Daily Archives: May 21, 2009

Playing on the edge instead of where it’s safe

Sorry it’s been a little while since I’ve posted something new. Hope the old posts were keeping you entertained, at least to some extent. At least was for a good reason, though: I’ve been trying to make the rounds of games to see my students and the girls I coach in the summer playing in some of their games. I’ve also been trying to wean myself off the computer at night, at least as much as I’ve been on. When you find yourself emailing your wife, and she’s sitting on the couch right next to you, you have a problem.

But that’s not what got me on here today. I actually saw another great email message from Bobby Simpson of Higher Ground Softball. He was talking about a book he’d read called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. What struck Bobby, and me by extension, was the discovery that more than half of all the top performers in a given sport got there through a series of small failures. It wasn’t that they were bad, really. It was more that they were willing to go out beyond their comfort zones, where they knew they could succeed, and instead be willing to fail today so they could be better tomorrow. This was a worldwide phenomenon.

How many times have you seen (or coached) the opposite? You have a pitcher who has been working on developing a drop and/or curve ball. But when game time comes, she throws only fastballs and changeups because she knows she can throw them for strikes. Or worse yet, she want to throw drops and curves but you as the coach don’t let her because you might lose the game if she throws them, but feel confident you’ll win if she doesn’t. She never develops those weapons, and when you face a team that is hitting her fastball consistently you have nowhere else to go but the bullpen.

Or what about the situation I’ve railed on lately — the automatic bunt with a runner on first. The coach does it because it’s the “safe” thing to do. No one can criticize her for following “the book.” Well, except me I suppose. But if she lets her hitters hit away now and then in that situation she might find she can play for three or four runs instead of one in an inning. Sure, there’s a risk you get none. But you’re taking that risk by bunting away outs anyway.

It’s human nature to want to succeed. When we’re successful we feel good about ourselves. And here in America it’s particularly important because we love winners and hate losing. But the truth is most of the time you don’t learn a damn thing from winning and succeeding. Especially if you do the same things all the time. If you’re winning almost all your games you’re probably playing the wrong opponents or in the wrong tournaments.

The same goes for players. If they’re going to go beyond where they are, they need to stretch beyond their current limitations. Sure, they may find their reach exceeded their grasp at times. But they may also find out their grasp extended farther than they thought. After all, you can’t get anywhere just standing still.

If you’re a player, get out of your comfort zone. Try those new things. They may not work out, but at least you’ll have a better idea of what you can and can’t do — or perhaps what you could do with a little more work.

If you’re a coach, push your players out of their comfort zones, and do the same for yourself. Especially early in the season. Give that developing pitcher a chance to test her skills. Be willing to lose a few games early to win more games late. It’s what the best in the world do.

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