(Editor's note: First in a two-part look at the work of sports
performance coach Tom Hanson.)
Tom Hanson has something in common with many New York Yankee
managers: being fired by George Steinbrenner.
The sports performance-enhancement coach had worked a few years
with the Texas Rangers, and then, in 2001, landed the job - a
position with the Yankees. However, the position was eliminated the
same year. And even though it wasn't Steinbrenner who showed him the
door, he takes it as a badge of honor that he was a casualty of The
"Not a lot of people get to say they were fired by George
Steinbrenner," Hanson joked in a phone interview from his Tampa
It was after his parting with the Yankees that Hanson decided to
go it alone, starting his own business to help coaches and players
throughout the country on the mental aspects of the game. He is one
of the foremost experts on throwing yips - where a player cannot make
a simple throw, a condition which plagued both Steve Sax and Chuck
Knoblauch during their Major League Baseball careers. By using
tapping and other methods, Hanson said, the yips and other problems
can be conquered.
"I could have helped him," Hanson said of Knoblauch and
knowing what he now knows. "I believe I could have gotten him
turned back around.”
Knoblauch was with the Yankees when Hanson was there, although
they didn't spend any time together.
Someone Hanson did help with the yips was Andy Urban, who will be heading to Creighton University in the
Urban, a pitcher, got a case of the yips so bad in 2008, his
junior year of high school, that he couldn't play catch from 10 feet
"I was the worst high school baseball player in the country,"
Urban said, noting that he walked 10 in a junior varsity game without
recording an out during one painful performance.
“I got it and no one knew what to do,” Urban said.
Urban's father found Hanson's website and after watching the
performance coach's YouTube video about breathing and tapping fingers on different
parts of the body, Andy asked his son to try it.
"My dad asked me to try it. I thought it was crazy, but I was
desperate,” Andy Urban said.
He was expected to be the high school squad's closer his junior year, but
after three games, Urban still was untested. The coach then told him he
was going to pitch that day no matter what. Urban said at that point
extra pressure put a stranglehold on him. He went down to the bullpen
and the meltdown occurred.
He threw the ball all over the place, hitting the bullpen backstop
and being more wild than he had ever been.
Through Hanson's tips on tapping and breathing, Urban found some
relief. For two months, Urban seemed “half normal,” and felt
there was something to Hanson's methods, continuing the practices.
Some sessions over the phone with Hanson followed.
Two weeks after some one-on-one sessions with Hanson, Urban threw
six strong innings with the varsity squad.
His first home start at Lawrence (Kansas) High School his senior
year, Urban fired a no-hitter. The right-hander headed to Hutchinson
Community College in central Kansas, where he broke four team
pitching records. He will head to Creighton in the fall where he is
expected to be either the closer or the Friday night starter.
“I owe a lot to Tom (Hanson) for me being mentally tough,”
Urban said the tapping and other techniques have helped in other
facets of his life as well.
“I had finals and I had borderline grades,” Urban said. “I
freaked out the morning before finals. I did taps and I relaxed
myself so I could take the tests.”
As well as curing the yips, Hanson works with baseball players, as
well as business professionals, on improving their focus, keeping
them from freezing up in pressure situations. It sounds easy enough,
but considering that 90 percent of what we do is unconscious reaction
to stimuli, it is not that simple.
Hanson notes that having an inner voice that keeps you from
wanting to flee and tense up - the natural reactions when under
pressure - is vital to success whether it be on the baseball field or
in the board room.
A psychology major at Luther College in Iowa, Hanson felt his
calling after reading the book "Sports Psyching: Playing Your
Best Game All of the Time."
Knowing he wanted to go into the sports psychology field, he
obtained his master's degree from the University of Illinois and his
doctorate from the University of Virginia, being an assistant
baseball coach at both schools along the way.
Hanson notes that individuals have to have an underlying focus in
order to be truly successful.
"And you don't just get an underlying focus," Hanson
said. "It has be inside before you can really focus.
"We all know to focus on the ball, but things can get in the
way of that. You have to have a performance pyramid : seeing what
happens, the physical aspect, knowing when you have focus, knowing
when you lost focus."
It is the middle layer of emotions, below focus, that causes the
problem. He said being afraid and thinking "What if I miss?"
causes a split in the hands and pulling up on a ground ball.
He said that fear is caused by the real threat and danger of a
"Ninety to 95 percent of our behavior in life is run by
unconscious reaction. Focus is only 10 percent (or less),"
Hanson said. "The 90 percent is the gorilla in the room."
Next: Hanson's book "Playing Big" and how it can help ballplayers.