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Why Baseball is the Perfect Teacher of How to Be Successful in Life

April 4, 2019 No Comments

Why Baseball is the Perfect Teacher of How to Be Successful in Life

April 4, 2019 No Comments
baseball glove

Spring is marked not by the changing of the seasons and blooming of the flowers, but by the cry “Play Ball” as Opening Day signals the start of a new baseball season. Fans filled with hope pile into stadiums around the country to enjoy America’s past time and watch millionaires hit 90mph fastballs into the stands.

Millions more climb onto wooden bleachers to cheer on their own little league slugger as he/she takes their Saturday afternoon swings at the plate.

I lasted about 5-6 years playing baseball as a kid. After a strong Little League start, I took a toss to the face once and never truly regained my confidence as a batter standing in the box. After a six year hiatus, I decided to play again as a freshman because it beat “having to run track.” (Little did I realize at the time that baseball season ended before track and my football coaches were going to make me run regardless.)

I hadn’t played since Little League when I stepped back into the box as a freshman in high school. I’ll never forget that first game. I won the lead-off job, which meant I was the first batter up. I had my walkup song playing again and again in my head. I gripped my new bat tightly. I was ready.

What I wasn’t ready for, was seeing curveballs.

I went 0-4 with 4 strikeouts in that first game. I was humiliated.

I remember fighting back tears as I walked to the dugout after that final strikeout, which ended up being the final out of the game. We lost. I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw my bat.

But most of all, I just wanted to run away from my teammates who I felt I’d let down. It still goes down as one of the lowest moments in my high school sports career. I played the rest of the season and even managed to hit a few curveballs.

I hung up my glove and bat after the season to focus primarily on my first love (football), but I never quit enjoying the game. There was something special that kept drawing me back to the diamond. If I’m honest, I think it’s because watching the game with my dad taught me about life.

Baseball is the perfect teacher of what it takes to succeed in life because the game is about life.

There’s something special about the sport and how it mirrors our lives. And if you look closely enough, you’ll pick up the following life-changing lessons the sport teaches every season.

You have to compete every day.

Baseball is a long season. 162 game regular season to be exact. Then you have playoffs, the World Series, and even spring training games before it ever really starts. That’s A LOT of baseball to play. It’s hard to maintain focus every day during a 16 or 80-game season, much less one that’s over 160 games long.

If you want to succeed in baseball, you have to compete every pitch and every game, all 162-games long. The difference between being a great hitter (.300 average) and an average hitter (.250 or below) over the course of a season is 1 hit per week.

Just one?

One extra hit per week over the course of a season gives you an extra 25 hits, enough to bump your batting average from average to elite. It doesn’t seem like much, but you can’t get that one extra hit every week if you’re taking innings off or mentally check out of a game if it’s a blowout.

Former all-star Keith Hernandez shared the importance of this during an interview on the James Altucher show.

“It’s very easy to give at-bats away. You’re 110-120 games into a season, it’s the last at-bat. Great players want that at-bat and to get a hit. Average players will mail it in. You never give up an at-bat.”

Keith Hernandez

You have compete at the plate every pitch, and you have to compete on the field every pitch. It’s just like life. You never give up an opportunity to improve.

Successful winners in life give their best efforts, day in and day out, regardless of how they feel, regardless of how many games they have left in the season, and regardless of what the scoreboard shows.

Like All-Star baseball players, successful people in life compete every day.

How will you respond to a slump?

The beauty of baseball is that no one is perfect. Only one person in the last 25 years has averaged above .380 for a season, a 38% success rate (Tony Gwynn, .394 in 1994). No one has ever hit above 43% for a season.

Batting is not a game of success – but of who can fail the least. The best in the game fail 70% of the time they step up to the plate. Average players, fail 80% or more.

Strike-outs. Pop-flys. Line-outs. Everyone goes through a slump at the plate over the course of a season, just as we all experience valleys in our professional and personal lives. No one is winning 100% of the time.

What determines how quickly you get out of the slump is how you respond to it.

Players stuck in a slump can get in their own head. Every time they approach the plate, they’re fearful of getting out. It’s all they’re thinking of – how can I not fail this time? Unfortunately, when we get in our own head and play not to lose, we tend to end up losing more often.

A study by Psychological Bulletin showed that our performances actually decrease – we do worse – when we’re focused on trying not to mess up. This was my problem when I played. My head was swarmed with thoughts of “don’t strike out! Don’t miss the curve! Don’t get out!” that I struggled to process the pitch. I wasn’t focused on getting a hit – I was concerned about “not getting out.” And as you can imagine, I got out a lot with that thinking.

