Taking an inside look at Cal State Fullerton’s pregame preparation process

In Sports
(Katie Albertson / Daily Titan)

For Cal State Fullerton baseball, pregame preparation starts on a player’s walk from class to Goodwin Field.

On that walk, players in the program listen to an individualized recording of sports psychologist Brian Cain reading messages to help relax or motivate them, dubbed over one of their favorite songs.

“The backbone of Titan baseball is the mental game,” Cain said. “I think that probably attracts some players to go to campus there because they know they’re going to learn the mental game better at Cal State Fullerton than probably anywhere in the country, and that’s going to help them to have a professional baseball career.”

Visualization and other forms of mental training are just two elements of the pregame process for Titan athletics.

Mental Training
Sports psychology has been a part of Titan baseball since 1975 when professor Ken Ravizza began working with the team. Ravizza now works with the Chicago Cubs and is one of the foremost sports psychologists in the country.

Cain, who also works with individuals through his website briancain.com, worked under Ravizza as a graduate student in 2003 while getting his master’s degree in sports psychology. He is now in his second year working with the baseball program.

He said “100 percent” of the team has bought into his training strategies, which involves a one-on-one evaluation that Cain uses to create the individualized tape for each player.

Cain also has the players he works with begin to visualize a successful at bat when they are four spots away in the order, and they often choose the same song he narrates over on their tape as their walk-up song.

Titan baseball isn’t the only program to value sports psychology. The basketball team similarly uses “mental coaches” to give the players routines that help them meditate and relax.

“They say the game is 80 percent mental, and 20 percent physical, but as coaches, we spend 80 percent of the time physically trying to get our guys going versus the other way around,” said Head Coach Dedrique Taylor.

The women’s soccer program works with an outside company called Thrive to develop individualized plans for their players, something second-leading scorer Tala Haddad attributed her success to during the 2016 season.

“You just visualize and you get excited,” Haddad said. “I think that’s what helps you score goals because you just keep visualizing ‘I’m going to put this ball in the back of the net, I’m going to strike through it.’”

Scouting/Tech
Two years ago, a school administrator provided the CSUF basketball team with iPads, which Taylor says he and his staff use to disseminate scouting reports and game tape to the Titans instantly so they can prepare for the team’s film sessions.

Taylor believes the use of this technology allows him to better communicate with his team.

“They’re so technologically driven, so visual,” Taylor said. “What we try to do is enter into their world and speak to them on their terms and using their language.”

Vanderhook started using PowerPoint presentations this season to prep the four-time National Champions for similar reasons.

“How many times do you go to class and see a PowerPoint? All the time.” Vanderhook said. “I don’t even know how to make a PowerPoint. I know how to go and read it but I don’t know how to make it. You guys are used to looking at it and reading it and recalling it, but when I went to school, we didn’t even have computers.”

Vanderhook uses the presentations prepared by assistant coach Chad Baum, as well as scouting reports posted in the locker room every Thursday to prepare his team. The reports are compiled using Vanderhook’s combination of game tape from a $1,500 stat-tracking program called “BATS,” files he has on teams that go back 15 years and his extensive network of contacts throughout the game.

However, Vanderhook said none of that information is as valuable as scouting teams the old-fashioned way: on the field while they are warming up.

“(The reports are) detailed, but sometimes they’re 100 percent wrong,” Vanderhook said. “Your best scouting report is your own two eyes.”

Brown takes things one step further with the women’s soccer team. While he estimates the team spends “30 percent” of the coaching staff’s time preparing for the specifics of their opponent during the week before a game, the other 70 percent of that preparation is about trying to continue doing the things they do well.

The six-time Big West Tournament champions don’t even hand out scouting reports to their players.

“We want to make the emphasis who we are, not who we’re playing,” Brown said.

Nutrition and Schedule
Avoiding weight gain may be easier for student-athletes given their active lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean their programs don’t try to monitor what they’re eating.

For the basketball team, that means bringing in a nutritionist from the Gastronome on campus to suggest dietary options in conjunction with their strength and conditioning trainer. The entire roster eats a pregame meal together following their team shootaround.

The women’s soccer team follows a similar routine. While the team doesn’t have a nutritionist, Brown said he tries to take his team to places with plenty of healthy options before every game.

“With the way that we do our meals, we want to be able to put them in positions where regardless of what they order, they’re ordering things that are good for them,” Brown said.

With players arriving as early as 11:30 a.m. or 12 p.m. and often staying after 10 p.m., Vanderhook’s struggle is to keep his team fueled for hours on end. To do so, he keeps the locker room stocked with fresh fruit delivered that morning and energy bars while players will sometimes bring sandwiches to munch on in the dugout.

“If you play 17 (innings), we have to send somebody to get more bars,” Vanderhook said. “We have a lot of bars. I spend a lot of money on bars.”

Game day
While their philosophies on technology, scouting and nutrition all differ to some degree, one thing CSUF coaches agree on is that their players don’t need pregame speeches to pump them up.

Vanderhook doesn’t even step foot in the locker room before a game, much less run in trying to fire up his players.

“That’s their sanctuary. That’s where they get themselves ready. They need nothing from me. At that point, it’s get yourself ready however you do it,” Vanderhook said.

Such moments don’t happen much around the men’s basketball or women’s soccer teams, either. Taylor, Brown and Vanderhook all said that those types of fiery speeches aren’t a major part of their preparation process.

“My pregame message is always something to encourage them; to motivate them,” Taylor said. “Not by trying to go out there and be all jacked up emotionally, but more playing with a certain level of passion and focus.”

One other thing the coaches share is a love of organization, even down to the smallest and dirtiest of details.

All three coaches were able to map out a typical day from memory and Vanderhook said he focuses on keeping things “routine oriented” so his players can stay focused on playing their best.

“I have a sheet that I fill out that has what time they report, what time they poop. I swear it’s to the minute,” Vanderhook said. “Everything is to the minute.”

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