Mental toughness: Performance coach Dr. Jason Selk ‘unified’ Auburn baseball

AUBURN, Ala. – After breakfast on the morning of Auburn’s opening game of the 2022 College World Series, the Tigers turn their attention to a video screen where performance coach Dr. Jason Selk speaks from his home in St. Louis.

One question and one truth, says Selk, who has provided mental coaching for Auburn baseball since last November.

“Can Auburn actually win this thing?” hey thanks “The answer is absolutely, no doubt about it, if you have your minds right.”

Cutting to the core of his message less than a minute into his talk, Selk communicates what he calls his one truth.

“You don’t have to get any better.”

Referring to a sign in the Tigers’ clubhouse at Plainsman Park that reads, “Auburn is the most mentally tough team in the country,” Selk reminds the Auburn players of the mental workouts they’ve conducted in the past eight months.

“How many times since November you’ve refused to give in and you’ve stayed in the fight,” he tells them. “It’s somewhat undeniable at this point that you have done the work. I would say with great confidence there’s absolutely no doubt Auburn baseball is the most mentally tough team in the country, and nobody can take that away from you, no matter what happens these next few days.”

Auburn’s mental toughness would soon be tested. That evening the Tigers lost their CWS opener to eventual national champion Ole Miss. Two days later, Auburn trailed Stanford 2-0 after five innings before rallying for the Tigers’ 22nd come-from-behind win of the season, Auburn’s first victory in Omaha in 25 years.

Selk got his start in sports before transitioning to coaching in corporate America for the past decade.

When Auburn head coach Butch Thompson asked his assistants last year if they knew of someone who could help the Tigers develop a mental edge, Karl Nonemakerat the suggestion of a former teammate, recommended Selk.

“The timing was perfect,” Thompson said. “Half of this team was returning; half of this team was new. Coming out of Covid, it was just a perfect time. He put in a couple bricks of simplicity.

“He was a consistent message, kept us on theme. We talk about self-confidence and no excuses. We built a routine of consistency with a couple of simple principles, and it unified our ballclub.”

Talking to the Tigers in Omaha, Selk shared a personal story about working with his first professional sports team, the St Louis Cardinals, as a 36-year-old in 2006.

Selk attended game four but was home with his family for game five when the Cardinals clinched the World Series.

“I looked up at myself in the mirror and I can remember I felt absolutely no joy whatsoever,” said Selk, reinforcing the lesson he learned.

“If you’re not enjoying it, there’s no point. All the wins in the world don’t matter if you can’t take moments and enjoy and celebrate along the way.

“It would be foolish to say this [winning] is not more fun, but you’ve got to understand: you’re not always going to win. It’s how life works. You’ve got to learn to put value in the effort you’ve put forth.”

Selk challenged the Tigers to “find those moments of joy” and “burn them into your memories.”

Returning to his one truth that the Tigers were good enough to win it all, Selk referenced former MLB standout Scott Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and seven-time All-Star.

“His advice to these younger players was, you don’t become an All-Star by making all-star, highlight-reel plays,” Selk recalled. “You become an All-Star by making the routine plays consistently.”

The Cardinals won another World Series in 2011, Selk’s last season working with St. Louis. In both championship seasons, he said the Cardinals did not magically improve in October, based on ERA and batting average.

“What the St. Louis Cardinals did was they stayed steady. Some of these teams we were playing got worse,” said Selk, reiterating his message.

“You have proven all year long that you can compete with anybody in the country, and you don’t have to get better to compete with them. You don’t have to get any better to win this thing.”

Selk then asked the Tigers to write down their answers to the question, “How do you know you can win this thing? What proof do you have?”

While the Auburn players tapped their responses into their phones, Selk gave his answer: “Twenty-one come-from-behind wins. I love that. My favorite thing about you as a team is you never take yourselves out of the fight.”

Selk spent the final few minutes of his 25-minute session on tools he’s developed and deployed this season with the Auburn baseball team.

He ended his talk the way he began. One question. One truth. One takeaway.

“Do you believe you can actually win this thing?

“You don’t have to get any better. You just have to be you.

“You’ve earned the right to enjoy this experience. Burn it in. Feel the joy of competing at this level.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

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