I'm sure you have heard the words, “practice makes perfect". Or, “perfect practice makes perfect". And while I enjoy the utopian view that someday I'll get to coach the perfect team, or the perfect player, it's just not going to happen. Especially not in a sport where failure is a common and frequent occurrence. It is vital that our athletes understand failure and be taught how to employ a strategy to use failure as a positive and not as a negative. It takes some rewiring in the minds of athletes, but it's well worth the time spent.
What I would like to explore here is how failure can be utilized during youth baseball drills and during practice in order to create more fundamentally solid baseball players.
For many youth today failure is terrifying. Afraid of messing up a speech in class, afraid of getting an “F" on a exam, afraid of striking out, and afraid of being rejected in this or that. Failure is everywhere and and it is an integral part of our daily lives. The problem I have with the focus on failure is that it tends to paralyze many from attempting to achieve. Let me be clear when I say that I am not trying to do away with things that cause failure, or to shelter youth from experiencing it, I'm simply stating the lens in which we view failure needs to be cleaned.
Facilitating a new angle on failure during youth baseball drills and practice time is actually quite simple. I'll provide one solid example on one aspect of the game of baseball and let you apply the principle to the rest.
A Tangible Example: Batting Practice
When working with hitters, I will watch closely how they approach batting practice. During BP, all hitters want to do well, and why not, it's their time to shine. However, it usually only takes a few missed pitches, a few ground outs, or a few fly outs before the hitter begins to be frustrated and lose focus. This just compounds the problem.
The problem is not the missed pitches or the poor results, the problem is the perceived meaning of the missed pitches. In other words, the hitter sees the missed opportunities as a sign of inferiority. This feeling compounded upon will create a belief that the athlete himself has failed.
Good hitters approach batting practice mistakes far differently. A few missed pitches, repeated ground outs or fly outs simply communicate to a quality athlete that there is something not quite right with his swing. Instead of focusing on the feeling of personal inferiority, a non-emotional response is used and the mistake is not personalized. Upon completion of batting practice, this same athlete can be found in the batting cage or off to the side working on the specific problem.
The key differences with the above examples is how each hitter dealt with failure. In the first example the hitter allowed the mistakes to be an end result. Personal inferiority. The mentally successful hitter viewed the mistake as simply a PART of his offensive game that needed some help. Two drastically different view points.
I would highly encourage during your youth baseball drills to teach and cultivate the following ideas:
1. Failure is just an indicator of something that needs to change.
2. Failure should never be allowed to be related to the person of the athlete.
Nate Barnett is owner of BMI Baseball http://bmibaseball.com and is based out of Washington State. His expertise is in the area of hitting, pitching, and mental training. Coach Barnett's passion is working with youth in helping expand their vision for their baseball future. After finishing a professional career in the Seattle Mariners Organization, Nate pursued his coaching and motivational training career. His instructional blog is located at http://bmibaseball.com/blog
His new FREE ebook, Toxic Baseball: Are you polluting your game? can be found on the main BMI Baseball website.
Hitting 101, an ebook on complete hitting mechanics will be released by June 1st, 2008. Features include numerous illustrations, video clips, and a special offer to discuss your hitting questions over live on the phone strategy sessions.