Tewksbury Goes Mental

Of his 13 big league seasons, Bob Tewksbury spent six of them with the St. Louis Cardinals, earning 67 of his 110 career wins with the team. So in reading his new book, Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball!, there are a lot of familiar names involved in stories that Cardinals fans will enjoy.

But having worked as a mental skills coach with the Boston Red Sox, Tewksbury also details the help he gave to the likes of Jon Lester and even a young Anthony Rizzo when he was in the organization. Some of those positive results have come at the Cardinals expense.

“Oh yeah–well, sorry about that,” acknowledged Tewksbury with a chuckle.

Now a mental performance coach with the San Francisco Giants, “Tewks” returned to school after his playing days and earned a master’s degree in sport psychology and counseling from Boston University. He is also a member of the Applied Association of Sport Psychology and is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant.

Tewksbury was recently back in St. Louis for an appearance to promote his book and discussed some of what he works on with players.

“There’s so many distractions to play in the big leagues,” he explained. “You’re either trying to get there and stay or you’re trying to maintain a level of ability or performance which you had.”

Much of the work that Tewksbury does is helping players to better cope with the distractions of social media, contract discussions, expectations, fans, family, and charity events.

“The noise is always there–it can really affect you if you don’t put yourself in that cocoon,” he said. “How can you put all this stuff away so that you can focus on the task at hand? We do that through the breathing, we do it through the positive anchor statements that you set, goal setting, communication, day-to-day communication. That’s what you have to do to perform. You have to be in that bubble. If you get outside of that, things can get really fast and really overwhelming.”

The book is filled with examples of players and coaches who helped Tewksbury along the way as he crafted his own set of mental skills to utilize. Already an established starter with St. Louis, one of the more impactful lessons came from manager Joe Torre back in May of 1993.

It was the 8th inning of a game at Philadelphia. The Cardinals and Tewksbury had a 2-1 lead, and the Phillies had a runner on second and third with two outs. Joe Torre walked to the mound.

“I kind of defaulted back to my early days when managers came to the mound, that meant I was out of the game,” said Tewksbury, who was aware that Lee Smith was loose in the bullpen. “I thought I was out of the game before Joe even got out there, but Joe was–because I had earned his trust and respect, was coming out to see how I felt. So when he asked me how did I feel, I basically threw up all over myself. I don’t remember what I said, but I didn’t say anything to keep myself in the game. So he took me out.”

Smith wound up walking a batter and then allowed a grand slam as the Cardinals lost the game 5-2. Tewksbury wasn’t upset with Smith. He was upset with himself and a day later was called into Torre’s office.

“He asked me if I knew why he called me in,” said Tewksbury. “I said yeah, I’ve been waiting for this conversation. I haven’t been able to sleep since that day, I felt horrible. I basically took myself out of that game. His words were ‘you may not have the same stuff as Maddux or Glavine or Smoltz or Cone, but you know what you do? You give your team a chance to win. You don’t beat yourself and I believe in you.’ Those words were like giving a black lab a tennis ball. It was really, really powerful.”

Tewksbury shares even more stories–including how Ted Simmons and Joe Coleman impacted his career. Listen below to the entire interview:

Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball! is available online at bookstores.

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