Yes, I love the fact that many of my pitchers have won prestigious awards and have gone on to have successful collegiate careers.
I don’t consider collecting accolades to be must first responsibility to them, though. I don’t even think it should be my second responsibility to them.
My first priority is to ensure that my pitchers do not get injured through inefficiencies or abnormalities in their motion. My second priority is to help them find that fire that keeps the love of the game alive: the one that motivates them to continue practicing, be good teammates, and be life-long learners.
In doing this for about two decades now, I have noticed that there is one factor that greatly affects the love of the game, particularly for pitchers.
We have to understand to take responsibility for our actions and the outcomes of our actions without the kind of self-blame that depreciates into a downward spiral of self-loathing.
There are a few things that affect this:
- Constant praise: I know this is tough for many people to hear, but when children and young adults are ONLY praised (even for minor accomplishments), they are shown to be less happy overall. It can even affect their ability to be good decision-makers later in life Children who have been praised their whole lives have trouble making decisions and have anxiety around decision-making for fear that they will make the wrong one and not get the praise reward. Also, praise should be earned. Constantly hearing how great you are means you are going to have a full-blown meltdown when someone criticizes you. It also means that you will have a tendency to think that you can’t do anything wrong. Finally, let’s face it: we have to get critiqued to get better and to grow. As you all know, I am not someone who is ever going to yell at my athletes. That’s just not me. But when I tell them that they are slacking and they need to pick it up, they take me seriously.
- Not learning how to deal with failure: Olympic and professional athletes fail just as much (sometimes more) as average athletes. The difference? The pros take their failures and use them as learning experiences to build their success on. The amateurs beat themselves up or say things like, “I knew I wasn’t meant to do this.” Learning how to deal with failure is a really important life skill because EVERYONE fails. The key is to understand what can be gained from failing. Without it, it becomes a cycle of blaming others and then blaming oneself: neither option is going to make for a happy, productive athlete.
- Learning Responsibility: Is your pitcher responsible for little things like packing her bat bag and knowing her schedule? I have some young athletes who will come up to me at the end of the lesson and say, “we can’t schedule for next Thursday because I have a piano lesson.” These are the same kids who show up to lessons early, practice on their own time (not just during team practices), and are attentive to me throughout the whole lesson. Some athletes will come to me for a lesson but be looking at their parents the whole time. This is a recipe for disaster. Even younger athletes should be autonomous in some areas and have responsibility for at least a few small things. My very young foster kids always used to be responsible for putting their clothes in the hamper and their shoes in the right place (they were only 3 and 5 years old). I would also let them help me cook. Here was the amazing thing: they loved having little responsibilities. It made them understand that they were a very important and valuable part of our lives.
- Delayed Gratification: If you have not ever read about the Marshmallow Study, Google it right now. Spoiler alert: the children who were able to delay gratification for even a short period of time grew up to lead more successful lives as adults. This can be tricky because we do live in a culture that gives us “what we want when we want.” Constant use of phones also establishes an immediate reward system. Many children have grown up not really having to wait for much of anything: be it a toy, an adult’s attention, or a favorite tv show. Children who have a secure environment but are taught to delay gratification have actually been proven to have better lives (see Marshmallow study).
As athletes, we face challenging situations constantly (or at least we should!). Parents also face challenges constantly. In either case, however, we want to be able to take responsibility for our own actions (not blaming others, our upbringing, circumstances, etc.). This creates a healthy relationship with ourselves. That’s right. The person whom you always have to live with is YOU. If you are just learning to blame others and never take responsibility for yourself, you are not creating a healthy outlook. Furthermore, if you are constantly blaming yourself for every minor detail, you will find that you are very unhappy. You are diminishing your agency. When you take responsibility for your actions and take positive steps towards making appropriate changes, you are empowered.
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