Tyler isn’t getting hits. He is popping up pitches that are in his “wheelhouse”, and missing them by a fraction of an inch. At-bat after at-bat, the same result with a strikeout mixed in just for good measure. He is becoming more and more frustrated and beginning to throw his bat in the dugout and slam his helmet while muffling profanities under his breath. It appears that every at-bat is compounding on the previous ones and there seems to be no end in sight. Coaches are beginning to doubt whether he should be in the lineup at all. Tyler is very talented but winning is important.
He is playing in the most important tournament of the summer and finally it appeared he was breaking out of his slump. With two runners on, he crushes a 0-2 fastball into the outfield, finally no more need for throwing bats or slamming helmets! The left fielder sprints to his left and reaches out as far as he can with his open glove and ball sails directly into it, ending the inning and scoring no runs. Here comes the fiery bat toss, with each bound of the bat pinging loudly any time a part of the bat hits the concrete; everyone at the field is well aware there was a bat hurled across the dugout.
Was the bat toss justified? He had failed to score those two runners, which would have definitely changed the chances of his team winning. He did get out. He did not get a hit. There were surely teammates, fans, parents, coaches, and friends who were disappointed. All things that seem reasonable for anger to arise and be taken out on a innocent bat and the ear drums of those in the dugout. Is this really the case?
Let’s look at the scenario differently and analyze the situation from a bird’s eye view. The game of baseball is a game of failure and overcoming said failure. This is a very common thought and statement but why shouldn’t we get upset when we fail? Is it simply because we are better off not showing emotion and suppressing it or does expressing anger hurt ourselves or our teammates?
Emotions will come, whether we want them to or not, it’s what happens to human beings, and we will either react or respond. There is a sliver of time between an event and our reaction or response. A reaction is an action that has not been thought about prior to the situation arising, while a response is calculated, specific actions perform after an event occurs. Players have control over their response to events, they do not have control over their reactions. Reactions occur without the conscious mind, responses with. Now, during this sliver of time between event and reaction or response is when we can choose to react or respond. Let’s not forget it is a sliver of time, so it can quickly pass by and lead to a reaction we may regret or a response that grows us as a person and player. How do coaches help players choose the best course of action? The same way we learn anything, practice. Coaches must create situations where failure happens allow players to put into place their plan of action for responding appropriately instead of reacting.
Every player deserves to have coaches who help them move from reactionary to responsive actions. This means discussing a plan of both mental and physical actions that will be taken by the player when an event occurs, especially negative events or failure. The same could be said for positive events; we do not want pitchers taunting the hitter after striking him out. It comes down to taking the time to think about, discuss with the player, and then practice the plan that leads to a quality response.
One of the biggest hurdles in helping players respond instead of react is players haven’t been helped to clearly define what success and failure means in various contexts. Coaches cannot expect players to know this on their own. For example, when Tyler crushed that ball into the gap and it was run down by the outfielder, he did not fail at all, he did all of the things he could do for a successful at-bat. Players need their coaches to put events into context so they can process through their emotions and understand when a particular emotion is appropriate and when it’s not and then how they will respond. This is the life lesson players will carry with them when they step outside baseball. It is vital to understand and discuss the connection of skills learned in the game and their uses outside of it.
Hitting is a great place to start. An easy way for coaches to help players better understand a success versus a failure is to look at the game like a person who has never seen it before. A person who has never seen a baseball game may look at hitting and think: “It’s really difficult to hit a ball being thrown at you, especially when you are hitting it into a quarter of a circle filled with players who are trained to get you out”. So what is a successful at-bat? I have my definition, what’s yours? This definition must be made clear to each player so that they know when anger is an appropriate emotion and then coaches must mentor their players such that when these emotions arise, they respond in a manner that moves them forward not backward in their pursuit to be their greatest self and ball player.
Lastly and most importantly, we as coaches must live these ideals ourselves, we must be the person we wish to see in our players. It is our integrity and self-discipline that most motivate and inspire our players to do the same. Determine your personal values and stand by them vehemently regardless of situation or outside pressures. Be that coach.
Coach em Up,