Inside Pitch Magazine, May/June 2021

The Change Up: Power Your Path 

by Brian Dowd, MSEd, CSCS, Head Baseball Coach at Kingsborough Community College (NY)

A profile photo of a head with brain showing and brain waves going over top of it.

What do elite hitters, world renowned chefs, NASA engineers, and you all have in common? If you guessed myelin, then you’re probably a neuroscientist (I only play one on TV).

A substance in our brain called myelin is shaping who we are every day. This is how it works. In our brain we have neurons that fire and create electrical impulses. When neurons fire together they wire together, creating a pathway and in turn, a thought or action. That pathway is forever cemented in our brain. Each pathway is insulated with myelin every time we use it. This insulation allows the electrical impulses to travel faster and more efficiently. Our brain likes this speed and efficiency, as it is a way for it to conserve energy, so it uses those pathways which are more heavily insulated as their go-to.

Every second that we put work in on the field, in the weight room or in the classroom, we are either insulating old pathways and making them more efficient or we are creating new ones. Every time we learn something new we fire up a fresh pathway. Whenever we repeat an action or thought, myelin is helping make it a habit. Myelin can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

The speed and efficiency that increases with every myelin insulation is what is responsible for an elite hitter looking effortless as he swings and connects with a 100mph fastball. It is also what is responsible for making it so hard for a smoker to quit the habit after 20 years of a pack a day.

As teachers, coaches, and parents it is very important to understand the concept of building good habits and routines for those we lead. I believe it could be the most important thing we do in a leadership role. Good habits and routines lead to better results on the field and in life. The earlier we begin to create good habits, the easier it becomes to maintain them.

The best way we can do this is by modeling it ourselves. Ever wonder why big league parents have big league children? Genetics (nature) plays a role but so does something called a mirror neuron (nurture). Mirror neurons do exactly that, they mirror what they see. This is why we as humans are copy cats by default. The people who learn from you will subconsciously mimic you. As leaders, we are responsible for creating our own healthy habits. We have an obligation to take care of our bodies so that we can demonstrate the things we are teaching to the best of our abilities.

From a young age, we should be using quality repetition to reinforce proper movement and thought patterns. Instilling a love for the game and learning how to play it the right way is of high priority.  Wire your children to plan and take action towards their goals. The connections that form in our children’s brains through repetition of movement and thought will have lingering effects into and throughout adulthood.

We must be honest with our players and our children about what we know and don’t know, as well as their abilities and what needs improvement.  Detach from your ego when decision making! These things will help create an environment where everyone learns to hold themselves accountable. 

Let’s give those we lead the best chance possible at success by helping to wire their brains correctly early in life. Give them the knowledge they need to take on any situation they might face with an unshakable confidence that has been hard-wired into their psyche. 

Our brain is constantly forming new neural connections and using myelin to reinforce old ones. Will these processes help you or set you back? Every decision you make is leaving an imprint. It’s up to you to decide what you want your destiny to be and myelin will power the path along the way.

Inside Pitch Magazine is published six times per year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt association founded in 1945. Copyright American Baseball Coaches Association. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any way without prior written permission. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained herein, it is impossible to make such a guarantee. The opinions expressed herein are those of the writers.