July 25, 2013
Failure is a part of baseball. For this installment in our Summer Instruction Series, sports psychologist Brian Cain talks about different ways to view failure and handle it better as a player and coach. This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2012 edition of Collegiate Baseball.
BURLINGTON, VT – We all know baseball is a game of failure.
But we all need to learn how to handle failure better.
As a Mental Conditioning Coach for some of the top college and high school baseball programs in the country and formerly with the Washington Nationals, I want to share some simple yet powerful perspective on handling failure that has helped the teams, coaches and players I am blessed to work with.
Loser Or Learner
When you lose a game, does that make you a loser? Can a loss be something that helps you to get to another level?
Ty Harrington, skipper at Texas State University, led the Bobcats into the Collegiate Baseball’s top 30 this season and in 2011 took the Bobcats to the Southland Conference Tournament Championship after losing their first game of the tournament.
He has instilled in them that when faced with losing a game we must not lose the message and the lesson.
We must uncover the information in that loss and use it to help us get better.
Just like Georges St. Pierre says that the best thing that ever happened to him was losing his World Championship to Matt Serra in April of 2007, you must make the choice when you lose to learn the lesson and use that lesson as a way to get better.
Choose to be a learner.
Boll Weevil Lesson
Most people think that adversity is a negative thing.
That life is better when things are going well.
What people often fail to remember is that tough times don’t last, tough people do.
The year 1915. The location, Enterprise, Ala.
The major source of commerce and income in Enterprise was the abundance of cotton crops. The town was a world leader in cotton production.
However by 1918, a small insect, about the size of your thumb, had appeared and was reeking havoc on Enterprise, AL and their cotton crop.
The boll weevil a, small insect indigenous to Mexico, had appeared in Alabama in 1915, and by 1918 farmers were losing whole cotton crops to the beetle. H. M. Sessions saw this as an opportunity to convert the area to peanut farming, and in 1916, he convinced C. W. Baston, an indebted farmer, to back his venture.
The first crop paid off their debts and was bought by farmers seeking to change to peanut farming.
Cotton was grown again, but farmers soon learned to diversify their crops, a practice which brought new money to Coffee County, Alabama and the city of Enterprise.
Bon Fleming, a local business-man, came up with the idea to build a monument, as a tribute to the boll weevil and let it serve as a constant reminder of how something disastrous can be a catalyst for change, and a reminder of how the people of Enterprise adjusted in the face of adversity. The monument was dedicated on December 11, 1919 at the intersection of College and Main Street, the heart of the town’s business district.
At the base of the monument appears the following inscription, “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity. This monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”
The monument was built to show their appreciation to an insect, the boll weevil, for its profound influence on the area’s agriculture and economy.
Hailing the beetle as a “herald of prosperity,” it stands as the world’s only monument built to honor an agricultural pest. In April, 1973, the monument was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
Today, you have the opportunity to take one of our greatest adversities, and turn it into your greatest gift.
Remember that every setback sets the stage for your greatest comeback.
Today, embrace adverstiy, welcome the challenge of a great opponent, and play your game one pitch at a time.
Bitter Or Better
Todd Whitting, head baseball coach at The University of Houston, recently said something that stuck with me when speaking to his team after a tough loss in a game where they had the bases loaded down by one with one out in the 9th and could not get the run across.
He challenged his team to get better, not bitter. He challenged his players to make a choice. To decide if they were going to allow this loss or a lack of playing time or a lack of personal and team success to make them bitter or to make them better.
He said that they had to decide to either get encouraged, not discouraged and learn from their adversity. Whitting and the Cougs chose to use the loss as a lesson and days later beat The University of Tennessee and Arkansas at Minute Maid Stadium in Houston.
Failure Is Positive Feedback
My mentor Dr. Ken Ravizza taught us that failure was unavoidable in the pursuit of excellence that failure was healthy and failure was not to be avoided but embraced, because failure gives you an opportunity to learn and to grow. Without failure, we are without progress.
If you are like most average people and fear failure, or have failed to embrace failure, then I have a fool proof system for you.
It will help you win every game.
What you need to do is drop out of your competitive league and go play against the local Junior High B level teams. That is assuming that you are not a Junior High Coach.
If you are a Junior High coach reading this, you must go play the Little League teams in your area.
When you play that schedule you will win. But you will also not have much fun.
Augie Garrido, head coach at the University of Texas, speaks of failure as an unavoidable part of the game and as failure as your friend.
We all enjoy our success in the game, but the only reason we enjoy the success is because there is so much failure.
Failure is not negative, it is positive.
It means you are competing at the right level and it means that you have an opportunity to learn and use that failure as positive feedback.
Make the choice!
Baseball is What You Do, Not Who You Are!
One of the most mentally tough pitchers in college baseball I have worked with was Matt Purke at Texas Christian University in 2010 and 2011.
After being selected in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers, Purke went to TCU to play for a master of the mental game in Jim Schlossnagle.
Purke put up one of the best seasons in the history of college baseball…as a freshman.
The left-handed pitcher was 16-0.
What was more impressive was how he handled the success and also how he handled adversity in his sophomore season. Purke said that he was able to stay humble and hungry by keeping the perspective that baseball was what he did, not who he was.
Purke was not defined by his performance.
He did not take his performance personally and treat you differently if he won vs. if he lost. He was a true professional, mature well ahead of his years. He was also one of the most competitive players I have ever worked with.
Do not let the success or failure of your on field performance dictate how you treat others and how you view yourself. Personalizing performance is a trap that will suck you in, beat you up and spit you out the other side a non-consistent competitor.
Mental Toughness Training
Mental toughness is a skill that can be trained. Mental toughness needs to be conditioned like we condition our bodies and arms.
With a system and through dedicated work and repetition, you can be stronger with the mental game.
My pride program available at www.briancain.com is currently being used by top programs at the college and high school level around the country.
To receive the May 4, 2012 edition which has the complete story or subscribe to Collegiate Baseball, CLICK HERE.
To find out more about Brian Cain, his books, where he is speaking and so forth, check out his website at www.briancain.com