Success, Growth, Winning.....What does it really mean?
What is success? How does one grow as an athlete? What is the true definition of winning?
These common questions from parents and athletes have existed and been asked since I first began to pick up a ball. Watching the greats such as Nolan Ryan, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron (the list goes on and on) as a child was the basis of my existence. How could I re-create what they were doing? Why were they so good? That's who I want to be!
Me, a ball, and my front porch is a snapshot of how I spent hours of my childhood. I must have pitched "the final out" of the World Series over a thousand times before I actually stepped foot on a mound. My definition of success at an early age, was excellence. Being what I thought was the "best" was a very personal thing. It was the challenge. The idea that I could far exceed what I thought was possible. It was not who I could strike out or how much further I could hit the ball as compared to my peers. It was a true game against myself. If I could hit it over the fence, why couldn't I clear the trees? Was that a healthy mindset? Did it make me a better player, or make the players around me better? These are the questions I have asked myself over the years, both as a young player and as a professional pitcher. It is these, and other thought provoking ideas that continue to influence me, only now it is as a program creator, player developer, and coach.
Being fortunate enough to get drafted out of High School in 2001, I was in a position that most would consider a dream. Frankly, it was a dream. A dream come true, really. I was learning from the greatest baseball minds, playing along side elite athletes and gaining experiences that have shaped and guided the trajectory of my life. The professional experiences I had at such a young age made me question everything I had thought to be true my entire childhood. My idea of success, growth and excellence were all in question. Who should define that? Me, my family, coaches or fans? I quickly realized, there was no goal line or plateau that could be reached. I learned there was no true end that one could reach in order to be considered "great". Realizing this made me wonder, why are we learning and teaching these ideas? Why are we pushing greatness without providing young athletes the tools they need in order to cope with failure, embrace the struggle, and to understand the process?
The media portrays the elite athlete as a role model and someone to idolize. This can be great... that was a huge part of my childhood as I stood in my front yard with a ball in my hand visualizing myself as one of the "greats". But are these young athletes truly understanding the work, the grind, the struggles, disappointments, and commitment that it took to get there? Or is there a sense that one is entitled to that level of "success" as long as you play on the right team or just practice hard enough?
For me, success is not something that is measured on a scale. Growth cannot be quantified. Winning...what is winning? Trophies, accolades, a pat on the back. Who truly knows and why does it matter? My vision is clear and my mind is set. I have succeeded and failed more times than I can count. I have a clear sense of what I am and certainly what I am not. But that did not happen over night. I also know that no matter what talent one is born with, a level of success can be achieved. We may not all have a rocket for an arm like Nolan Ryan or athleticism like Mickey Mantle. But half of a step forward from where you are currently standing is growth.
My hope as a player developer and coach is to instill in all young athletes minds is that there are truly no boundaries to their success. No plateaus to meet. No one to impress. No idea of greatness that needs to be lived up to. Athletes need to learn to breath and focus on the now. Not tomorrow, the day after that or the day after that. Focus on the now. Beat the person that is staring back at you in the mirror. Be your version of great and embrace the struggle to the fullest. Allow failure to drive you and not beat you down. A half a step forward is far greater than standing still. Be confident that it is OK to move at your own pace. There is no predetermined standard. The standard is dictated by you and you alone.
I have dealt with my own personal disappointments and self inflicted pressures and have gone through many times of doubt. My hope is not to remove these experiences and feelings from my young athletes, but to give them the tools and confidence they need to navigate their way through it. I want them to confidently be able to enjoy the successes they will experience and overcome the failures and disappointments - knowing that those are not what defines them... rather it's what drives them.