Today’s topic isn’t necessarily a softball-specific topic. But because so many of us are looking longingly at empty fields, especially on beautiful sunny days when the temperature gets up to shirtsleeve temperatures, I thought it was worth sharing.
I first came across the Stockdale Paradox in the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t by Jim Collins. It is named after Admiral James Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking prisoner of war in the so-called “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War.
If you want to read the full explanation you can do that here. I’m going to do my best to give you the abridged version.
The “Hanoi Hilton” was a horrible POW camp. Conditions were poor and the prisoners (American soldiers, sailors and marines) were beaten, tortured, starved and otherwise mistreated. All in all it was a miserable experience.
Adm. Stockdale was in it for seven years, from 1968 to the end of the war in 1974. Collins asked him why some of the prisoners (including him) were able to make it through with their spirits unbroken while others fell into deep sadness and depression.
He said the ones who struggled were the optimists. They would say, “We’ll be out of here by Christmas” or “We’ll be out of here by July 4.” But then Christmas or July 4 would come and go and they were still there. The continuous disappointment broke them.
The ones who came through it ok adopted what has come to be known as the Stockdale Paradox. Their attitude was basically, “We know we will make it out of here alive one day. We just don’t know when.”
The ones who handled it best were the ones who faced the brutal reality of a situation they couldn’t control and accepted it for what it was. They focused on doing what they needed to do to get through each day until they were finally release, believing all the time that the day would come.
That’s where a lot of us are right now – although to be honest we have nothing to complain about compared to the residents of the “Hanoi Hilton.” There’s a huge difference between being locked up in a cage, sleeping in the dirt and never knowing if you’re going to be dragged out and beaten and being stuck watching Neflix or videos of old softball games on your living room couch.
What we have to realize right now is we don’t know when it will be safe, not just for us but for our families, our neighbors and the most vulnerable among us, to begin going out to restaurants, movie theaters, concerts, worship services and yes, softball games, again. But we also have to believe that the day will come.
What we don’t know is when that day will come. If you pin all your hopes on May 1, or May 15, or July 1, or any specific date and it doesn’t happen, you will feel worse than you did before.
You may even fall into despair, or decide to do something stupid (like defy shelter-in-place orders) that only extend the situation even further – and perhaps increase the death toll needlessly.
Instead, know that one day this will all be over, or at least the worst of it will, and we’ll be able to get back to the rest of our lives again. Embrace the Stockdale Paradox and one day you too will be sporting an “I Survived the COVID-19 Pandemic” t-shirt at the local ballfield.
In the meantime, stay safe and wash your hands! And be sure to hit the Like and Share buttons so this message gets out to others who need it, and subscribe to get new posts delivered directly to your email as soon as they go live.
Those of you of a certain age (and you know what that age is) probably remember this great song from the ultimate 60s Motown girl group, The Supremes:
If you’re not familiar with the song, be sure to check it out. If you listen closely you’ll hear a lot of the foundational elements that today’s pop music is built on.
But what you’ll also hear is a message that also pertains to fastpitch softball players. Not to mention their coaches and parents.
We live in a world where we want what we want when we want it. We don’t like to wait – we want results NOW!!!! And we’re afraid if we don’t get them NOW!!!! we’re going to miss out on important opportunities.
Now, if you’re 16 years old or above, there is a bit of hurry up involved. If you’re planning to play college softball you don’t have much time to develop the skills required to be invited onto a team. If you’re not planning on playing beyond high school, the end of your career is looming.
The thing is, however, is that softball skills take time to develop. And repetition. Lots and lots of good repetition.
No matter how much you want to be successful, or how much you wish the time element wasn’t true, it is.
Now, a good coach or private instructor can help you shortcut some of that time. Back in the days when The Supremes were cranking out hit song after hit song, most softball skill learning happened through trial and error, and emulation of successful older players.
You looked at what those players were doing and you tried to copy it. Eventually, you figured out what worked best for you and you were ready to rock and roll.
A good coach or instructor will already have a pretty strong idea of what works and what doesn’t, and will be able to look at what you’re doing and help you throw out the stuff that doesn’t work faster.
Still, it’s a process. It may not take as much time as doing it yourself, but it will still take time. Lots and lots of time.
The more you practice with intention and a goal in mind, the more you’ll be able to shave off some of that time. But it will still take time. There is no getting around that.
It takes time to replace old habits with new ones. Here’s a great article that explains why. The short version is that you’re actually making physiological changes under the hood, rewriting what has been hard wired into your brain so you can do things differently/better. Here’s some additional information on it from a past post too.
It would be nice if that weren’t the case – if there was some secret shortcut that would get you to the destination immediately like a transporter on Star Trek. But there isn’t.
In fact, when I start with a new student I will usually place my hand on her head or helmet and tell her if I could just do that, say “Be healed” and instantly turn her into a great player I would.
Of course, I also point out that if I could do that lessons would be $1,000 each and there would be a line down the street a mile long to get some of that, because that’s the dream.
But I can’t. No one can. Each of us learns in our own way, and in our own time.
Put 10 players in front of any coach, have them all receive the same instruction at the same time, and guess what? The results you get will vary.
Some will get it right away, some will get it somewhat, and some may not get it at all and will need it explained differently.
It’s the same for the long-term. Learning anything, especially if you want to do it at a high level, takes time.
It would be nice if coaches could just show a player what to do and she’d be instantly perfect at it, but it doesn’t work that way. And thinking it could is likely to lead to disappointment, which leads to discouragement, which leads to players deciding softball isn’t for them anymore.
Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, follow the Stockdale Paradox. When you’re facing a challenge, like learning a new skill or a new position, know that you will succeed. But don’t put a timeframe or other limitations on it.
Instead, believe in yourself and just keep plugging away at it. Do the right things and you’ll get there. And what a story you’ll have to tell ESPN when they come to interview you.