Compare that to the same study showing that our performance improves when we play to win. Batters with a great average don’t panic when they’re in a hitless streak. In fact, quite the opposite. They maintain their routine, and continue getting their swings at the plate.

Babe Ruth, one of the most feared hitters ever, said that “every strike brings me closer to my next home run.” He wasn’t worried about striking out, simply focused on getting his next hit.

Successful people in life do the same.

During our professional slumps, it’s all too easy to get in our own head, blame others for our circumstances, or trap ourselves in an endless negative loop. Successful people experience slumps too, but instead of focusing on the slump, they’re focused on their “next hit.”

“What can I do today to be in a better position tomorrow?”

We don’t always control our circumstances – but we always control our responses to those circumstances. Successful people mirror great hitters – they respond to hitless streaks by continuing to focus on their daily process and take steps forward.

They swing to get a hit – instead of swinging not to strike out.

You Learn to Ignore the Distractions

“Hey batter…batter…batter! Swing batter..batter…batter..!”

Opposing fans in the stands yell distractions at batters. Infield players playfully jaw with baserunners. Fans behind home plate stand and wave arms, hats, and signs to distract you. They do anything they can to take your eye off of the play at hand.

And take your head out of the game for a play, knowing that one play could change the entire course of the game.

Successful players are able to block out the fans, the noise, and everything except the upcoming pitch with an almost laser-like focus. It’s what allows them to make the hit, the pitch, the throw – being focused in the moment is what allows them to succeed.

We don’t have to deal with screaming fans off-the-field, but there is plenty to distract us from getting the job done.

  • Social media feeds.
  • New email alerts.
  • Pointless meetings.

The battle for attention is real. Every day – heck, every hour – something is trying to distract us from doing the work that is most important to our job and goals. We have to be intentional with our focus and actions or we’ll spend every day spinning our wheels, exhausting ourselves without actually making progress.

Successful people are able to limit their distractions by creating boundaries and dialing in their focus like a sniper instead of a scatter-shooter. They understand that time is the most important asset and they protect like a mother bear protects her cubs – aggressively.

If you’re struggling with focus, here are some quick solutions that can immediately pay dividends in your productivity:

  • Remove social media notifications from your phone
  • Schedule 3 specific times throughout the day to answer email – then leave your inbox alone outside of that.
  • Read The One Thing by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan and apply the principles in this book. Want a preview of it? Listen to our interview with The One Thing VP, Geoff Woods, on the Compete Every Day podcast here.

Great pitchers don’t let whose behind home plate yelling at them keep them from throwing a perfect strike. Successful people don’t let technology’s distractions keep them from reaching their goals.

You’re Never Alone

Teamwork makes the dream work.

A baseball team requires every player to win the game. Even a perfectly thrown game by the pitcher still requires a strong catcher to catch each pitch and batters to put runs on the board. It’s a team game, knowing that some days I’ll have the hot hand and some days you will, but every day, we’ll compete.

Even individual awards are earned by a team. You don’t earn the top batting awards without someone throwing you batting practice, filming your at-bats to review later, and trainers to keep your body fresh for the long season.

It takes a team to win in sports and life.

No one succeeds in alone. Every one of us have people in our lives contributing toward our success. Family members that support us. Friends that buy from us. Customers who share our company’s products. Mentors who step in and guide us.

No one does it by themselves.

The important question to ask yourself is this: who are my teammates?

“You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with,”

Jim Rohn

If you were to honestly evaluate your five teammates, are they people helping you grow and improve? Or holding you back from doing so?

There’s no-inbetween. We grow or we die.

Geoff Woods shared in a recent podcast that he knew to reach the goals he’d set for his family and his life he needed to upgrade his five. He kept his friends, but they became his social friends and not his five teammates.

I’ll ask again, who are your teammates?

Would your five more resemble legends like Derek Jeter or Curt Schilling? Or would they resemble the local beer league guys? I’m not talking about stature – I’m talking about how they carry themselves, how they work toward their goals, and what they’re focused on achieving.

One group cares about getting better and leading, the other cares who’s buying the beer next week.

You can’t win a World Series unless every team member is committed to the goal, the daily work, and each other. You won’t win in life unless you surround yourself with teammates like that either.

I love baseball because it teaches us how to compete in life.

I’ll be reminded all season long by my Rangers of the important lessons my on-field team teaches me about my off-field life. Lessons about competition, focus, teamwork, and effort.

Lessons that when applied consistently, help us win at life.

Jake Thompson

Jake Thompson is a professional speaker and coach who helps ambitious leaders win their work, workouts, and life. As founder of Compete Every Day, he has spent years studying great competitors, and with this research, has created a process that can help leaders harness a Competitor's mindset to make better choices and in turn, make bigger impacts in their careers and personal life.

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