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Visualizing Success

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Courtesy of Zachary Braziller,
New York Times

Before Brett Boretti settled in as the new Columbia baseball coach three years ago, he told his players to think big, to visualize themselves as Ivy League champions. Never mind that the team he inherited after the 2005 season had won only five league games.

"He said, 'You guys should be thinking about winning a championship every day, every practice,' " recalled second baseman Henry Perkins, now a senior.

Beyond encouraging hard work, Boretti wanted his new players to become winners by acting the part. They do not have to act anymore.

Columbia, fresh off capturing its first Ivy League championship since sharing the title with Cornell in 1977, is preparing for its first N.C.A.A. Division I baseball tournament appearance since 1976. The Lions (22-25, 15-5) must wait until Monday to find out who they will play in the tournament, but their success has already generated a buzz among students and alumni.

"Columbia guys in New York City and throughout the country, we want to win and want to win in the worst way,"said Mike Brown, an outfielder on the 1977 team who is the chairman of Columbia's baseball alumni advisory committee. "It's wonderful to see these kids excel."

Boretti was a football player and a standout catcher at Davidson in the early 1990s. He said he never spent much time imagining what success would be like.

In 2003, while Boretti was coaching baseball at Division III Franklin & Marshall in Pennsylvania, an assistant introduced him to the visualization work of Stanley J. Kabacinski, a motivational consultant who was an assistant professor of physical education at nearby Millersville University. The concept worked for Franklin & Marshall's pitchers, so Boretti extended it to the rest of his team. The Diplomats won the Centennial Conference championship in 2005.

When Boretti arrived at Columbia, he took the philosophy with him.

"Some of it's corny stuff, but it works," he said in a recent interview. "It's about anchoring past success, motivating yourself to be in that championship mind-set as much as possible."

At the start of Columbia practices, speakers blaring Kabacinski's motivational messages implore the Lions to envision success. The Lions often smile and mimic Kabacinski's booming enthusiasm, although they also seem to listen. They say it has become a program trademark.

The senior pitcher John Baumann, who was also a starting forward on the basketball team, says he visualizes each pitch before delivering it. The senior outfielder Noah Cooper says he imagines the pileup after winning the title. The freshman outfielder Nick Cox says he pictures each at-bat as the defining moment of the team's season.

For Cox, the tapes also serve a more basic role. "It really gets my blood pumping"he said.

Visualization is only one part of Boretti's attempt to revive the Lions' sluggish baseball program. Before Boretti's arrival, Columbia had not played in an Ivy League championship series since 1993, and it had not finished better than .500 in the league since 1994. Columbia was 48-72 in conference play in the six seasons before he took over. The team has not had an overall winning record since 1987.

Boretti has steadily built a winner with a solid pitching staff, veteran leadership and the fresh energy of underclassmen.

For Zachary's complete story on the Columbia baseball program, check out the New York Times.

- A.S.