What are you fighting for
What are you fighting for?
As the holiday season kicks in, the first and second generation of ARMory alumni are beginning to trickle in from their assorted colleges. As they dig in and start their winter training, I am happy they feel like they have a sanctuary where they can work together to achieve their dreams. As they share their college experiences, a few common themes emerge. First, many have been frustrated to find that their pitching coaches are not totally on board with The ARMory/Texas Baseball Ranch way of training. They have been required to perform heavy football-like weight training and long distance running. Several of them have lost a few mph on their fastball, and have experienced unfamiliar pains and failures. This finding highlights the need for each pitcher to be very discriminating in selecting a college program, but that is a topic for a different article. The second common theme, especially among the college rookies, is more of an immediate concern, and reflects a feeling of wavering confidence. Most of them got off to fast starts only to see their performance fade near the end of the fall. Maybe the slide was due to mental or physical fatigue, the effects of 2 months of training the wrong energy system, or simply the improvement of opposing hitters. For whatever reason, they started like Sandy Koufax and ended like Sandy Duncan. Now they feel uncomfortable about their readiness for the spring season and they sense they are behind in their preparation. On the one hand I like their urgency. It will serve as an igniter over the next 4-6 weeks of training. Florida International University’s pitching coach, Drew French gave me a great quote last weekend which I fully intend to steal and call my own. He said “You want to train like your always behind schedule then play like you’re right on time.” That my friends is dead on. However, I don’t want these guys going into the season with a sense impending doom. So here’s the message I shared with them.
1) The fall college season means nothing. No one has ever crashed and burned in the spring and heard the coaching staff say “It’s ok, you did really well in the fall intrasquads.” No the fall season means about as much as a pre game bullpen– approximately zero.
2) You still have time. No need to panic. You still have about 3-4 weeks to build your ability before you need to switch to pre season 50:50 ratio of ability vs skill. Whatever you may have lost is not gone forever, and it can be regained quickly. Many times, small inefficiencies which creep into your delivery can cause large drop offs in velocity (sometimes 5-8 mph). Check out Paul Nyman’s Hardball Times article on Barry Zito for more on that topic. http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/crossing-the-bridge-a-closer-look-at-what-happened-to-barry-zitos-fastball/. If small inefficiencies can have such a profound effect, the inverse also has to be true. As your return to your tried and true ARMory and Texas Baseball Ranch workouts and experiment with some new ideas, the Bernstein principle will help your body reorganize itself and you will iron out one or two little aberrations that have been inhibiting your performance. When it clicks, you will be right back where you were before.
3) Return to turn your prior form won’t take long. I recall a young college pitcher who suffered a devastating injury. A line drive come backer fractured his throwing hand thumb. After surgery and 8 weeks of casting and rehab, the pitcher still couldn’t feel his hand and had dropped from 90-78 mph. Frustrated and afraid he’d never make it back, he called Coach Ron Wolforth who assured him a) everything happens for a reason, and b) he would get it back and, with hard work, it would come back 3 times faster than it had originally been gained.
Remember that your brain, as it interacts with your muscles to create movement patterns, is simply a network of electrical wiring, circuits and switches. The patterns you use the most receive the most insulation and become the paths of least resistance your body most often uses (for more on the science of myelination, see Daniel Coyle’s Talent Code, or my recent publication Developing The 90 mph Pitcher). You see, those 90 mph neuromuscular circuits have already been myelinated, and myelin doesn’t go away. When things go awry over an extended period of time, the most likely contributor is errant myelination of a less efficient pathway which your body now views as the path of least resistance. The most efficient pathway has simply been replaced by another less effective route. It could be a matter of 1 or 2 neurons firing at the the wrong time or in the wrong sequence. Get back to the kind of work that made you great and the old pathway could take over very quickly. Regarding our injured pitcher: As expected, Coach Wolforth was exactly right. He got it all back and more while learning a valuable lesson about perseverance.
3) What’s the worst that could happen? This is a question I like to ask myself when times get hard and I’m in a stressful situation. I pause and briefly allow my mind to consider the worst case scenario. Briefly entertaining but not dwelling on the worst possible outcome allows perspective as you realize that these situations, while certainly important to your life at this moment, are rarely significant in the big scheme. So, I ask my players to do the same. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe you go out and start the season 0-4 with a 10 ERA, the coach gives up on you and you find yourself in the bullpen or under the bench…. So what!? Really! You’re still going to wake up every day and the people you love are still going to love you. No one is going to die or go to prison as result of your performance. Conversely,your success isn’t necessarily going to change lives on a large scale. Billions of people all over the world don’t know or care what your walk to strikeouts ratio is. If you are truly committed to developing your ability 0.038% every day, you maintain a growth mindset. You don’t allow yourself to be defined by one performance, one week or one season. And you NEVER let your self worth be defined by others. Baseball is what you have chosen to do with your life. It is NOT who you are. The worset case scenario isn’t so bad. In fact it doesn’t have to happen…..you can change it!!!!
The following clip is from Cinderella Man, the true story of depression era boxer James J. Braddock. If you’re not familiar with the story the Cliff’s Notes are as follows: Jimmy Braddock was a washed up boxer whose family was starving because he couldn’t find work during the Great Depression. He began to fight again to earn money to feed his family. Newly inspired and fighting with greater purpose, he rose through the ranks and earned a shot at world champion Max Baer, a viscous fighter who had already killed 2 guys in the ring. In the pre fight press conference a reporter asked him what he thought had made the difference in his improved performance. He said he now understood he was fighting for milk..for his kids.
He’s fighting for milk for his kids! How’s that for perspective?!
But hold on! No one said it would be easy. He still has to go toe to toe, putting his life on the line, with a dangerous foe. I love the next clip. It’s the final fight scene, last round. Notice how at pivotal moment in the fight Braddock briefly allows himself to visualize the worst case scenario. Then he changes it.
Are you a front runner? Are you the kind of pitcher who has to get off to a good start to have a good day? Start practicing the Jimmy Braddock approach. You hit the first guy, then you walk a guy, then give up a double. Briefly imagine the worst outcome. Say you give up 8 runs in the first inning..so what!? Consider it briefly then change it.
On a more macro scale, are you gonna let a few bad outings in the fall effect your future? You can change it! Get to work. Get back to your core fundamentals, and change the future by getting just a little better everyday. You just gotta know what you’re fighting for.
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