Before He Was Thor

        If you're like me, you're excited for the NL Wild Card game tonight.  The pitching matchup of Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard.  The two both have reputations as being tough and competitive on the mound.  Bumgarner's postseason resume speaks for itself as in the debate for the greatest of all time.  Syndergaard won two games last year at the age of 22 and is well known for the first pitch behind Alcides Escobar in the World Series.  Although there is a lot to be written about Bumgarner, the focus of the blog today is going to be Noah "Thor" Syndergaard.  More specifically, it's going to be about how Thor wasn't always Thor.  There has been a lot of time and effort put into becoming the guy who had this to say about pitching in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game Wednesday night:  "It's like every little kid's dream come true to pitch in a real high-stakes game.  So, I'll embrace it.  I look forward to it.  It should be a lot of fun."

        Before Noah Syndergaard was the guy looking forward to pitching in the Wild Card game, his physical stuff was ahead of his mental "stuff."  I remembered people talking about his mental challenges, and a simple Google search yielded some solid quotes from 2014 while Syndergaard was in the Minor Leagues.  They're addressed below:

"I feel like my stuff is there from the physical part of the game.  It's just all about the mental aspect."
The acknowledgement is there that Syndergaard had work to do on the mental side.  Understanding the mental side is something to work on is important to getting anything out of it.  If you ignore its importance, you likely will be an inconsistent player.

"I think I improved pretty drastically....But more the mental side of the game.  It was my first season I really struggled for a certain span of time.  I really had to adapt and really learned a lot."
This quote is from the end of 2014.  Your athletic career, and life for that matter, are a constant adaptation.  Struggles are tough to go through, but you can learn from them if you allow yourself.  Understanding why things happen, rationally, is a major step in the right direction for any athlete or coach.

"I feel like if it was earlier in the season, with where my mindset was at, I would have probably been done after three innings.  I would have been beaten out there....That's just the way things were going and I didn't know how to handle it all that well."
One of the most difficult things for a pitcher is being able to get past a bad inning.  Many times things snowball for any number of reasons.  Thoughts of how the result of the total outing isn't going to be there no matter what after a crooked number, discomfort with your stuff, and just wondering if you are going to be out of the game any pitch now are only a few.  Being able to value every pitch, every hitter, and every inning properly can help with this.  Every pitch is important, but no pitch is ever worth two.  Your job as a pitcher is to compete and throw with conviction for however long you are on the mound regardless of circumstance.  As a position player, it's to compete offensively and defensively and to do so regardless of a bad at-bat or a rough play in the field.

"It's just being more consistent."
Consistent behavior gets consistent results.  You want to be consistent?  Do what it takes to consistently execute pitches.  I can't tell you what that means from a preparation standpoint because it's different for different pitchers.  Ultimately, it takes what it takes.  What it takes, once the game starts, is conviction and skill.

Those are just a few quotes from a young(er) Noah Syndergaard on the mental side of his game.  I think they're important to consider for several reasons.  The first is there is a tendency to accredit mental toughness to just the way an athlete is.  I'd be willing to bet a year's salary there will be a tweet come across my timeline tonight implying as much about Syndergaard and/or Bumgarner (shoot me a message if you want to take the bet!).  In reality, genetics can help, but mental toughness, whatever it is, develops over time.  There has been a clear evolution of Syndergaard over the years.  After all, we have seen that high school yearbook picture!  The development is the second key reason for the piece today.  A strong mental game takes time.  Nobody can make you a "master of the mental game" in one easy session or one book.  If they promise you as much, I'd encourage you to run as fast as you can in another direction.  It takes time to improve your skills whether they are physical or mental.  Be patient, and stay with it.  Thor, like Rome, wasn't built in a day.  Neither are you.


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