My favorite 2 questions that I ask my players are...
“Is it OK to strike out?” Hopefully the answer is YES! I follow that with, “Is it OK to be afraid of striking out?” Hopefully the answer is a resounding NO!
In my “Keeping Players Confident” blog, I touched on the idea that if a player has a specific, positive thought in the moment of action, their brain won’t have time to imagine all the negative things that could happen. The overriding theme here is to focus on the process or the present moment, as opposed to the outcome. Staying simple, and in the moment allows the player to slow the game down. “He’s got a slow heartbeat” is something you hear when describing a clutch player. These types of players don’t allow the game to become bigger than it really is. It’s a game, meant to be played in the backyard with friends. Great baseball players understand this fact all too well.
So how does one get to that point? First, the player has the ability to focus on the process, especially in high leverage situations. This is a testament to their coaching, and preparation. Here’s an example: A player steps up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, bases loaded, with his team down 2 runs. The outcome of this situation has many positive possibilities, and even more negative possibilities. If he focuses on the positive outcomes, the words ‘antsy’ and ‘anxious’ flood his approach. He’s likely to pull his head out a bit early, and hit a cue shot off the end of the bat, back to the pitcher for the 3rd out. If he focuses on the negative outcomes, his body immediately tightens, he reacts late, and pops it up to end the game. But what if that hitter had his focus on the simple, the present, and the process. Because of his experiences, he would know his tendencies in these high leverage situations. Because of his preparation, he would know how to combat those bad tendencies with a specific and positive thought. Maybe it’s “See Impact,” or “Think Right Center.” Maybe it’s as simple as “Hold your balanced finish,” because he’s learned this thought keeps his head still. In any case, that hitter has no room in his brain to imagine outcomes, since all his focus is on a specific part of the process.
This is how I interpret the quote, “Do Simple Better,” by Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon.
Secondly, this type of player has NO FEAR OF FAILURE. When you look in a player’s eyes and they seem incredibly relaxed during these nerve racking moments, it’s because they understand one simple fact. This thing we are doing right now, is a GAME. A game where a guy is throwing a little round object in my direction, and I’m trying to hit it as hard as I can, with a funny shaped stick called a bat. He may as well be in the backyard with his brothers playing whiffle ball. If he fails, he understands that tomorrow will bring him breakfast, lunch, and most likely more baseball. Now, does this mean this player doesn’t care? Absolutely not. Because he’s doing part 1 also. He’s got a specific, and positive thought on the process.
In closing, ‘Focusing on The Process’ and having ‘No Fear of Failure’ is much easier said than done. From a players stand point, over prepare in practice. Over exaggerate the specifics of your process in practice, and you can count on them working for you in the game. From a coaching standpoint, set an example to the team that failure is a big part of baseball and it is OK for individuals to make physical mistakes. The Coaches and the players will have your back either way. Keep it loose, and yes, Keep it FUN!