Each pitch was an adventure for Konner Wade.
The strike zone was becoming more and more elusive.
Wade, a sophomore pitcher for University of Arizona in the spring, was losing control of his pitches and his thought process.
Just trying to push the problem out of mind wasn’t working.
Looking for a solution, Wade began talking to Corvallis sports psychologist Greg Warburton.
“I had some trouble throwing strikes early,” Wade, currently throwing for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League, said.
“I got a recommendation from one of the coaches to give Greg a call. He gave me some exercises to do to clear my mind and throw strikes.”
Warburton practices energy psychology and teaches EFT (emotional freedom techniques) which include tapping the energy points in the accupuncture system.
“I just taught him how to physically tap while he’s tuned into, ‘I’m worried I can’t control pitches’ or doubting himself or mad at himself,” Warburton said.
Wade used the tapping method on occasion and other exercises, such as crossing legs to one side and then the other, regularly.
The improvement was gradual.
Wade’s walks piled up. So did hit batters.
His earned run average ballooned in May.
Then he started finding the zone.
Wade finished the season at 11-3, whittled his ERA down to 3.96 and led the Wildcats to the national title.
Wade went 4-0 in the postseason and tossed two consecutive complete games in the College World Series, a five-hit shutout of UCLA and a 5-1 win over South Carolina in the first game of the championship series.
He credited his faith first for the turnaround, but acknowleged Warburton’s exercises.
“I think it just frees your mind,” Wade said. “When you’re thinking about a lot of stuff on the mound it doesn’t help.
“I didn’t think about everything that was going on, I was just focused on the pitches I needed to make at that moment.”
In addition to Wade and the Arizona baseball team, Warburton worked with players on the University of Alabama softball team that won the national title this spring.
Alabama coach Pat Murphy gave Warburton a testimonial quote for his web site:
“Greg is one of the most professional people we have worked with in my 16 years at Alabama. He is great at what he does and gets results in a hurry. Greg teaches practical methods to help athletes become self-reliant with clearing emotional upset out of their system. He also takes some pressure off the coaches: we no longer have to struggle with just the right thing to say or do. He is top-notch at his work!”
Oregon State fans might have noticed former pitcher Jorge Reyes tapping before a performance.
Warburton worked with players on both title teams from OSU and at Texas Tech when pitching coach Dan Spencer went to Lubbock.
OSU wrestler Chad Hanke also met with Warburton and recently wrestled in the Olympic trials.
Warburton said players like Wade struggle because negative thoughts such as they can’t throw strikes not only stays in their brain but affects the body as well.
“Their brain runs their body and their body has been messed up physically because of the thinking that’s going on of, ‘I can’t control my throws,’ ” he said.
“When you can’t do anything like you want to, then it just builds on itself.”
He found that the usual ways athletes were taught to overcome those mental glitches just didn’t work well.
“Traditional methods like changing the technique or tweaking the technique or just trying to out-think it, put it out of your mind, forget it, all those traditional methods are, I would say, incomplete or inconsistent,” he said.
Warburton has been teaching the method since 2000 and using it in his counseling of youth as well as athletes.
“I found it useful for clearing out the excess emotional energy in the mind and body,” he said.
“The difference between this and accupuncture is you’re teaching young athletes to tune their mind into what’s happening.”
Warburton is aware that some people might view EFT as well, a bit strange.
Although the energy technology field is about 30 years old, it is still in the process of acceptance.
“It’s still far from mainstream, however, there’s a huge anecdotal body of evidence that supports its effectiveness,” Warburton said.
Warburton encourages everyone to give it a chance.
“The reaction from young people and adults is that it’s pretty unusual. It doesn’t make sense that you can tap on your body and be a better athlete,” he said
“So I never argue with anyone that thinks it’s unusual and I invite them to try it and see what happens.”
Local high school coaches such as Casey Fries and Eric Dazey have also used the techniques.
Dazey, the Corvallis High baseball coach, noticed a flier advertising a Warburton speaking engagement at the Timberhill Athletic Club.
Curious, Dazey showed up and then introduced himself to Warburton after the event.
They’ve met on occasion since then to talk about sports psychology.
Dazey introduced the Spartans to tapping and some of the other exercises the last two seasons.
“We’ve introduced tapping so that the kids would be aware of it as a tool because it is an emerging technique that you will see at the highest level of sport,” Dazey said.
“We will continue to expose the kids to that as one of the tools in the package with which they could manage their mental game.”
Warburton uses the techniques himself.
He was a multi-sport athlete in high school, playing football, basketball and baseball before attending Boise State, where he played one season of baseball.
Warburton graduated from BSU in 1974 and kept active by running.
That changed in the summer of 1979. Warburton was riding his motorcycle near Sun Valley when a vehicle turned into his path. He put the bike into a skid.
The result was a traumatic amputation of his leg below the knee.
He volunteered at a boys town during his convalescence.
“It changed my direction,” Warburton said.
Warburton began working with young people as a counselor.
He graduated from Oregon State in 1984 with a counseling degree. He has taught classes at OSU and Linn-Benton Community College and worked at the Counseling Center as a therapist.
He currently works at the ABC House in Albany as an independent counselor.
“What I want to have happen is to have some awareness,” he said. “I want young people to know there are actual concrete skills that can (help them) to be better athletes and better students.”