Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Success in Small Things: Lessons from Sports and Slumping Athletes

Honus Wagner Works the Basics (Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
In The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life), there  is a very brief section on "running 'em out" in which fighting off a slump is discussed. Nothing is more frustrating for an athlete than a slump. Suddenly, a good hitter just can't "buy a hit" or a good pitcher seems to have "lost his or her stuff." It seems the harder the player tries, the worse it gets. A slump can make the news and be a sore subject with a coach who is asked daily about when so and so is going to "come out of it."

How do you get out of a slump and regain your confidence? You don't put a lot of pressure on yourself to somehow get more hits or pitch better. You work on the basics. Are you practicing good mechanics? How's your footwork? Are you swinging level? You go back and practice the basics, over and over again until you are sure that you have them right. Once you have confidence that your fundamentals are in order, your game comes back.

Of course, slumps are seen in other sports as well. You often see football players at skill positions who have a few bad games in a row. In one game a quarterback completes nearly every pass and then misses most everyone in sight other than the defensive backs the next. You see a running back who gains over 100 yards one game only to average 2 yards per carry the next week. At least in football, a player generally has the opportunity to focus on the small things for a number of practices before the next game. Film can be studied. A quarterback will work on his footwork, his timing, his release and other basics. A running back may ask himself if he was patient enough? Was he following his blocks? Was he predictable in where he was running. But his coaches may have him running basic drills that focus on cuts and quick movements.

Hockey is like baseball, a seemingly never ending series of games with short intervals inbetween. In hockey, goalies can be very streaky--shutting out the opponent one game and then a human sieve the next. But it's not easy to work the kinks out in a day. The next game is always just around the corner, but somehow they manage.

Working on fundamentals to improve performance is one of those sports lessons that can also help us in other pursuits as well. If things aren't working well, maybe its time to look at the basics rather than focus on improving the end game. We can break things down and work on the basic parts of "our game." It's not rocket science, but it's one of those good sense ideas that can help us be more successful.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of J.D. Thorne's The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) and other fine sports books. The 10 Commandments of Baseball is an enjoyable mix of professional baseball stories and the author's affectionate retelling of his own amateur baseball experiences. Whether male or female, young or old, the reader is pulled into great baseball moments that make the baseball commandments come to life with compassion and humor. The focal point of the book is the classic, but little-known, 10 Commandments of Baseball, the baseball principles created by Major League baseball's most successful manager, Joe McCarthy.