“Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on this Earth.”
– Roberto Clemente
We worry about a lot of silly things in our lives. One of the most intriguing elements of my work with athletes has always been the fascination I have taken in what constitutes pressure in sports. Sure, most people think there is pressure in the situations that have become cliché. The full count with two outs and the winning run on second base, the free throws down by a point with no time left on the clock, the fourth and long in the middle of a two-minute drill on a snow-covered field in January. But the thing about pressure is that no matter how many reporters will be waiting to grill us after the game, pressure is something we choose to feel. Some players feel pressure to perform on the field. Some feel more pressure to explain their performance after the game than they did executing their skills during the game. Once in a while, special players come along who don’t appear fazed by what’s happening on the field and they are able to sign every autograph, gracefully accept every interview request, and seem to say the right things to their teammates to maintain the mood in the clubhouse.
I have found that more baseball players feel pressure from the daily grind of the game than from the big moments. In the big moments, it seems as if batting average and OPS and all the statistics that help us evaluate performance go away and it becomes easier to simply compete because the outcome is so close that the only statistic that matters is the win or loss. Lots of players get so wrapped up in results that they have lost sight of the competing part of the game and they end up competing with themselves instead of with their opponents. The pressure we place on ourselves to perform is almost always greater than the pressure that others place on us. Over the years, I began to notice a pattern in the sources of pressure that professional baseball players placed on themselves, so I proposed an idea that would change their perspectives and gave them chances to see just how silly it was to be worrying about how many hits they got each night.
On the surface, this wasn’t an idea about performance at all. It was a community service program meant to teach the minor league players in the Pirates organization how to become role models in their communities, a valuable skill in its own merit. Each player would volunteer a total of ten hours of his time helping out at Boys and Girls Clubs, serving breakfast at homeless shelters, visiting children in hospitals, or spending time with seniors in assisted living facilities. Each minor league affiliate would appoint a liaison to coordinate volunteer opportunities and track player involvement and the players would sign up for events and attend as representatives of the Pirates and of their minor league teams. We packaged the program with a personal spin for the Pirates, telling our players that we believed they had a greater responsibility to volunteer in their communities as this was Roberto Clemente’s organization and his legacy. Most of our players knew that Clemente was a great player and that he had died in a plane crash, but few of them knew that his plane went down on it’s way to bring emergency supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.
So the communities in Indianapolis, Altoona, Lynchburg, Hickory, State College, and Bradenton would benefit from the program, but the players who truly got involved would benefit just as greatly. The goal was for each player to develop perspective, to see how silly it was to worry about how many earned runs he gave up the night before when someone in the world was worrying about how many white blood cells he had coursing through his veins. Or how silly it was to wonder when he was going to move up from Lynchburg to Altoona when there were people wondering where they were going to sleep the next night or what they would eat the next day. I wanted every player to remember that he should be grateful to have the physical strength, health, ability to be on the field every day, to remind himself how lucky he was to have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars doing something he loved. If our players could embrace that perspective, then there wouldn’t be any pressure to get a hit or to throw strikes and they would end up getting the results they were trying so hard to achieve.
I thought that this was an appropriate story to tell as we join our families and friends in beginning the holiday season. Wishing you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving!
If you would like to receive new posts from The Winning Mind in Baseball by email, please CLICK HERE.
Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, will be released in August, 2012. For more information and free sample chapters, please visit:
For more information, please contact Geoff Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.