HAWL IN: Discovering The Tao of Ken

Sports psychologist Ken Ravizza talks to Cubs players during spring training in March. (Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – It wasn’t a search engine that I went to when the news of his passing broke, but rather a video player.

No obituary or Wikipedia page will due as much justice for a person’s legacy than their actual words.

That’s how it was this month when sports psychologist Ken Ravizza’s death was announced at the age of 70 by the Cubs on July 9th. He’d passed away the night before, six days after he suffered a heart attack. Immediately he was eulogized by manager Joe Maddon, who brought Ravizza with him from Tampa when he took the Cubs’ job in 2015 as a mental skills coach.

“Ken was a pioneer in his field, and yet he was an even greater human being.  He had this calm, patient approach to his craft yet his message was always loud and clear,” said Maddon in a statement released by the team on the man who spent 40 years working on the mental side of sports from the Olympics to baseball. “His words were impactful, made you think and were accompanied by passion and understanding.

“Ken’s message resonated with a lot of different folks … whether you were a professional athlete who had reached the mountaintop, a first-year coach or somewhere in between, Ken was there to lend his voice and help others achieve their dreams.”

It was a message that I along with others directly never heard. I wasn’t in a room or in a lecture that Ravizza gave his philosophy on the mental side of the game. I sure wish I had, but luckily technology is here to provide.

To get to know more about Ravizza, I found this interview he did for BaseballThinkTank.com. Perhaps this is a taste of what the sports psychologist told the Rays, Cubs, and many others through his time in baseball.

In the midst of 20 minutes or so, I got the gist of Ken’s philosophies on life, baseball, and the idea of success with failure. It ended up being a bit of a life lesson in a third of an hour, ripe with quotes that speak to a number of topics in my life and others.

“I’ve got to be in control of myself before I control my performance,” was an underlying theme of the discussion, along with the importance of breath in allowing an athlete to mentally prepare.

“When they have their ‘B’ game or their ‘C’ game, they’re not panicking and wishing they had their ‘A’ game, but they’re getting it done with what they’ve got,” was another line, focusing on the importance of the athlete to make the best of what they have.

Then came an interesting thought on failure. It’s feared in sports and in the world, yet it was Ravizza who viewed it as an important part of the mental growth process.

“Are you going to fail? Absolutely. Failure is part of learning. Nothing wrong with it. Nothing wrong with it. I think we get hung  up on ‘I’ve got to be successful all the time.’ No! You’ve got to take the risks and fail to get better.”

Up next was a simple credo when something goes wrong.

“Get the information, forgive yourself, play forward.”

Later in the video, back to the breath.

“The breath will always pull you to the present moment.”

“Inhale, exhale. Let go of the thinking and move to the doing.”

Next up: Confidence. It’s something I along with millions of others struggle with. Once again, Ravizza made something complex simple.

“Confidence is fragile. No one’s got themselves all together. We all have our frailties. It’s called being human. But issue is, do you have something to go to when you’re not feeling great.”

For his finish of this discussion, of course, the breath appeared again.”

“Make sure they’re breathing. Because if they can’t breathe, they’re not going to hear what you’re saying.”

Over the course of 21 minutes, I had a chance to hear what Ken was saying about baseball and life. It’s a message the Cubs heeded as they used his help along with others to snap a 108-year World Series championship drought. Others used it for Olympic glory or even success on their level of sport and life.

Wish I’d been able to hear it in person, but feel fortunate that a piece of technology keeps his words and messages very much alive.