Relaxation is key

Leading up to the Section 6 Class D championship game, Westfield coach Doug Kaltenbach could tell his players were getting tense for the Saturday morning game.

So before Friday’s practice, Kaltenbach set up a good ol’ fashion barbecue behind a shed near the field, where players could not see.

When Kaltenbach began practice, he could see how tense his players were, so he informed them of his plans to have a cookout to loosen up his boys.

After losing the previous four Section 6 Class C championship games, Kaltenbach, who had not won a Sectional title in his 28-year coaching career was willing to try anything.

“What were we going to accomplish in that practice anyways,” he asked, referring to the Friday practice. “It just took the edge off. We had watermelon and hot dogs. The amount of pressure on these kids to win from everybody has been pretty intense. We all downplay it, but all we hear is, ‘You can’t win the championship.’ That starts to drive you nuts.”

The barbecue idea was all part of a new philosophy Kaltenbach and the Wolverines have inherited this season. Before making the Myrtle Beach trip the team takes every year, Kaltenbach had his players participate in relaxation therapy as a way to calm down and remember to breath during stressful times. When Kaltenbach originally approached the players about the idea, he was met with skepticism. However, he now sees his players incorporating what they learned from relaxation therapy.

Kaltenbach said, “I told them this, ‘We have to do something. Whatever it takes to get to where we want to go. Talent wise, we match up with anyone. There is something going on here. I know from the past. Everyone talks and everyone says we are OK. But the results speak for themselves. We haven’t been OK.’

“It’s a way to settle yourself down and get your heart rate down so you’re not so spastic,” Kaltenbach said of relaxation therapy. “That’s the reason we have all these red patches (from losing in the Sectional championship game). This is all part of knowing how to stop the bleeding when it starts. I was into any way possible to do that. (The therapist) walked us through the whole thing and every kid did it. We got out of there and felt like we were sleeping. It was very effective. We have continued with it. We talk about breathing and refocusing daily with them.”

Kaltenbach began doing more research about pro athletes who have their own way of refocusing during games. He watched a special on Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who had to go to a Junior College because he was not recruited by Division I colleges.

“His big thing was nerves,” Kaltenbach said. “If he swung and missed, he would focus on that and it would carry on. Now, he has a release point. After every bad swing or bad play, he will look at the top left field foul pole. That reminds him to refocus.”

One way Westfield player Jonathan Wilson refocuses is by brushing dirt in the batter’s box.

“He goes up to the plate, takes his foot and brushes dirt back and forth in the batter’s box,” Kaltenbach said. “That’s his way to focus.”

During a game at St. Bonaventure, it made for an awkward moment as Wilson repeated that motion in the batter’s box even though the area is astro turf.

“The umpire told him there is no dirt and then he came and asked me what the heck he was doing,” Kaltenbach chuckled. “We use it in pitching, too. We always take a deep breath. We have signals to breath. All I know, is my own self, not just baseball, it works.”

Kaltenbach and his team have also downloaded the “Relax Lite” app on their phones.

All the refocusing has seemed to work as the Wolverines will be playing in their first Far West Regionals this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia against Webster Christian.

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