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Carson Kelly has mastered the mental game.
Carson Kelly has mastered the mental game.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last week in my Pop Pilates class, a woman wore unusual pants – each leg said, “Just do it!” I noticed! I almost thanked her for choosing to exercise directly in front of me while wearing those pants, but my better judgement told me that perhaps she would misunderstand my enthusiasm.

What about my prediction that the Diamondbacks would score 6 runs in a game against the Cubs? My prediction was optimistic despite a disappointing season, and knowing failure was possible I just did it. Being optimistic combined with just-do-it, resulted in something good happening. My prediction was closest; a prize will be sent to me.

In November, a Carson Kelly bobblehead will arrive at my home. That’s why you are reading this piece instead of something different. If you don’t mind, and perhaps you don’t, it’s my way to share happiness.

Carson Kelly is a future All Star. He mastered his mental game. Let’s look at three principles of his mental success.

“Just go play.” — Carson Kelly

This principle has meanings on three levels:

  • Learn as much as you can while sitting on the bench so you are ready to play.
  • Know how to perform better under pressure.
  • At game-time, transition from thinking to playing.

On a basic level, “Just go play” means that after a career of mostly sitting on the bench with the Cardinals (21 games per season), he transitioned to mostly crouching behind the plate with the Diamondbacks (about 100 games per full season). He learned a lot in his time with the Cardinals. When Molina’s contract was extended, he said, “That’s another couple years I get to learn from him, the best of the best.”

He was a great fit with the Diamondbacks because Carson Kelly and Torey Lovullo believe in the philosophy of the next man up. In May of 2017, after Carson Kelly talked about veteran players who help new players because it helps the team, he succinctly described next man up philosophy as, “…everybody helping each other. That’s what makes a team a great team.”

Being at the ballpark is an important dimension to the axiom of “Put yourself in a position to succeed.” In July of 2019 (before COVID) he said his typical arrival time at the ballpark was 1 pm for a 7 pm game. That’s 6 hours to prepare. And some of that preparation is mental. In June of 2017, he said, “Some days you feel better than other days…When you are in the lineup you have to have that extra mental lock you put yourself in and go out and perform.”

On an intermediate level, “Just go play,” means he knows how to perform better under pressure. The principle is that ‘play’ (which is synonymous with fun for some people) transforms pressure from something that degrades performance into a performance enhancer. Details are in a book which this article will address shortly.

“Because I like to think. I think, think, think, think. What’s wrong? How do I do this, do that? That’s just how I am.” — Carson Kelly

On an advanced level, “Just go play” means he steps beyond his 6 hours of game-day preparation, and he steps beyond being a ‘cognitive guy.’ The time to do his thinking was during practices and before the game. During the game his focus is, ‘Just do it.’

Exercise your mind.

In the summer of 2015, he read Mind Gym, a book recommended by Collin Radack, his teammate. Reading that book positively impacted Carson Kelly.

”It’s almost like the doors opened from there.” — Carson Kelly.

The book’s cover says, “…you will learn the same techniques and exercises that Mack uses to help elite athletes build mental muscle.” My curiosity was peaked and so I purchased it on the internet. After it arrives, an interesting follow-up article is likely.

Keep a notebook/journal.

Carson Kelly often writes in his notebook. I am curious what he writes in the notebook. First, let’s look at two insights:

  • “…he records anything he learns about the game, a second for thoughts about life and then a planner.” — Zac Buchanan
  • “…he still carries around a pocket notebook to scribble down words of advice, impactful instruction or scouting reports.” — Jenifer Langosch

My perspective is that a notebook/journal can help with his mental game. That purpose makes sense for someone who has mastered the mental game, like Carson Kelly. What might be in his notebook? My thoughts follow:

  • Use the notebook to keep a consistent focus on moving forward with mastering the game.
  • Use the notebook as a source of empowering perspective.
  • Use the notebook to increase awareness of subtle changes that are important.

The future is bright.

It will take years for the Diamondbacks to return to contention. Because of his mental game, I’m certain Carson Kelly will be there. My Carson Kelly bobblehead will mark the beginning of their journey.