Dear angst ridden young college pitcher, angry at his coach.

Ah yes, the public call out. Those always go over so well… Nothing says “pick your head up” like being called a coward 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 I’ll bet you were most frustrated because you knew you couldn’t do a darn thing about it besides 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 or do something really abrasive that didn’t actually need to be said or done. 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 coward, or weak, or a pussy, or any of these other super machismo descriptors used in the sports circles to thrash failure. Stop thinking in terms of being or not being those things because they are fundamentally wrong. If you let yourself start 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 is requires you to give up control.

You know I’m fond of saying “once the ball leaves your hand, the rest is out of your control.” That’s easier said than done,  but remember, there is only so much you can control in a game built on the tumble of a white leather ball. One of the things you can control is how you look and speak to yourself, so do it. Simply put, if you don’t think your a coward, 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 that, again, is something you can control as opposed to something you cannot—the past outcome. 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 and focus on preparation.

Second, go back to the basics. Lost confidence has a way of convincing us we can’t throw in the middle of the zone and get outs. Statistics say otherwise. You know what my coaches would tell me in the low levels of the minors? “Down”. That’s it. One word.

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 then 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, and flogging we’ll take from coaches when we fail. It’s negative reinforcement.

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, kid. Look at yourself with sober judgment. Even if you’re in the bigs with 20 years under your belt, you can’t afford to think you’ve got it made. Baseball will punish you if you do.

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. You do that 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: everyone expects to succeed so intensely that they can’t handle failure, but how you handle failure will dictate the amount of opportunities you 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,

Dirk Hayhurst.