Daily Archives: March 3, 2023

Improvement Is Often Measured in Inches, Not Miles

In a perfect world, when a player walks out of practice she would be noticeably better than when she walked in. Her physical skills will have visibly improved, her understanding of the game (or a portion of it) will have grown measurably, and/or her confidence in her abilities will have increased exponentially.

That’s not what happens in the real world, however. At least most of the time.

The reality is most improvements in those areas are far more subtle. They are better-measured in inches, not miles (centimeters, not kilometers for my non-U.S. readers), which means the immediate gains are often barely perceptible.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not happening. They are; they’re just too small to notice on a day-to-day basis.

Think about how kids grow. If you see a child every day, you probably don’t notice how much they’re growing physically until you notice them compared to an object in the house – or they complain about their clothes or shoes not fitting anymore.

No. Just no.

The gains they’ve made in height and/or weight have happened so gradually that you didn’t really see them until realized they are now four inches taller than when the summer started.

Now think about a kid you haven’t seen in a while. She also grew four inches since the last time you saw her.

But because there has been a huge gap between the last sighting and this one, you instantly recognize how much she’s grown.

That’s the way it often is with sports improvements as well. For example, a pitcher starts out awkwardly swinging her arm around and pushing the ball out slowly just trying to get it to and over the plate.

Then she starts working on her pitching mechanics. They don’t change immediately, but maybe in that first lesson she learns to relax a bit and let the ball come out of her hand instead of forcing it so much.

She still looks awkward in the big picture, but a little change has occurred. Over time, more of those changes occur and eventually she looks “like a pitcher” as she effortlessly flings the ball forward for fast strike after fast strike.

It isn’t until you reflect back on where she started, however, that you realize how far she’s come. Not all in one leap, but inch by inch, making subtle change after subtle change that over time work together to help her become the high-performer she is today.

It’s a shame that this concept isn’t better-understood, because I think the unrealistic expectations for improvement that are often set lead too many kids to give up on something they love before that cumulative effect has had a chance to kick in.

I have definitely seen this over the many, many years I have coached teams and taught lessons. When kids who started out behind the pack put in the work they often end up passing their peers and becoming stars on their respective teams.

Not all at once, mind you. But over time the learn and grow, their control over their own bodies improves, their understanding of the skills and the game increases, and suddenly people are talking about how lucky their parents are that the kid is such a “natural.” If only those people knew.

Sure, there are natural athletes who seem to pick things up quickly. But even they hit a point where improvement becomes more incremental and hard-won.

The truth is the players who make it the farthest aren’t necessarily the ones who start fastest out of the blocks. The successful players are the ones who keep plugging away at it, little by little, day by day, inch by hard-fought inch.

Even when it seems like they’re not getting anywhere.

Even in a really cool uniform.

Because if your daughter keeps moving forward, even just a little each session, over time you will be amazed to realize just how far she’s come.

Photo by Andrew Patrick on Pexels.com

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