How MLB Pro Ryan Yarbrough Optimizes His Mind & Body For Peak Performance

These are the moments in sports that you live for. Competing at the highest level and have success at the same time. It just shows you all the hard work you have been doing has been paying off. Being out there on the mound, in complete control, is the best felling there is. The best way I can try to get in this state is through preparation. It involves doing all you can to be ready to compete and putting you in the best positions to succeed.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Yarbrough

Ryan Yarbrough has been a key member of the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation since making his major league debut in 2018. An extremely valuable and versatile southpaw, Yarbrough is most well-known for his sweeping slider and breaking cutter. In his first full season with the Rays, Yarbrough commanded the strike zone by finishing the season with 16 wins, Yarbrough finished the season with 16 wins, which was the most for a rookie in franchise history, the most for a rookie in the 2018 season, and the second most on the team. A true Floridian, Yarbrough enjoys spending his downtime with his family and dog, Cooper.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Lakeland, FL. Smack dab right in between Tampa and Orlando. Most of my time growing up was spent on sports, school, and being with family and friends. I went to All Saints Academy for high school. I only played baseball which I was abler to do year round in the Florida sunshine. After high school, I played baseball at Santa Fe College for two years before then finishing my college career at Old Dominion University.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

I think initially it was just for pure love of the game. I started playing in t-ball at the age of four and never wanted to stop. My dad has been a big inspiration. He has always been there for me and supported me all along the way. Especially now being able to play so close to home for the Rays, hes been able to enjoy this experience with me and able to see me pitch on a regular basis.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

There have honestly been a bunch of people. There are always a bunch of people that help you along the way that play a pivotal part on where you are today. First and foremost is my dad. He has always been there for me and been my encouragement to keep pushing forward and to never give up. Next, there have been a couple pitching coaches that I have had along the way that have helped me get to where I am now from high school to the pro level. The first is Russell Jacobs who I worked with in high school who really showed me the basics and created my base for pitching where I was able to build off of. Next would be Tim Lavigne who I had at Old Dominion University. He helped me really develop and get an opportunity to get drafted and be able to play professionally. Andrew Lorraine was a pitching coach I had in the minor leagues for two years who helped me learn how to be a professional and continue to become a better pitcher. Finally, Kyle Snyder, who I have had for the 3 years as my pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays. He has been an big influence and continues to be.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

The biggest thing I would say is to work your butt off. I think that most people don’t really understand how much work goes on behind the scenes of a baseball game. There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that go into our craft and most people dont think about that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The biggest thing that I am working on right now is that my wife and I are in the middle of buying a house. We’re really excited to finally be able to own a house and really be able to settle in and not move constantly. The other big thing that we have done recently is to donate coffee and pastries to the intensive care unit at St. Josephs Hospital in Tampa, FL. The intensive care unit consists of about 125 people and we just wanted to show our appreciation for all the things they have done during this time. It really hit home for the fact that two of my wifes best friends are nurses and they would tell us about all how things have been recently for them. Everyone was so appreciative and thankful.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

The first thing that comes to mind is preparation. Preparation helps you prepare for all scenarios so that when a big moment comes along, you are ready and able to perform in a relaxed and controlled manner.

Breathing is another big component. Staying calm under pressure and keeping a level head can help you compete at a high level. Just being able to step back and take a deep breathe can make a world of difference.

Lastly, would be positive imaging. As an athlete, you can only work your body so much in a day. Using that other time to sit and imagine yourself succeeding, can help you when the time comes for that scenario since you’ve been imagining it multiple times before. Now I want to emphasize that its important to imagine yourself succeeding in things that you can control. Things especially for a pitcher like executing a pitch and not things like a specific stat line like a no hitter.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I think breathing is a crucial thing that most people don’t necessarily think about at first. Especially in high pressure situations where you think things might be getting away from you. Just taking a second to step back, relax, and clear your mind to get back and focus on the task at hand.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

For me, its all about solely focusing on the task at hand. As a starting pitcher, I am throwing once every five days so its crucial that I stay locked in. I do this by focusing on what I am trying to do that day and go out there and try to execute.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

Like I have said previously, throwing every five days gives me plenty of time to get the necessary work in that I need to do to be at my best on gameday. It mainly consists of all the necessary strength training I need to do as well as conditioning. The other big component is recovery. This is by far the biggest component and even dictates what you need to do in the other two areas to be at your very best.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Routines are crucial. Especially in pitching. Its not easy to find a routine that works for you. It takes some trial and error. Everyone is different, but once you find one that works for you, it’s a big piece of mind. It has always been something for me to fall back on and not let me second guess that I didn’t do everything I needed to do to prepare for a game.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

Initially it’s a lot of trial and error. Once you have a good game, you think about what all you did leading up to the game that made you successful and try to repeat it going forward. If you continue to have success, you have found a routine that works for you. If not, you tweak it a little bit until it works. Repetition is crucial for creating great habits. Most habits aren’t created overnight so the more you do it, the more it will feel second nature.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

These are the moments in sports that you live for. Competing at the highest level and have success at the same time. It just shows you all the hard work you have been doing has been paying off. Being out there on the mound, in complete control, is the best felling there is. The best way I can try to get in this state is through preparation. It involves doing all you can to be ready to compete and putting you in the best positions to succeed.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

Mainly just positive imaging. It goes a long way and it’s a useful tool to prepare for a start when your trying to give your body enough time to recover and be at its peak. Seeing yourself succeeding can give you a piece of mind to go out there and compete instead of focusing on all the negative outcomes.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

The first thing that comes to mind to just STOP haha. I know it sounds really obvious but as soon as you start to think negatively, just stop yourself and think about things that you can actually control. Most of the negative thoughts are of things that are completely out of your control, so why should you spend time thinking about that when it cant help you. Thinking about thinks you can control and how your going to succeed in those areas goes a long way.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to for sure. Like I said previously, we donated coffee and pastries to the local hospital to show our appreciation. My wife and I have previously visited the local childrens hospital All Childrens in St Petersburg to spend some time with kids who are going through some tough times and we are just trying to brighten their day. Lastly ive been able to do Reading with the Rays, which is a program through the Tampa Bay Rays where I’m able to spend time with some kinds and read books with their help, during the summer months.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

The biggest thing that comes to mind is “don’t get complacent/ comfortable”. This really helps me to stay hungry and always work hard. Take nothing for granted and get after it every single day because you don’t know how long it will last. Your baseball career is very finite and you want to take advantage of every opportunity.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

The first person that comes to mind is Mark Buehrle, who pitched in the big leagues for a long time and had a very successful career. He is someone I have emulated my game off of and someone I could look up to as another lefty pitcher who didn’t have a crazy fastball but mixed speed and kept hitters off balance. I would love to pick his brain and see what he could share with me.

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