Need to Take Your Pitching to the Next Level? Here’s What John Smoltz Did (Hint: Mental Toughness)

At the All-Star break of the 1991 season, John Smoltz was 2-11 with a 5.16 ERA. It was the middle of his second full season in the Big Leagues and even though he had had some success in his rookie year, there were many people that doubted whether he would ever develop into a winning pitcher. As the story goes, Smoltz turned things around in a big way and went 12-2 with a 2.62 ERA in the second half of the season and never looked back.

How did Smoltz make that incredible turnaround? He credits his psychologist, Dr. Jack Llewellyn, with helping him turn around that disastrous first half of the 1991 season, saying, “Dr. Jack was a big key in my turnaround. The main thing he taught me was to focus on the good and forget the bad.”

There are countless pitchers out there in dire need of turning things around in order to reach that “Next Level” or return to form of past success. Today we sit down once again with the ‘Mental Genius’ behind Smoltz’s turnaround, Dr. Jack Llewellyn. If you are a pitcher or a coach, this article should be treated like pure gold and applied immediately as we outline what Dr Jack did with Smoltz and what pitchers can do today to make their own turnaround a reality.

Enter Dr. Jack Llewellyn:

What Was the Starting Point For Your Mental Training with John Smoltz?

He had tremendous talent, good family support, was a solid Christian man, and had a deep desire to succeed. With that in place, it was obvious to me that he needed to control the things that he can control and let the other stuff go. MOST OF THE THINGS WE WORRY ABOUT IN LIFE ARE THINGS THAT ARE OUT OF OUR CONTROL.

What Was Your Main ‘Mental Goal’ For Smoltz When You Guys Were Getting Started?

My goal was to get John to spend all his energy on things he can control and let the rest go.

The goal for John and every other pitcher for that matter is to go into the game with the attitude that every single pitch is a pitch towards winning.

Why Do You Think Smoltz Was Struggling So Much Before You Started Working With Him?

What had happened was that he was such an emotional guy, that he started pitching not to lose. When that happens, you have no chance. It’s like trying not to miss a free throw- you have no shot. EVERY pitch needs to be a pitch to win.

What Role Did Golf Play In Your Mental Training Program with Smoltz?

Most of his mental training program we did on a golf course. (Most people know that Smoltz is a great golfer whom Tiger Woods has labeled as the best golfer he’s seen outside of the PGA.) If I could get him to leave a bad golf shot and go to the next shot mentally and with confidence, then we could talk about leaving a bad pitch and going to the next pitch with confidence as well. Golf was a great illustration for John.

What’s the Worst Thing A Pitcher Can Do Mentally?

You will see this all the time at every level of baseball. The worst thing you can do as a pitcher is this- Throw a great pitch and a guy gets a hit or throw a bad pitch AND THEN throw the next pitch off of that previous pitch. You can’t be successful throwing off of something bad. You can only be successful throwing towards something good.

For example, if you wind up to throw and you don’t want to go up and in, that doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about where do you WANT to go- NOT where to you not want to go. Never go away from a spot, always to a spot! Always go towards something good. What happens is that the guys behind you see you pitching to win and they play the same way.

For pitchers out there that want to improve, but don’t know where to start, what are the first three things they should do to maximize their potential?

1st First you need to have good pitching mechanics.

2nd Second you need to embrace what we just talked about- Never go away from a spot, always to a spot! Always go towards something good. Pitch to win.

(Franco’s quick point: Think about this for a second- No matter what the score is or the situation you’re pitching in, every pitch you throw has the potential to be the difference in the game. If the bases are loaded and your team is already down by 3, the tendency is to start feeling the pressure and pitching off a losing mentality. Instead, switch that around with the positive spin of knowing that each pitch is a pitch to win, NO MATTER WHAT HAS HAPPENED up until that point. Your team very well might score 4 more runs in that game. You executing and staying positive while down by 3 runs can be the difference in winning or losing that game. Pitch like a winner… even when you’re losing. )

3rd Third you need to work on body language. You need to show the guys playing behind you that you are throwing to win every single pitch.

Can You Please Expand On the Importance of Having Good Body Language as a Pitcher?

You need to show positive body language. The Braves have traded guys in the past mainly because they had bad body language. Just like when Glavine, Smoltz or Maddux would step on the mound, other teams would look out to the mound and say “Oh Crap! This guy looks like he’s ready to go”. The body language has a psychological impact on your opponent, but also on guys that are playing behind you.  I CANNOT over emphasis the importance of body language!

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Let us know what you think in the comments section below. What was helpful? What do you need to work on first?

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  • http://oneyearasrxd.wordpress.com Justin Farina

    Great interview/article…the mental aspect of the game is what makes or breaks the vast majority of players.

    • http://www.nextlevelballplayer.com Franco

      No doubt about that J! Thanks for the comment

  • Wes Meadows

    Great interview!

    Any ideas you have that could spin this for hitters as well?

    • http://www.nextlevelballplayer.com Franco

      Great question Wes. I’d say the hitting take aways would be this:
      -Find a way to go into the box with confidence every time regardless of your previous AB or bad swing. Visualization and routine are two great ways to make this happen.
      -Understand that every AB you take can be the difference in a game whether you are up or down 10 runs. DON’T GIVE AWAY ABs!
      -Walk to the plate like a stud. Carry the bat in a positive fashion. Know that you’re going to hit the ball hard. Your teammates will feed off of that.

      Anything else jump out that maybe I missed here?

  • Mike

    Great article! Jack is one of the best out there.

  • Jake

    Great article!! I loved how he said that as pitchers we should never go away from a spot, always to a spot! Always go towards something good. Pitch to win. Very true! Pitching away from a spot is based solely on fear for that spot and it is impossible to pitch with confidence to win if there is any fear in the back of your head giving you self doubt.

  • Jay

    Great article!

  • Brian

    Such great stuff that I will start applying. Appreciate it.

  • Doug

    Pitch to win. Simple, but solid. Every pitch is a pitch to win. Those are my take aways. Thanks for another great article

  • http://Noneatthepresenttiume Don Ervin

    Great advice in the comments above.
    “WHAT YOU CANNOT CONTROL” “LET IT GO”
    “WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL,”
    “GRAB ONTO It,” “WORK DILIGENTLY WITH IT”
    Keep on the positive side of all situations.
    I am speaking from my own personal experiences, in baseball in particular, due to the fact that as a player I was so immature that after a great banner season I blew a great possibility of becoming a very successful professional ball player, simply because {I WOULD NOT {LET} {MYSELF} {ACCEPT} {ADVERSITY} by {LETTING THE THINGS I COULD NOT CONTROL GO BY THE WAY SIDE,} and {GRABBING ONTO THE THINGS I COULD CONTROL.}
    The bottom line here is, either, {BEING or NOT BEING ONE’S OWN WORST ENEMY.}
    I coach here in Springfield, Mo. in our High school fall ball and summer college leagues and I work very hard to keep our players in a positive mindset/mode.
    Yes, your comments on body language are so true, body language certainly can and does make an impression on or off the field, I feel that those who display positive body language are actually self teaching themselves into positive mind thoughts/thinking, and as you said, positive body language certainly can help one’s team mates and own self acquire and have a positive mental attitude.
    Great Base Ball-N- to all. my words of wisdom from the school of hard knocks, {BECOME AND STAY POSITIVE,} {PLEASE DO NOT BECOME YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY.}
    Don Ervin

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