It Always Helps to Have Perspective
One of the things I often tell players on their development journey is that yesterday’s achievements eventually become today’s disappointments.
For example, when a player first comes for hitting lessons she may be striking out all the time. Which means her goal is to not strike out so often, i.e., hit the ball instead.
She works hard and starts hitting regularly. Then she has a streak where she hits the ball but right at someone and she’s out every time.
She is still achieving the original goal – not striking out – but the goalposts for her expectations have moved and now anything less than a hit is a disappointment.
Probably the easiest place to see it, however, is with speed measurements for pitchers. Everyone always wants to get faster. I’m sure Monica Abbott, who I believe still throws the hardest out of all female players, would still love to add an mph or two if she could.
So pitchers work hard to achieve a new personal record. Then another. Then another, etc.
After a while, though, that first personal record she got so excited about is now a disappointment and perhaps even feels like a step backwards.
That’s why it helps to keep some perspective on the longer journey instead of just the next step.
That idea came home to roost last night when I was giving a lesson to a student (Gianna) who hasn’t been to lessons in a couple of weeks due to a volleyball-related thumb injury. (Don’t even get me started on how volleyball injuries impact softball players!)
Now, as you know the thumb is pretty important for gripping things like softballs. In fact, the opposable thumb is one of the key advantages that separates humans and other primates from most of the rest of the animal kingdom.
Gianna’s thumb had swollen up pretty badly and for the last couple of weeks she’d had trouble gripping anything. The swelling had finally gone down, and with a tournament coming up and her team already short a couple of other pitchers due to volleyball injuries (grrrr) she wanted to do all she could to help them.
So with her thumb stabilized and a bandage that wrapped around her wrist she decided to give it a go to see if she could pitch this weekend.
The short answer was yes, she could. But her speed was a little down from where it normally is. That’s ok, though, she was able to do it without pain (so she said) and to throw all her pitches.
Later on when I thought about the speed being down I had an epiphany.
You see, a year ago Gianna was struggling with some mechanical issues that were preventing her from getting the type of whip and pronation that would bring her speed up. She was working very hard to correct them but once those bad mechanics have set in the habits they create can be tough to break.
(One more piece of evidence that saying “Start with hello elbow and you can change later” is bad, bad advice.)
As I thought about it I realized that had she been throwing the speed she was averaging last night at this time last year, she would have been very excited and gone home on cloud nine. Because it was about 3 mph higher (whereas now it was 2-3 mph slower).
And that’s the point. Sometimes in our quest to get to “the next level” we sometimes forget to take a minute and look at how far we’ve come.
Keeping that longer-term perspective can help you stay positive when you hit the inevitable plateau and keep you going until you reach your next achievement.
Send A Letter to Your Future Self
A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing for my annual battle with putting Christmas lights on the roof of my house, I came across the note pictured above. It was a message from myself last spring, when I took the lights down, alerting me to a potential issue with some of the strings.
(By the way, a tip of the Hatlo Hat to the TV show How I Met Your Mother for the whole Future Ken/Past Ken thing.)
I had completely forgotten the lights had fallen off the roof (better them than me!), so I was glad I’d done it. I was also quite amused by the whole concept.
Then last week at the NFCA convention I heard a speaker talk about how players should do the exact same thing prior to their season, to be opened at the end. In her case it was to be opened upon winning an NCAA D1 championship (which didn’t happen), but the concept is still a good one.
For players who are serious about their game, what better way is there to end a season than to look at the perspective of their (slightly) younger selves to see how it matched up to reality?
Here’s the idea. Before the season, the player sits down and imagines what the season will be like. Not just the quantifiable goals, but maybe how things went, what the experience was like, what they accomplished, what they liked and disliked, etc.
It should be a personal letter from Past (Player) to Future (Player). It could include encouragement, consolation, congratulations or whatever the player happens to be feeling at the time.
Then seal it up and put it away, not to be opened until after the season. Now that they player has gone through the entire season experience, she can compare what she thought would happen, and how she thought she’d feel, to what actually happened.
An exercise like this can help put things into perspective. For example, if the player is on the fence about whether to stay with this team or look for another, she can compare what her expectations were to what actually happened.
If she had a tough season, she can look back on how hard she expected to work and compare that to how hard she actually worked. If she was feeling awkward around new teammates in the beginning, she can compare that to how she feels about her teammates now. Maybe she made some great new friends and is just grateful to have been part of such an awesome group.
There are so many things to be gained from this exercise. If you’re a parent, try having your favorite player do it. If you’re a coach, have your team do it and hold the envelopes until the end of the season banquet/party.
By the way, this isn’t just for players. Coaches can do the same exercise as well.
I’ve had great seasons where you hated to see them end, and I’ve had seasons where it all couldn’t end soon enough. If nothing else it would have been fun to see how my earlier self viewed what was coming and whether it matched up to what actually occurred.
In our hyper-fast world we tend to only look at what’s right in front of us. In doing so we miss the benefits of a longer-term view.
By taking the time to write out this letter to their future selves, players and coaches can gain a longer-term view, and perhaps use that to change their next future.
So what do you think of this idea? Have you ever tried it? If so, how did it turn out? Leave your experiences below in the comments.