Coping with Ups and Downs

I got the idea of this post in the middle of my morning workout at the stadium. Players are required to weight lift about twice a week during the season to maintain our muscles and range of movement. I am currently one of three players doing an experimental workout that was drafted up by our strength coach to replace the existing workout that is several years old. Anyway, while I was working out I was thinking about the game we lost the Monday night, some things our manager, KJ, said after the game, and how the last two weeks have progressed.

The main idea of these thoughts was that over the course of a game, a day, a season, and a career, players are going to have ups and downs. Thus, these fluctuations extend to the team as well, since the team is a summation of individual efforts. We suffered a tough loss Monday night in the opening game of a three-game series with Peoria (Chicago Cubs affiliate) that was brought on by a sequence of mental mistakes. That was our fourth loss in the previous five games, of which have been to teams whose winning percentages are below.500. This appears to have been a low point in our young season for the team. Before this, we had won four in a row and we feeling very confident as a team. Tonight, we rebounded with a solid 4-3 win and were in the game, both mentally and physically for all nine innings. This is something we had struggled to do over the past two weeks.

As the team has been experiencing a string of highs and lows, it is important that we maintain a consistent outlook . As a baseball player it is crucial to ensure that you do not get too high when things are going well or to low when nothing seems to be going right. Growing up, my dad always told me to maintain an “even keel” through the highs and lows. As a younger player, I tended to be more focused on the things that did not go right for me during the course of a game, rather than looking at my overall performance and learning from my mistakes instead of criticizing myself. I was able to mature as a player, but it took me until about my sophomore year at the University of Rochester to say that I had become a player who was able to maintain an even keel.

This idea of an even keel was stressed by KJ during Monday night’s post game meeting. He highlighted that the players most able to avoid the extremes of being too high or too low would be those that had the best chances of moving forward in their careers. While it may seem easy at the outset to take this approach, this is far from the actuality of the situation.

Baseball is a game of slumps, streaks, and percentages. Matching left-handed hitters to right-handed pitchers, deciding when to hit-and-run, and putting defensive shifts on hitters are all designed to improve the odds of success for a given situation. However, the game is designed for failure. The best hitters to ever play the game failed 70 percent of the time and are commended for getting three hits every ten times they completed an at-bat. Baseball is such a special game in that you can do everything perfectly at the plate, make solid contact with a pitch, and have nothing to show for it when a line drive is caught in the outfield. This is why dealing with failure is such a crucial part of the game. Once a player has taken ownership of these thoughts and attitudes, then he is able to cope with the peaks and valleys of a game and a season, leading to a greater chance of success throughout his career.

What has helped me preserve this mindset is by focusing more on the effort that went into something than its outcome. I mentally replay game situations over in my head and ask myself, “What did I do correctly? Could I have done something better?” These questions can apply to both the physical side (mechanics and effort), and mental side (preparation, game awareness) of things. By doing this, I am better able to deal whatever the outcomes were, and keep myself at an emotional level that is neither too high nor too low.

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