Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Surviving Streaks & Slumps

While I could never love baseball as much as Bob Costas (I’m pretty sure they have a few kids together), my appreciation for it has drastically increased since my kids began playing at a new level. I suppose from a viewer’s perspective, it’s easier to get excited about them hitting a ball that’s pitched to them and it’s more interesting to see them make outs. The screams of the over-competitive jerk inside of me (don’t judge, we all have one) to be released from captivity have been momentarily silenced.

What I’ve come to notice is that the peaks and valley in performance that are part of the long season mirror the shifting of the kids’ confidence. Sometimes a sudden spike in performance leads to a sudden upswing in confidence and sometimes an inexplicable boost in confidence leads to enhanced performance. And it all happens so fast.

My oldest son, in his first year with other kids pitching to him, opened the season with a hit and a walk and was hit by pitches twice. Following this performance, he and I had completely opposite lines of thought.

Me: Awesome, he got on base every time he was up.

Son: Holy, crap, that thing can hit me?! What if it hits me every time? This is a bunch of bulls---!

The hitting slump began. Suddenly my son was afraid to swing. Instead, he liked to try and take walks…aggressively. He would really try and sell the balls, nearly flopping to the ground like a European basketball player. As the pitchers became better over the course of the season, this resulted in more strikeouts which further damaged his confidence. It was a challenge just to convince him it was better to strikeout swinging than looking.

After a few trips to the batting cages, my wife and I managed to convince him he at least needed to stay in the batter’s box. Couple that with the fact that he saw other kids on his team striking out and you could see in his stance that he was more confident. His knees were bent, his bat was back.

Still, when he surprisingly popped a ball up to the second baseman, he was so surprised by his own achievement that the fielder’s drop resulted in an out because he stood there in amazement, watching the path of the ball for several seconds before running to first. I worried that the potential boost to his confidence would go to waste. Thankfully, a run came in on the play.

“Nice RBI,” his coach told him as he jogged back to the dugout. Now he can’t wait to get up to bat again.

Contrast this with the season my youngest son is having. He began his baseball career crying through his first t-ball practice due simply to the pressure of having to be told to run to first as fast as he could. He has come around to being one of the league’s more formidable hitters in his second year as he now takes pitches from the coaches (often me). This led to a bit of a swelled head on his part. “I’m the best hitter on the team,” he told me early in the season. I was beginning to get so frustrated by his bragging that I contemplated beaning him on purpose.

But just as I was looking for a method to temper his confidence, along came his fielding ability to do it for me. He missed a few grounders that he should have had and he began standing out in the field with his lower lip stuck out and his eyes to the dirt. He was still hitting fine, but at least he wasn’t being so cocky about it anymore.

Since then, his fielding has drastically improved. His head coach even mentioned to me a few days ago that he is supposed to make All-Star recommendations and that if I was willing to commit the time, my son was one of the kids he was considering. I told him it might be best to let another kid have the chance this year and figured it would go a long way toward keeping his head from swelling again.

There’s also that fishing trip I have planned that might have just a little something to do with that decision.

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