Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Baseball Essentials: Overcoming Failure

overcoming failure

Projectability–that’s the potential for baseball players to succeed at the next level that baseball coaches are looking for at all age levels. I wrote about projectability in last week’s post. Let’s pick up at the end of that post and talk about one of the essentials in a player’s becoming “projectable.”

The Little Fella has had several advantages over other baseball players his age when it comes to projectablity. He grew up with a former baseball coach as a dad and a high school baseball player as an older brother. He has sat in the broadcast booth with my partner (a collegiate All-American) and me and heard us discuss baseball at a pretty deep level. He has watched games from the high school dugout and won’t be surprised by much of what he finds there as a player. And he apparently received more than a few fast twitch muscle fibers from my wife’s side of the family, much to the dismay of Older Brother and me.

As an experienced baseball guy, I think I have identified the biggest gap between the Little Fella’s skill set as it exists and as it needs to be to succeed at the next level. It is an aspect of the game that no coach at any level would want from him. It is an essential part of player development that parents would rarely choose. Without it, though, few players at higher levels of baseball, or life, succeed on a regular basis.

I left you hanging at this point in last week’s post about projectability.

If you haven’t read that post yet, check it out to get the foundation of this conversation.

overcoming failure

Next Level: Overcoming Failure

When projecting what it will take for the Little Fella to reach the next level as a baseball player, I didn’t land on tweaks to his hitting mechanics or flaws in his pitching delivery. Sure, he could use some work hitting the ball to the opposite field. He needs to work on his follow through as a pitcher. But I think that what he needs most to become a next level player is, oddly…failure. More precisely, regularly overcoming failure.

Overcoming failure is a key to making it to the next level in a sport in which guys who failed 70% of the time at the highest level get elected to the Hall of Fame. At each succeeding level of the game, players will meet more and more failure. Are we mentally preparing young athletes to overcome new challenges and deal with increased failure? To put it lightly, I think we could do a much better job.

One of the parental “encouragements” that most weakens young ballplayers is to tell them,”that’s okay.”

  • Hit a batter? “That’s okay!”
  • Strike out? “That’s okay!”
  • Make an error? “That’s okay!”
  • Lose a game? “That’s okay!”

Coaches and parents need to teach that those failures are NOT OKAY! Before you get angry with me, consider the that none of these things are okay…within the confines of the game of baseball. That’s when we get to coach and parent players both baseball AND life concurrently. We’re not doing the next generation any favors by excusing their mistakes. How does that prepare them for life? Shouldn’t we instead be teaching them how to move toward overcoming failure in positive ways?

A Word to Coaches About Overcoming Failure

If you are a youth baseball coach, are you guilty of what I call “rearview mirror” coaching? Rearview mirror coaching is when we scold a player about a mistake that he just made…when we haven’t actually taught him how to correctly execute the skill.

Example: With a runner on second, the batter hits a ground ball to the third baseman. The third baseman fields the ball cleanly with the runner close enough to tag. However, the third baseman throws to first–wildly–allowing the baserunner to score. Before yelling at the third baseman that he should have tagged the runner, consider if you have taught him to apply a tag in that situation. If so, then the player did something wrong that needs correcting. If not, you would be better served to wait until the end of the inning and explain to the third baseman why he should make the easy tag instead of risking the long throw. He will likely learn better that way.

Coaches, consider how long you have been around baseball and how long it has taken you to collect your knowledge of the sport. Don’t assume that your nine-year-olds should know everything that you do. Be patient with them and do your best to make their learning experience enjoyable.

A Word to Parents About Overcoming Failure

Parents, consider your responsibility in helping your child deal with failure on the baseball field without sensing failure as a person. Is it your role to enable your child by making everything okay? Consider how that might cripple your child’s ability to overcome adversity. Is it your role to soften the blow of the coach’s direction toward your child? Consider how that might hamper his ability to accept constructive criticism from other authorities going forward.

Think about how you can help your child grow through failure. Baseball can be a cruel sport. My friend Chris, a basketball guy, says, “You shoot a basketball right through the middle of the hoop, it’s two (or three) points. Every time. You can hit a baseball as hard as you can, and it might be right to somebody and you’re out.” That is why I champion baseball as the best sport to teach life lessons (though there is something to be said for the choice a player has in football after being knocked down—stay down or get up). How many times have you given your best, only to discover that it wasn’t good enough? What a blessing to be able to teach our kids such an important life lesson…through a game.

The Bottom Line About Overcoming Failure

A youth baseball player who learns to deal with failure and disappointment and push forward is training to be an overcomer. One who does not is training to become a victim. That’s a transferable principle to other sports and other pursuits—for children and adults.

More than no hitters and game-winning hits for the Little Fella, I want him to be an overcomer. When he faces difficulties in his life, I want him to be able to act like he has been there before and come through. So when he pulls out the bag of tennis balls and asks me to throw him batting practice in our front yard, I throw many pitches to his “cold zones” to work on pitches that he doesn’t hit well.

When we work through situational hitting and he hits a ball that could be either a hit or an out, I often call him out. He doesn’t like it. He complains. He slams his bat to the ground. But he’s so much better this year than he was a year ago. And he will be better next year than he is now because he is constantly being forced to raise the level of his game. He doesn’t often recognize it—and there are still times when I question his mental toughness myself—but he’s getting there.

Overcoming failure is just one benefit our children can gain through youth sports. We just have to coach and parent them through it. Hmmmm, coaching and parenting—they’re pretty similar if we’re working toward the same goal, don’t you think?

How do you coach/parent your kids to overcome adversity?

About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

What do you think?