March 25, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
A Prospective Perspective
My daughter Tess is the most beautiful, smart, and charming nine-year old on the planet. The University of Connecticut is the best school in the country. Mayonnaise on a sandwich is terrible, but the right percentage can make the difference between average and really good coleslaw. Male pattern baldness is most prevalent amongst intelligent men with good intentions.
While I believe the last four sentences to be truthful, I acknowledge that my perspective is just that - mine, and only mine. One might call it flawed, skewed, or just flat wrong (just ask any umpire with whom I've ever disagreed), and that's fine. My perspective is my reality. Intellectually, I know I can't prove all of the above to be gospel. I don't care, that's the way I see the world. Of course, I can't expect everyone to agree with my perspective, but I own it, and it is not going to change.
Almost a third of our season has passed. We've had some nice highs and too many not-so-nice lows. We haven't achieved at the level we've prepared to reach, and yet we still have a lot of season left with a very talented and dedicated group of players. We can be great, and we have time to rebound from an 8-9-1 start. That rebound must begin later today by executing in the moment against a tough and seasoned Pitt Panthers club.
Losing perspective is easy when results aren't what one expected. It is one of the greatest challenges in coaching to keep one's perspective, and continue to progress. One of the things we emphasize is staying in the moment. Just like any bad habit, a lack of base hits, and losing can be contagious. It's impossible not to think of the classic scene from The Natural, when the slumping New York Knights are forced to listen to the psychologist in the clubhouse in attempt to get out of their funk: Click here to listen to the cut from the movie.
The disease the doctor speaks of is allowing the past to get in the way of the present. The trick is trying like heck to stay in the moment. The great tennis star, Martina Navratilova hit the nail on the head when she explained her excellence, "I just try to concentrate on concentrating." Isolating pitches, limiting variables, and blocking out distractions is easier said than done, yet essential to maximizing one's chances to be effective not only at baseball, but at life.
Tess needed help with long division homework on Wednesday night after I got home from practice. I used to have trouble calculating my own batting average. So, instead of bearing down on the problems at the kitchen table, I found myself thinking about how we should pitch David Chester and Kevan Smith this weekend. Math is tough enough, and I just made it ten times harder. Dissatisfied with her old man, Tess pointedly left me and my hot eraser, and headed for the dining room table. She closed the door behind her, and figured it all out on her own. A+ (told you she's smart).
Our hitters have worked very hard at their craft. They've also had great success at different points in their careers. I know they can close the door behind them when they enter the batter's box, block out any and all distractions, and confidently allow themselves to have success this weekend.
Those distractions are always present if we allow them to be. We've had many opponents tell us we're the best team they've seen, but if we don't believe we're the best, we can become ineffective and very average very fast. Our won-loss record is Exhibit A of that reality. Others' perspectives are never as important as one's own. If we believe we're average, we are.
We've spent a month occasionally losing perspective and getting out of the moment. I'm certain there have been folks in our dugout thinking, "Geez, I wonder if we'll still be ranked in the top 25 if we lose this game to Sacred Heart today?" Or, they've thought, "If I go 0fer today, I hope Penders keeps me in the lineup tomorrow." Some may have pondered, "Why can't we catch a break? These umps are out to get us."
Self-doubt, allowing past results to paint a negative outlook, or losing one's perspective are all part of human nature, but we can't give into that, and we must do a better job of controlling it. Human nature and hitting a baseball are often at odds, and staying in the moment is work.
We must get back to different thoughts in the dugout and on the field. "I'm gonna see something up I can drive with that runner on third and do my job," would be a welcome example of a positive thought. Too often, some of our guys have looked like cartoons with thought bubbles over their heads containing words like, "I hope he doesn't drag or push bunt here. That guy is fast." When they can replace those thoughts with, "I'm ready. Go ahead, try to bunt on me," we're going to have a better chance at making plays. We decrease our chances for success if we're in the batter's box thinking about anything other than the pitch. We increase our chances of failure if we allow ourselves to feel self pity. We don't help when we choose to not be upbeat and positive.
Over the last month, all of us have allowed things to interfere with a balanced perspective. Yet, just like omnipresent distractions, there are also cues all around us urging us to keep our perspective. We needn't look further than the televisions in our hotel rooms. In three different time zones, we've watched reports of a tsunami claiming thousands of lives, saw a young man with one leg win an NCAA wrestling championship, and witnessed another country go to war. Just Tuesday, a young man named David Plamondon died after being struck by a shuttle bus on campus. He studied to become a doctor here at UConn, liked to sing, and played baseball in an amateur league near his Massachusetts home in the summer. The tsunami victims and their families, Arizona State's Anthony Robles, Libyans, and the Plamondons have it tough. We get to coach and play baseball today.
When we keep it all in perspective, we've got it pretty good. All of our goals are attainable. By definition, an 8-9-1 baseball team is below average. But, that's not our perspective. It's time to make that perspective our reality.