(Here is my latest advice to a college kid going through a rough patch. Hope it helps anyone else going through rough time as well. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.)
My name is Harry Doyle, I am a Freshman Pitcher for the Mel’s Barber College. I am a huge fan of your books. I am going through a bit of a hard time. I started the season off first out of the pen and got some mid week starts. I started vs Rick’s Tattoo Shop University and had a great outing and our coach told me I won the Sunday spot but turns out that was all a lie and it shook me a bit. Ever since then, I have appeared in probably 3 innings and let up around 10 runs. I know it happens, I know its baseball, but all of my confidence is gone. I know that you have been in difficult situations in your career and have overcome them. Tonight vs Arnolds Piercing U. I pitched 1/3 of an inning and found a way to allow 2 runs. Any help would be appreciated. As I said, I started from first out of the pen and now I am the very last one. I literally felt that I had it all made, I was being sent to the Cape, I beat out high draft picks (I am an undrafted kid from Guam) so I felt that I was on top of the world. After the game today, our coach, in front of our team called a “mother-fucking pussy” and told me I should have just gone to a real school. I don’t want to rant and complain to you, but I just know that you are someone I respect and can you’ve been in my shoes at some point.
Dear Pitching Padawan,
Ah yes, the public call out. Those always go over so well… Nothing says “pick your head up” like being called a pussy in front of an entire team of peers and friends. I’ll bet it shook you up. I’ll bet it pissed you off too, but then you were really frustrated because you knew you couldn’t do a darn thing about it but stand there and take it. Which, by the way, is the right move. Your coach will tell himself he’s trying to light a fire under your ass by calling you out like that. All coaches say that after they say something really abrasive that didn’t actually need to be said. Coaches get mad too, and their version of smashing a water cooler when they are frustrated is smashing your ego—they just have the luxury of saying something to justify it like, “I wanted to give you a gut check.”
Since we can’t change coaches, only the way we view the situation, there are a couple of things that we need to clear up. First, you’re not a pussy, or a coward, or weak, or any of these other super machismo descriptors used in the sports circles to explain away failure. Stop thinking in terms of being or not being those things because they are fundamentally wrong. If you pin yourself into thinking you either are, or are not said adjectives, then you’ll always think of yourself in relation to them. You’re a person, with high expectations, who is trying to be successful in a sport that requires you to give up control.
You know I’m fond of saying “once the balls leaves your hand, the rest is out of your control.” That’s easier said than done, I know, but remember, there is only so much you can control. One of those things is how you look and speak to yourself. Simply put, if you don’t think your a pussy, then you are not. You’re trying, you don’t want to fail, but neither do the hitters. Sometimes you’ll get beat and that’s a normal part of this business. After it happens, choose to learn and refocus because it’s all you can do. To reiterate—don’t beat yourself up, don’t waste time worrying, don’t dwell on repeat failure scenarios, just move forward with focus and intent. You may not be successful next time, there is always that chance, but you will free yourself of this mental anguish.
Second, go back to the basics. Lost confidence has a way of convincing us we cant throw in the middle of the zone and get outs. You know what my coaches would tell me in the low levels of the minors? “Down”. That’s it. You can get a lot of hitters out if you just keep the ball down. The corners are a plus. The Black is Icing. But down in 75% of the battle. Miss down, stay down, and expand left to right. Remember, hitters will happily take 3 out of ten. So let them. You keep the ball down consistently, they’ll get themselves out. Furthermore, if they do get a hit, balls hit on the ground don’t add up. Coaches have a tendency to break out the “you’re a pussy” line when they feel you’re not “going right after hitters” (any of this sound familiar?). One of the reasons we don’t go after hitters is we are scared of what hitters can do to us from previous—fresh wounds—experiences. You can’t be scared to attack the bottom part of the zone because the odds are on your side. Your coach knows this too. Giving up hits will happen. Falling behind, being afraid of contact, not challenging a hitter in a count that favors you: that tends to piss a coach off. Trust yourself, go after guys, and if you get beat, so what, you did WHAT YOU COULD CONTROL. Your intent was correct. Beyond that, it’s out of your hands… literally.
Third, don’t tell yourself you’re the man when you aren’t. The high draft pick you beat to the Cape, the early success. the starting spot in a mid week game: you haven’t done anything yet. Look at yourself with sober judgment. The “out of your control” line cuts both ways. You got these opportunities and that’s great, but they don’t make you a star so don’t think of yourself as one. It’s misleading to your own confidence to think you’ve got something made when the fact of the matter is, you don’t. What you have are opportunities. As it is written in the Braves clubhouse, “prepare yourself for the opportunity that may present itself. Do you do that by patting yourself on the back, of by focusing on the task at hand like it is the most important thing in you’ve done to date?
Look, what you are going through right now is terribly common. But you’re about to learn something really valuable. That is: everyone expects to succeed so intensely that they can’t handle failure, but how you handle failure will dictate the amount of opportunities you’ll get to succeed. Learn to handle failure by doing what you can control, talking to yourself with sober judgment, and refraining from tearing yourself down. It will make you a better player and a happier person.
Hope this helps.
Yours in baseball,