Feature: Burnout Zone
Article printed in July 13 edition of Collegiate Baseball
Special To Collegiate Baseball
LAUREL, Md. — If you’ve spent even a few years involved in baseball, you have certainly witnessed this situation.
Your side is the topflight club, the defending champs or the division leaders.
The other guys, winless in their last 10 outings, years since the last playoff run, decimated by injuries and limping towards the end.
The opposing stands are virtually empty and the opposing coaching staff is loudly berating their players, damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
The only break those players get from the coach’s tirade is when he turns his ranting towards the guys in blue.
Simply put, the challenge is extremely high for that team, the support extremely low, with the resultant failure that might have been predicted.
Although that scenario may seem extreme in circumstance, the outcome can be predicted anytime the challenge is high and support is low.
It happens between parents and children, it happens between employers and employees, and it happens in countless other relations.
The challenge may not even be known or understood for what it is, and the lack of support may be so subtle as to escape scrutiny, and the result will always be less than the success that was possible.
These guys are operating in the "Burnout Zone".
How about when the challenge is low?
All the support in the world cannot stimulate growth in these situations.
Recognizing and creating challenges, even in a blowout game against a non-conference opponent, and maintaining a learning edge are absolutely imperative for further growth to occur in otherwise non-challenging situations.
Otherwise, the danger lurks of falling into the "Rust Zone".
We have all heard references to The Zone.
The Zone of Optimum Performance is often mentioned when players are reviewing an extraordinary outing during the postgame interview.
We have heard pitchers and hitters speak of a sense of enhanced power, uncommon focus, and increased possibilities beyond their normal output. As if The Zone were an other-worldly place they inhabited for a specific point in time.
Hitters see the ball as big as a grapefruit, pitchers are hitting their spots with pinpoint accuracy.
While dancing in The Zone, a player reflects on a special appreciation for being part of that game, an electric sense of being alive and alert, and a vision that their special radiance has expanded to shine on their teammates to enhance their performance as well.
These guys are often pointing to the sky just as they cross home plate or record a backwards K to end the inning.
Additionally, during this phase, clarity of purpose, confidence in control and commitment to the task at hand are all sensed as being in the control and at the command of the ones in The Zone.
It is common to hear the player speak of being suspended in time or that time slowed down, recounting an almost surreal sense of suspended animation and separation from the normal pace of events.
Operating along the knife-edge peak of the Optimum Performance Zone requires an awareness of the slippery slope on either side.
What do we notice when the performance of our teams, our selves, is going poorly?
When the challenges exceed skill and/or support, our performances are ineffective.
This is most often characterized by fear and confusion.
An overwhelming sense of frustration, worry, and pressing frequently ensues.
Classically, the term choking seems to sum it up.
These traits are all too apparent when we are getting blown out, facing an overpowering pitcher, or our guy is struggling on the bump, our defense is dropping too many and throwing the rest away, our curve ain’t breakin’ and it’s 0 & 2 on just about every one of our hitters.
This is the avalanche slide into the Burnout Zone.
An equally treacherous drop awaits us on the other side of the slope.
When our skills exceed our challenges, the opposing pitcher is walking everyone, we’re up by 10, there’s no sense of competition for starting roles on our own club or mastery in the division; these instances may lead to boredom, impatience, irritability and frustration.
This is the low energy place called the Rust Zone.
However, very close to the edge of the Burnout Zone we are challenged and excited.
This where we stretch to learn and grow. Near to the edge of the Rust Zone the boredom increases and we start to feel under utilized.
The challenge for coaches – getting back to The Zone of Optimum Performance and sustaining that stance.
The complete story of dealing with the "Burnout Zone" is in the July 13, 2012 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

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