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A baseball team and individual players need a certain amount of mental toughness to perform at a high level. What is mental toughness? It is the ability to face adverse conditions and still be able to compete. It is emotional self discipline. (Yes, young kids can learn it if the coach will not give in to them.) It is the ability for a player and a team to focus and concentrate on every pitch. That requires control, endurance and a certain inner toughness.

Another characteristic is the capacity for a player to put mistakes and errors behind him so that he can continue to be effective. As failure is inevitable in baseball, these traits are essential for winning teams and developing highly effective players. This emotional stamina, if you will, cannot be turned on and off. It must become a part of practice as well as games.

Players and teams of all ages can be taught these worthy strengths. Because of age factors the approach for LL players may be diluted slightly but the intent is the same- to prepare players to play the game of baseball at a high degree of excellence. The game is mental, folks.

Baseball requires these traits but on the other side of the coin, baseball gives something back in that young men can transfer these attributes into everyday life. We’ve all seen this toughness in amateur as well as in professional players and teams. The teams and players who practice this at the highest levels are the consistent winners.

I watched a 15 and under AAU team play last month and this is what I saw.

  • In the first inning the pitcher walked two, hit one batter, his teammates committed two errors and they gave up 7 runs. The pitcher, in that one inning, kicked the dirt on the mound, shrugged his shoulders, hung his head, yelled at his catcher and yelled at the shortstop. Because he had no control, physical or emotional he ended up just lobbing balls across the plate. (Where was the coach? He did visit the mound once. That did a lot of good. I wonder what he said; Push off the rubber and bend your back?)
  • Later in that game I went to the concession stand for a bottle of water and this same pitcher, who had been removed from the game, came up and ordered a hotdog. A hotdog? Left the dugout? Chatting with parents? Smiling and joking? Oh, coach, he was just having fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun isn’t it? (Maybe we should redefine fun.)
  • The catcher allowed three runs to score by throwing the ball away on misguided pickoff attempts. I have watched this catcher for several years. He threw the ball away in LL, he threw the ball away in Junior League and now he is throwing the ball away in AAU. I have never seen him actually throw anybody out.
  • With an 11 run deficit the pitcher constantly threw over to first base. Why?
  • Their between-innings warm up was miserable.
  • In the third inning, when they replaced the pitcher all the infielders kneeled on the ground by the mound to watch their new pitcher warm up. Why? Where did that come
  • With runners on first and second the first baseman was holding the runner on. What was he thinking about?
  • The final score was 17-5. Nobody on the losing team seemed to care. I believe the inmates are running that asylum. Do you think this coach is building a sound program? I think they are a little weak in the mental toughness department. But did they have any fun?

No Excuses

A central issue when it comes to establishing inner strength is for the coach to make the players throw something away; Excuses. This is not as easy as it may sound. We live in a society where it is common to offer excuses and alibis. And too often these offers are accepted. Our parents accept excuses. Our schoolteachers accept excuses. Our lawyers get us out of jams with excuses. Everyone is a victim and the majority has an excuse for their problems and wrongdoings.

How about the person who sued McDonalds because she spilled coffee on herself and got burned? She sued and WON! (I’ve always wanted to bring that up, I find that event fascinating. Can you picture the plaintiff’s attorneys going over the case in their conference room? ‘Well we’ll argue that McDonalds didn’t tell her that their coffee is hot.” What a country.)

So ridding a team of excuses is not easy. But a baseball coach should make a strong attempt.

My Bad

Let’s get that one out of the way first. “My bad” was originally meant to be a way of admitting a mistake without offering an apology or excuse. It was a pretty good way of being a good teammate by showing you cared and could save face at the same time without offering an excuse. Great phrase, isn’t it?

It was sort of a way to beat the system. At least he didn’t say, “The sun got in my eyes.”
Third baseman bobbles a ground ball and he hands the baseball back to his pitcher and says, “My bad.”

But it has become an automatic phrase. It is now a cliché and overused to the point where it is offered as an excuse within itself. It is no longer effective because people just give it lip service. They use it anytime they want off the hook.

Stephen and I were watching a movie some time ago. It was called “Clueless” or something like that. A girl was taking her driving exam and turned a corner and sideswiped a car. She looked at the instructor and said, “Oh my bad.” A very insincere statement that was offered as an excuse. (I think I’m watching too much television.)

So if a coach is going to rid his team of those undermining excuses he has to be constantly alert for them.

Player mishandles a ground ball. “It took a bad hop coach.” Answer, “Open your glove.” Center fielder overthrows the cutoff man. “The ball was wet coach.” Answer, “That’s why the ball has seams, use them.” “I slipped getting back to the bag, coach.” Answer, “No excuses.”

I think maybe the excuses kids use are often just an automatic replay of what we have taught them or something they heard an announcer say on TV. They are cleverly feeding us back our own words or the words of another adult.

Something these excuses are not; the truth. Kids never say, “I’m afraid of the ball” or some other underlying genuine reason.

If a coach can recognize them and deal with them immediately his team will benefit greatly. When you get rid of those nasty little excuses you open the door to some very effective coaching.

Sometimes the best thing is to just ignore the player and not say anything. I have often used just a withering or a derisive look.

Sometimes I just turn my cap sideways, stick my belly out and hang my jaw open. (A la Max Patkin.) The downside of that little mannerism is that when I make a mistake my kids do the same thing to me. Picture 12 kids with their caps on sideways and their jaws hanging open. Kids are very clever. Humor is often effective and has a unique way of driving home a point and helping people to remember it.

When you are offering instruction in practices or in games, even if you have to shout, don’t let a player answer you with anything approaching an excuse. In fact, I like my players to just nod their heads to acknowledge me. Or say something like, “OK, coach, or thanks, coach.”

So take a stand. Don’t let those excuses creep into dugout and on-field conversation.
Pretty soon one of the road mines in the way of excellence will vanish. (Now I know I’m watching too much TV and using too many lousy metaphors. ‘road mines in the way of excellence’ what’s wrong with me?) My Bad.

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