and they have not had a systematic way to access these deeper levels.
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DL:
Any final thoughts?
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BB:
There are certain laws of nature, how the universe operates. One of those laws is that water boils at 212 degrees, and you don’t have to believe it, but try boiling it at 200 degrees and you’re not going to get the desired result. But if you turn the heat up, you get boiling water every time. If you throw a rock off a building, we don’t even discuss which direction it’s going, because it’s the law of gravity. Similarly, there are laws of motion. We certainly didn’t create them, but we have discovered them, and more importantly, we’ve discovered how to align athletes with these laws of motion. We like to stress that what we teach isn’t a philosophy. It’s not a concept based on a belief system that you need to buy into. The muscles don’t work based on a belief system; they work on certain physiological laws. Now, I’m sure that there are some people out there who think this is some crack-ball idea. But others, like John Schuerholz, who knows a lot about our program, understand it and are big proponents of what we’re teaching. Jeff Luhnow and Dan Radison, of the Cardinals, really believe in what we’re teaching. Many don’t want to know about better ways, and even more people witness a better way but stick to the current style. What we teach is a more effective way to develop an athlete in any sport and get them to play consistently better, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to jump on the bandwagon right away. You often make changes in life only when you’re forced to, or when your competition forces you.


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