Interview with MLB's Kevin Slowey

For today's blog, I wanted to try something a little bit different.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of my good friends from college, Kevin Slowey, about the influence of the mental side of baseball on his career.  Kevin had one of the strongest work ethics I had ever been around in college and always impressed me with his discipline and commitment to improve as a player and person.  Kevin was extremely advanced mentally for a college baseball player and has continued to be so in his professional career.

Kevin went to Winthrop on an academic scholarship and developed into an All-American.  In only three years, Kevin set school records for wins and strikeouts.  Kevin was a second round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in 2005 and has accumulated over five years of big league service time.  He has three seasons of 10+ wins and has pitched in various roles for the Minnesota Twins and Miami Marlins.  In addition, Kevin had the experience of representing the United States in 2006 Olympic qualifying.  More importantly, Kevin is a great person and one I am proud to call a friend.

I hope you enjoy the perspective he brings as someone who worked his way through the grind of the minor leagues and into a solid Major League career.  Have your dictionary handy!

Q: What does the mental part of the game include for you?  How has this evolved as you've moved up through different levels of baseball?
A: The mental aspect of baseball has always been a large part of the game for me; it includes pre-game work with visualizations as I review the opponent and formulate a game plan, in-game adjustments and the resolve to focus on only one pitch at a time, and post-game in assessing my performance in an honest way, recognizing adjustments and then packing the game away rather than letting it linger in my mind.

As I moved through different levels of baseball, I became more and more aware of the importance of having a thorough and complete mental plan that I could put to use everyday.  The more complete my mental plan was, the more successful my years were.  Early on, my mental plan was more reactive, but as I moved through the levels of the minor leagues, my plan transformed to a proactive one, planning for situations rather than reacting once I found myself in the midst of them.

Q: What did the different organizations you've played for do for players?  Were there major differences place to place or even year to year within the same organization?
A: The mental aspect of the game wasn't very prevalent in baseball when I was drafted in 2005; very few organizations had sports psych programs in place.  Now, almost every organization has multiple sports psychologists on staff, and I think the role of the mental coach is really starting to solidify within the sport, both at the minor and major league levels.

Q: What do you see the role of a sport psych or mental skills coach being in the ideal environment?
A: I think the ideal role that a sports psychologist fills is to be a dependable resource with a knowledge base that the athlete can go to whenever they might need to.  I think the mental skills coach should be comfortable with players in/around the clubhouse, and should be available to speak conversationally and also by appointment in private.  The goal should be for an athlete to see the sports psychologist as a useful tool that he/she can use to produce better and more consistent results.

Q: Has any one particular person had a great influence on you with regards to the mental side of the game? If so, how?
A: There hasn't really been one particular person who stands out, but playing with and against highly successful players early on in my career like Orlando Cabrera, Carl Pavano, and Greg Maddux, who spoke often about the mental aspect of the game helped to convince me that the mental side of the game was incredibly important, and worth developing.


Q: Have you done much on your own to enhance your mental skills? If so, what?
A: Over the course of my career, the most impactful mental skill I have attempted to develop is the ability to maintain perspective. With every pitch and every outing, cultivating the ability to be mindful of the situation, to keep perspective rather than let the moment overwhelm me


Q: How important has routine been to you? Here, I am talking about how you prepare to pitch both before games and during the game. Are you big on doing the exact same thing before every pitch? Do you have a particular thought process to get read to pitch and/or pitch to pitch?
A: I think routine is necessary for any successful athlete. That routine may be altered at times, but a true routine creates an atmosphere of comfort and preparation, similar to a flight checklist before a plane takes off. Before each game I review the opponents lineup and roster, watch video to search for tendencies and then write out my pitch plan (writing things down helps me to see pitches in my mind rather than just talking about them)


I try to do the same things, both physically and mentally before each pitch:
1. Assess the situation I'm in (anyone on base, outs, count)
2. Decide definitively which pitch to throw before stepping back on the rubber
3a. Step onto the rubber
3b. Acknowledge the catcher and wait for him to give me a target
4. Begin my motion and pitch


Q: How open are guys in professional baseball in general to working with sport psychologists and mental coaches in your opinion? Has this evolved as you've been in baseball over the years?
A: I think baseball players are very open to the idea of working with mental coaches and sports psychologists. The prevalence of sports psych in baseball has grown exponentially in the past 7 years. I think that in the end every athletes wants to succeed. As this aspect of coaching/preparation continues to get results, I imagine an even greater percentage of players will start seeking out and using these tools.


Q: If you were giving advice to young players today on what, if anything, to understand at an early age about the mental side of baseball, what would it be?
A: I would encourage them to examine the mental aspect of baseball for themselves; to ask coaches and mental coaches for advice and instruction. No player would turn down advice from a pitching or hitting coach, so why would he/she avoid the help that a mental coach might be able to offer?


A huge "Thank you," to Kevin for agreeing to give his insight on the mental side of baseball and its influence on him. I thought about giving some of the points that really stood out to me, but I would rather hear from you all first. What stood out? Tweet it to me @Coach_Ehrlich, or email me @ehrlichb1@gmail.com. Are interviews something you would like to see more of? Let me know that too.  Thanks again for reading.




"The most impactful mental skill I have developed is the ability to maintain perspective." - Kevin Slowey

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