Ever wonder what the difference, psychologically speaking, is between a team that is winning and a team that is losing?
Simply put, it’s belief.
It used to be that I didn’t like that answer. Belief, meh, it feels like you’re saying if we join hands and chant around a campfire, we’ll win more. I can think back to the my little league days when I got beat up on the pitchers mound and I’d mope—yes, I was a whiner, even back then—and team mothers, adorned with team colors and hats and pictures of their gangly sons’ turned into large, target sized buttons pinned across their breast would say to me, “It’s all about the power of positive thinking! You have to believe in yourself.”
“I did,” I’d say, “right up to the point where the other team started kicking my ass.”
Baseball can be a tough sport to foster positive outlooks. Unlike so many other sports, which are constantly in motion offering near innumerable chances for a player to make a difference in the game’s outcome, baseball only offers so many. So many starts, so many at bats, so many ground balls—so many times for you to feel like you can turn your season around and get your stats back toward something worth believing in.
Furthermore, it’s easy to believe in yourself when things are going great, which can create a gilded sense of self confidence. I was once told that the true measure of a pitcher isn’t how he throws when everything is going right, it’s how well he throws when he takes the mound and none of his pitches are working, his star shortstop is out with a hammy strain, and his favorite catcher just got traded. As a matter of fact, I’ve pitched in minor league games where coaches left me during moments of complete implosion, at the expense oft he game itself, only paying a mound visit to remind me to throw only fastballs. Talk about a trial by fire!
Oh, and when I say Belief, it’s not some sugar coated false interpretation of the situation where you picture a positive outcome the same way you might bet your house on a roulette table and picture winning untold riches. Belief in baseball isn’t about convincing yourself you can fly if you think happy thoughts, it’s about remaining psychologically vigilant so you can make the most of what comes next, let go of what happened, and be prepared to give your best even when you’re in a less than optimal situation.
How do trades factor in to this, you ask?
If you’ve been following the Jays for a while, you know that this 2015 season’s trade deadline has been historic in so far as name acquisition and line up reinforcement. Some say it represents an all in scenario, even though there is no such thing in baseball (OMG if the Jays don’t win this year, they cease to exist because they’re all in!). It only feels all in because management can only show it’s own belief via team acquisition at key milestones during the course of a year. Trades are like a love language, and some rosters only hear the words “I love you” from their ownership through a reinforcing roster upgrade. If such trades go against the usual MO, those who follow the club feel as if grand plans have been thrown into utter chaos in order to make such a wild, all in play possible… That’s hardly ever the case.
But back to the love language thing: compare this Jays trade deadline to seasons past, when the Jays team’s themselves have made quips to the media about how they didn’t feel supported because management didn’t go out and make moves that would help them win, even though there was no guarantee they actually could win. Those teams were, in a sense, asking the Jays to show them some love.
But what category of belief does that kind of request fall into? Is it the team wishing for something to believe in, or, is it telling management that the boys are ready to fight with what they’ve got, but could really use a timely pick-me-up?
Hard to say.
If your management, maybe you hear the team telling you they don’t think they can battle, or don’t believe in the talent they have—a big problem for any club. Or, are they speaking from intimate knowledge of their ability level limits and know they only way they’ll win is through outside help—a totally different problem for any club. Maybe they’re just being myopic, and focusing on he day to day grind and losing sight of the big picture—hard to tell that to your superstars who want nothing more than to win a championship.
You’ve heard it said that every major league baseball team is full of top tier talent, and, at any given time, any of them could “figure it out” or “get hot” or “come together” and be successful.
How does that work? What’s the formula?
If I knew, I’d be on the phone to major league baseball, selling the recipe for untold millions.
The truth: no one knows. We try our best to facilitate situations where a team can experience bonding moments, brew up chemistry, and create a sense of inner belief and value. I’ve been in brawls and bar rooms with teammates. I’ve played my share of locker room gags and bus trip cards. I’ve created nic-names and coined phrases. I’ve followed sterile rules and locker room shaving protocols. But without the success on field, all that stuff can ring a little hollow. Team chemistry without results is dead religion. Results with out belief in why it’s happening is unsustainable. But if a team is wrestling with how to find it’s belief system, it is, in it’s own convoluted way, telling you it at least believes in itself enough to struggle for something that will work.
Conversely, beware teams that have no sense of pride, compare their results only against their teammates, and can’t wait to be someplace where the atmosphere is better and they aren’t hampered by disagreeable variables around them. Such comments are similar to a pitcher saying, “yeah, I would have pitched better if my shortstop wasn’t injured and my favorite catcher was still with us and the coach didn’t tinker with my arm slot before the game.”
A team will be measured by what it accomplishes—That’s just how it goes. But how a team gets to a point where it can stare down a long win column lag and believe it’s good enough to make up the difference is a pure product a belief system that refused to quit, not rose colored glasses and baseless notions of hope. A team that thinks it always has a chance isn’t a losing team, it’s just a team that’s getting beat more than it would like, and, believe it or not, that’s something entirely different.
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