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Performance coach keeps the pressure off

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(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

Boss' regime.

"Not a lot of people get to say they were fired by George

Steinbrenner," Hanson joked in a phone interview from his Tampa

home.

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

fall.

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

away.

"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.

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

ground ball.

"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.




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