October 27- 2007
Former Royal Biancalana behind program aimed to put athletes in the right mental zone
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star
BOSTON | Well, this whole World Series seems to have gone clutch crazy, hasn't it?
Stories of Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling being postseason sure things are sprinkled occasionally with David Ortiz's walk-off reputation for the Red Sox. On the other side, even as The Streak is now surely dead, people still marvel at the Rockies' ability to clutch-up and win so many times when their season was on the line.
Jason Varitek talks about "being in the zone." Matt Holliday talks about "eliminating distractions." Mike Lowell talks about "clearing your mind."
Tiger Woods says there are times he hits a key shot that he doesn't remember anything after pulling the club out of the bag. That's the mental place all athletes dream of being in.
And that's the place former Royals light-hitting shortstop-turned World Series star Buddy Biancalana thinks he can take them -- on cue, and repeatedly.
"We're setting up the conditions athletes have experienced by chance when they're playing their best," he says. "We're able to teach it by design."
If this works, if the program really allows athletes to bottle some of that in-the-zone magic, Biancalana thinks the program will change the way sports are played and taught.
So far, he and business partner Steven Yellin, a former tennis pro, have done varying degrees of work and demonstration with six major-league organizations and worked personally with eight pro ballplayers.
"I think you would expect we wouldn't engage in something that we didn't think has or has the potential to have some benefit," says Braves president John Schuerholz. "We've spent considerable time with Buddy and Steve. I think those actions speak louder than anything I can say."
The idea behind "Perfect Mind, Perfect Motion" is to eliminate prolonged slumps and choking through mental drills designed to put athletes in that serene cerebral state one always hears about after a guy hits three home runs or throws a no-hitter.
So far, the program is being used for athletes in baseball, basketball, golf and tennis.
They haven't gone mainstream yet -- this is the first major newspaper article about it -- but Biancalana and Yellin plan on pushing their program more aggressively starting with the winter meetings in December.
"It works," says Nick Green, who finished 2007 with Seattle and has played most of the last four years at Class AAA. "I know it does."
Green is one of Biancalana's pilot students, and last season hit .313 -- 58 points higher than his career average -- and went from three home runs the year before to a career-high 21.
All together, Biancalana says his top four pro ballplayer students, including Green, improved their batting averages by a combined 317 points. The program does not alter swings or stances or form.
It uses mental drills, which are done before and during competition. Sounds different, right?
"I was the perfect candidate because I had such a bad year (in 2006) that I was open to anything," says Green. "They're trying to consistently keep you in the zone. The way they explained it to me, 'When you're in the zone, how do you feel?'
"I was like, 'I don't feel anything because I'm not thinking. Their drills, they're basically teaching you how to stay in that state and not think too much."
Biancalana and Yellin won't give specifics about their drills, calling it proprietary. Biancalana says the most common three descriptions from athletes in the zone are that everything slows down, the mind shuts down, and the motion was very fluid and effortless.
He says his drills allow that to come about on cue by promoting the fast-twitch muscles over growth muscles. Most coaches teach mechanics, hoping these situations occur. Biancalana says they have it backward.
Yellin says the program was developed entirely off original research and knowledge, and says it is "far, far removed from sports psychology" because they deal with actions instead of feelings.
Green calls Alex Rodriguez "a buddy" who could benefit. He calls Derek Jeter a former teammate who does all this without realizing it.
"I played golf yesterday, and my mechanics in golf are bad, so it didn't work," Green says. "I wasn't confident in my mechanics, so I couldn't do the drills. If you're not confident in your mechanics, the drills won't help you.
"It doesn't come overnight, and that's what a lot of people are afraid of. That's what stops a lot of people. You have to stick with it, knowing it's going to help you out in the long run."
Biancalana has been on both sides of it. He hit 84 points higher than his career average in the 1985 World Series, driving in the go-ahead run in game five and making two spectacular defensive plays that kept game six scoreless.
Two years later, he was out of baseball at the age of 27, a self-described head case who couldn't figure out how to get back.
He kicked around a couple different careers after his playing days, always keeping the '85 Series in mind, always wondering how his career would have ended up if he could harness the mental state he was able to keep for the best nine days of his career.
"Whether it's the ability of A-Rod, or the ability of myself, or your ability on the softball field, we can access all that potential and bring it to the surface in a very short time frame," Biancalana says. "People say slumps are part of the game. I've never believed that.
"Whether it be for one game or one week or one month or just having that lights-out season, my belief was, if you can experience something one time, there's a way to experience it all the time. I just didn't know how until now."
Keep that in mind next time someone hangs a curveball or strikes out with two out in this World Series.
© 2007 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.