The most successful teams have more than talent. They are able to achieve at the highest of levels because they are able to consistently overcome adversity.
What is adversity? Let’s define it…
Adversity is when internal or external forces work against your efforts to complete a task or accomplish a goal.
Generally, adversity is outside of our control. But sometimes, specifically when adversity is an “internal” force, we can control it, though we believe we cannot.
Adversity is no more than an excuse to fail. Because of this thing, I might as well give up now. Hope is lost. It’s the easiest path.
It’s all in the mind, of course. Overcoming adversity and rejecting excuses to fail are what mentally tough players and teams do.
Let’s take a look at some examples of adversity, and how we can better deal with it.
We’ll start with an easy one. Competition is an external force that works against our efforts to win the game. Any team, good or bad. They want to win, too. Their efforts to win create adversity.
Respect the opponent. Appreciate that they won’t just roll over and let you win. Always give your best effort, regardless of the quality of the opposition.
You’re playing against a far superior team. They’re bigger than you. They’re stronger than you. They’re faster. Everything about them says that they’re better.
It’s an excuse to quit. A reason to not even try. Don’t give in!
This is your moment. I like to call it a “heat check.” Find out how good you actually are.
Even the best teams make mistakes. They may underestimate you. They may have a bad game. Give them all you have and let the chips fall where they may. What’s the worst that can happen? You lose? So what? Everyone expects that already.
The same argument goes for facing an elite pitcher or elite hitter. Don’t use their ability as an excuse to fail before it happens. See it as a challenge.
“It’s so cold!” Players huddled in the dugout, shivering.
“It’s so hot!” Players exhausted, unable to move.
“It’s so windy!” Players frustrated as the dirt blows in their face, and fly balls become adventures.
“It’s so rainy!” Players, soaked and miserable, try to find cover.
Both teams play under the same conditions. Which team will deal with it? Which team will let the conditions beat them?
Whenever we are playing under challenging weather conditions, I’ll mention it once before the game. I say that this is the last time we’ll talk about it. I don’t want to hear about the weather. This is your challenge. This is your second opponent.
Don’t let the weather beat you.
Maybe the other team’s fans are especially loud. Or the other team engages in a ton of chatter. They may do the sing-songy stuff that is mostly harmless, even if it’s annoying. Or they may push the lines of sportsmanship and scream while you pitch.
How do you handle the adversity that this creates? Do you let it agitate you? Do you start focusing more on the noise and less on the game?
If so, you let the noise win.
This is a challenge. Stay focused. Stay within yourself.
The only time, at least within this list, when adversity has an internal source.
You’re in the midst of a batting slump. You’ve made two errors this inning. Or you’re struggling to throw strikes. What happens next?
Self-doubt is when the voice in your head tells you that you can’t do it. You’re slumping, and that slump isn’t going to stop now. You’re not going to get a hit. If the ball is hit to you, you’re going to make another error. You’re not going to throw another strike.
This is one of the biggest challenges of all. For players to remain consistent, it’s important that they don’t allow self-doubt to win. Remain confident in your training and ability. Stay focused on your approach and your responsibilities.
Mistakes by Teammates
You are going to make mistakes. Your teammates are going to make mistakes. But, if you’ve been around youth baseball long enough, you’ve likely noticed that these things snowball.
One error happens. Then another. Then another. Suddenly, no one can make a play. Gasps from the parents. Coaches start freaking out. It’s a neverending inning.
This is adversity that needs a leader. The leader recognizes that the rate of mistakes isn’t normal. He does two things in an effort to stop the bleeding.
First, he shows support for his teammates. He works to keep their confidence high. He stays vocal. Maybe he calls a timeout and leads a team meeting among infielders. He assures them they’ll be fine.
Second, the leader wants the ball. He knows that someone needs to step up, and he’s willing to be that guy.
Hey, guess what? Coaches can create adversity with our mistakes, too. We send a runner who gets thrown out. We call a steal that is unsuccessful. We make a play call that fails.
We make mistakes. We should own up to them, and make sure that players know when they did everything right, even though the result was bad due to our call.
Players can’t worry about it. Just keep fighting and remain focused.
A big one! The baseball gods have a significant say in how a baseball game goes.
I’m not talking about actual baseball gods, of course. I’m talking about things that can be chalked up to luck or circumstance that we can’t control.
Bad hops. A swinging bunt that ends up in the perfect place. Weak pop-ups that find no-man’s land. A random gust of wind that blows a ball foul or away from your fielder’s glove.
When things are going badly, it seems like the baseball gods want you to lose. Don’t give in to that thought. Don’t ever say that “nothing will go our way!”
It’s the law of averages. Things will, hopefully, even out. The baseball gods don’t have a thing for you. Stay focused, and keep fighting.
Injuries or Shortage of Players
We don’t have our best player. If we did, we could win this game.
With that attitude, you’ve already lost.
Injuries happen. Absences happen. You won’t always be at full strength. This will test your depth. Someone else may need to step up. Will it be you? Or will you simply lament the loss of your star and dream about what could have been?
The opposition jumps out to a quick lead in a big game. What will you do? Do you assume you’re going to lose?
Keep the energy high. Realize you have LOTS of time to come back. It’s youth baseball. Crazy things happen. Imagine it’s a scoreless game, and get back into the game.
When a team is down late, it’s often difficult to convince young players that it’s not over. But it’s not!
The last inning is like any other inning of any other game. You’re down five. So what? You’ve scored six runs in an inning plenty of times. You can still do this!
You can’t give up now. You get three outs per inning for a reason. Use up each one.
Bad Calls from Umpires
It’s not a matter if umpires will make bad calls, it’s a matter of when, how often, and how it will impact the game.
That’s nothing personal against umpires. Some of them are really good. But they’re poorly paid and often have limited training and experience. This ain’t the big leagues, and even there they’ll make mistakes.
Don’t argue with the umpires. Don’t react with big eyes and arms extended (you know the look!). Don’t talk about the umpire making bad calls to create a built-in excuse for losing.
The umpire has a wide or inconsistent zone? You’d better be swinging at anything close with two strikes.
The field umpire seems to be flipping a coin in close calls on the bases? You’d better bust your butt to make sure that no call is close.
It kills me when a batter initially loafs down the line, then starts to hustle when he sees the play is going to be close. He may have beaten the throw, but the umpire called him out. You have no right to argue. You created the close call on your own.
On the flip side, use that uncertainty to your advantage. Hustle. Make every routine play a close call. You’ll get the benefit of some of them.
Both teams deal with calls from the same umpires. The bad calls will be close to evenly distributed. This challenge is nothing unique to your current game.
Game Deciding Moments
It’s the bottom of the sixth and final inning of the tournament championship. It’s a one-run game. Runners at second and third with two outs.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re the team in the field or the team at bat. Whether you are the hitter, pitcher, or one of the players in the field.
This is an insanely high-stress situation. It’s what we probably think of most when we talk about adversity in the game of baseball.
How will you handle it?
It’s not an easy moment. I can’t say that everyone is capable of handling it well. But ultimately, confidence and focus are key.
You have to believe that you’ll get that hit. Believe that you’ll get that batter. Believe that if the ball comes to you, you’ll make that play.
And you need to look at this as any other moment. Any other at bat. Deep breaths. Slow the game down. Take your time. Think through your approach and the situation.
The more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it will be.
Someone will win and someone will lose. You’re going to do everything you can to execute. Whatever happens, you’re going to be okay.
Do you have any other examples of adversity in youth baseball, and ways to handle them?
Let me know in the comments below!