I think the word for it these days is “hack.” You know what I mean? When people take household goods and turn them into something more useful. Like a mouse trap crafted from a Pringles can. I don’t know if that is a real thing or not (doesn’t seem like it would work) but I do know “hacks” are a thing so I thought I would share a “hack” that I like to call a routine. A routine for clearing the mind after an athlete encounters adversity on the field.
Batting Gloves, Helmets, Pants, Dirt
I’ve seen this happen a lot. We all have. The kid you’re coaching is up to bat, he or she works the count to 3-1, and everyone knows what’s coming because the opposing coach hates walks (and rightfully so). A big fat fastball right down the middle of the plate. Your kid swings, maybe misses, maybe fouls it off, and then takes a few frustrated steps away from the batter’s box. You turn your head toward the outfield and wonder how the heck they missed that pitch. Maybe you jot down on your notepad “How to hit fastballs down the middle of the plate.” Then you shake your head and cross that off because that seems like a crazy thing to practice. The kid steps back into the box, frustrated, and gets himself or herself out, either on a strike three or a tapper back to the mound, or whatever.
The athlete didn’t have their emotions in check when they stepped back into the box. What can you do about it?
Hitters are going to miss good pitches. It happens! Baseball is a tough, tough game. You can teach hitters (and fielders), of any age, mental strength that they can call upon via a routine. If your athlete wears batting gloves, helmets, pants, or stands in the dirt, give this a try. Give your athlete permission to be upset for a small fraction of time. They are not allowed to be visibly upset. The goal should be for their body language to remain as if they were calm and collected. Teach them that after five to seven seconds of thought, they are to unstrap their batting glove, and strap it back on. Once that strap is on, that is a “self” signal for them to move on and play the next pitch. If the athlete does not wear batting gloves, they can adjust their helmets, tug on a pant leg, or gently clear a spot in the dirt with the same goal in mind. The point is to process what just happened, engage your “self” signal, and move on. This does take some commitment and discipline, but it works.
What purpose does this serve?
A routine like this does a lot for the athlete, but the primary reason I’ve taught athletes to do this is because it gives them structure to deal with adversity on the fly. Many coaches urge kids to “move on” right away, but in my experience that’s asking a lot out of young players when they’re in a competitive environment. It’s OK to be upset for a small amount of time, but when you engage the “self” signal, it’s time to put the error behind you and play the next pitch. As your athletes encounter more adversity, and baseball provides plenty of opportunity for that, they’ll get better at processing mistakes and missed opportunities. They’ll become better teammates and “pick each other up.”
The carryover here is obvious. We spend a lifetime making mistakes. I don’t wear baseball pants and a helmet to the office (really wish I could). If I did though, I’d take a small amount of time to process a mistake, touch my helmet in the spot where the pine tar goes, and move on.
Now on to building my mouse trap!