Here’s a scenario I see often in my work with high school athletes: A parent calls me because his or her son is a talented baseball player, but he’s not living up to his potential. He’s playing on a travel team, he has a private pitching coach, takes weekly hitting lessons, sees a personal trainer, and plays in showcases around the country, too. He gets good grades, has created a profile on a recruiting web site, attends college baseball camps up and down the state, and has hopes to earn a college scholarship and/or be drafted by a Major League team next summer. He’s been the best player on his teams growing up, throws hard, hits for power, runs well, and loves the game, but lately, he can’t throw strikes, can’t stop striking out, and he doesn’t want to talk about any of it after the game.
These parents are not the stereotypical overbearing, nightmare sports parents we fear, but rather supportive, enlightened, balanced moms and dads with good perspective on the place baseball should play in their sons’ lives. They tell me they don’t even care if their kids continue to play baseball if it’s not what they want, the only thing they want for their kids is for them to be happy and it’s difficult to see them so frustrated.
When I talk to the player, he tells me he doesn’t feel pressure from his parents, he feels it FOR his parents instead…he doesn’t want to let them down. Many kids who play travel ball or take lessons and other elite coaching services put pressure on themselves to make good on the investments of time and money their parents spend on their development as athletes. I recently did a q/a session with a group of sports parents and discussed this concept with them. Your kids might hear you tell them that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. However, they know how much is being spent on their training and their travel and their equipment. They know how many weekends in a row are devoted to baseball and how many birthday parties and beach trips are sacrificed to tournament schedules and long drives to games. They want to make their parents proud and they want to produce performances worthy of these financial and opportunity costs. They mistakenly think that a hitless game or a poor pitching performance means wasted money and lost time.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to high school travel ball players. In fact, it’s relatively common in the big leagues! We all marvel at the high dollar contracts players sign these days and then we are quick to criticize those players when they don’t produce for their teams right away. Quite often, those players are trying too hard to live up to the expectations that a big contract brings. It takes a while (sometimes a long while) to settle back in to playing baseball the same as they did before they signed their big deals.
Money does change the equation for having more riding on your performance and this is a lesson that should be learned by young players lucky enough to have access to the tremendous resources available in today’s amateur sport scene. For the travel ball player, the long-term goal needs to remain the focus, not the daily results. Ultimately, many kids who play travel ball are not going to see their dreams come true. There just aren’t enough roster spots and draft picks to go around. If you’re playing baseball on a travel team, if you’re taking your training seriously, and if you’re aware that your parents are paying large sums of money to further your baseball education, be grateful for your opportunity and make the most of it. But don’t forget that the true benefits of these labors are the intangibles you’re developing along the way that you’ll use in your adult life, wherever your journey takes you.
In my book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game – in Baseball and in Life, my last chapter revisits a former minor league player named Bobby Kingsbury, who didn’t make it to the big leagues. The chapter, entitled, Intangibles and the Game of Life, describes how Bobby leveraged the intangibles he developed playing baseball into a successful career in private equity. Playing baseball taught him discipline, ways to deal with failure, the ability to work with others, the resilience to give his best every day for six months without more than a day or two off each month. I ended that chapter, and also the book, with a reminder that we only feel pressure to succeed when we place too much value on winning and losing and other statistics we can point to for results. That’s the lesson for parents and players when evaluating whether or not they “won” on their way back from any baseball experience. Travel baseball, pitching lessons, and showcases cost money, but they are worth every penny when we value what’s important.
Geoff Miller’s book, Intangibles: Big-League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game — in Baseball and in Life, was 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.