Preparation & Focus
Lessons from a master to take your game to the next level
If you’ve got your sights set on competitive sports, you can’t just show up, play the game, and expect to get to what you want overnight.
No matter how talented you might be, getting to a top-level competition takes careful preparation and intense focus.
The higher you climb, the more you’re going to face opponents who have also put in the work to get there. Show up unprepared, or lose focus for just a moment, and you won’t get the results you’d hope to achieve.
The difference is even more notable between amateurs and professionals, and even between the minors and majors.
Sure, skill and raw talent play a part. But without exception, players who make it to the top levels of baseball—particularly those who do well—are the ones who prepare, plan, learn, and focus best. These athletes at the top do everything to get there and stay there.
Are there exceptions here and there? Maybe. But we don’t recommend betting your future on exceptions.
Our advice is to model yourself on the pros. Learn from tried and tested masters of the game, like MLB legend Albert “The Machine” Pujols.
With over 20 years in the major league (and still counting)—an ever-growing list of awards and accomplishments (in 2020 overtook Alex Rodriguez for third place in all-time highest RBI’s)—The Machine is clearly in a position to drop some knowledge.
We recorded an exclusive video interview with Pujols, where he shared his top lessons on preparation and focus. His examples are focused on baseball, but they are relevant across sports.
To get access to the full video, check out our Game Plans. For those who don’t have an account yet, we’ve summarized Pujols’ words of wisdom below.
Study Your Competition
A common theme Pujols returns to throughout the video is studying your competition.
Particularly on game day, his prep involves film, film, and more film.
When asked how he studies film, Pujols explains he looks at how the pitcher approached him previously, then other hitters with a similar swing. How the pitcher throws in early, mid, and late innings. How he pitches with runners in scoring position, on first base, and with bases loaded.
Essentially, he’s looking to cover every variable.
As Pujols explains, “You might be in that position, so you have to know what he’ll do, and be ready. If you do that homework, you're going to have success much more often”.
Always Be a Student of the Game
Even once the game has started, Pujols’ laser-like focus stays on the competition. In his words, “It doesn’t matter what level you're at—you always have to be a student”.
Whether he’s in the field or the dugout, Pujols keeps his attention fixed on the pitcher. He’s looking for anything that can help him at bat and for advice he can pass on to the rest of the team.
Interestingly, Pujols relates this aspect of learning to teamwork. He reminds us that baseball is a team sport and that teams where players are on the lookout for how they can help each other have the best success.
Decide on Gear in the Off-Season
This point is simple, but really, that's the nature of most aspects of proper preparation..
Preparing for a season means developing a list of jobs that need to be done, on time. Neglect those tasks and you will pay the price once competition starts.
Pujols reminds us that the off-season is the time to decide on gear. For him, bats (he uses three), batting gloves, fielding gloves, and shoes top the list in order.. “It’s a long season, so you want to be very comfortable in all of those,” he explains.
Gear needs to be decided on and purchased in the off season to allow ample time for breaking it in.
Tune Out Distractions
In the video, Pujols discusses focus in the batter’s box, plus how to develop your mindset in clutch situations. His advice for both—tune out distractions and focus on what matters. Easier said than done, right?
The strategy Pujols uses is quite similar to that of fellow MLB veteran, Adam Wainwright. Like “Waino,” to quiet mental chatter and tune out distractions, Pujols focuses on the belief that he has done the work required to succeed and trusts himself to get the job done.
He lists off all the potential distractions—the crowd, catcher, umpire—sets those aside, and then focuses on the only thing that matters, “watching that baseball and putting in a good swing.”
The purpose of all Pujols’ preparation is to gain the confidence to stop thinking when it’s actually time to perform. As he tells us, “You can’t come into the batter's box and think about all that other stuff. You don’t have time.”
Know What You Want, and Work for It
When it comes to advice for younger players, Pujols encourages aspiring athletes to consider the question, “Why are you playing the game?”
If you just want to be a player and have fun, that's fine. But if you want to be a professional—to take it to that next level—you have to know what you want and put the work in. No one becomes a professional athlete by chance. It takes focus, dedication, and hard work.
Pujols discusses how this focused mindset applies even after you turn pro. In his words, “That's just one big step you have taken. Now you need to keep climbing that ladder”. He reminds us that there is a whole lot of ground to cover between turning pro and becoming one of the greats.
Leave Nothing to Chance
The goal of preparation and focus is to leave as little as possible to chance.
In sports, there will always be aspects of the game for which we can’t control. How the competition shows up, playing conditions, umpires, teammates, just to name a few.
The key to an athlete unlocking their full potential is getting totally locked in and focused on what they can control, then maxing out preparation and focus in these areas.
In his exclusive video with Versus, Albert Pujols explains just how he has used this approach to cement a spot as one of the all-time MLB greats.
His advice isn’t all that complicated, but that's why it’s so effective. Preparation and focus only pay dividends when they are sustained. Day after day. Week after week. Season after season.
The secrets to preparation and focus lie in recognizing their simplicity, while acknowledging and respecting the sustained attention and effort required to achieve results.
We’ve outlined the main things you need to know about preparation and focus in this article, but this is a hugely important topic—serious athletes will want to go deeper. To see the full interview with Albert Pujols and to get access to loads more exclusive content, head over to Versus and sign up.
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