Baseball coaches at northern (read: frozen) universities know that these weeks can be tough on athletes. We haven’t seen the sun in so long that we have forgotten why we own sunglasses, and our face-hairs grow ice on the way to and from our cars. It seems unlikely we will ever get to play baseball outside again. Yet, we continue to prepare our players for the off-chance that Mother Nature relents and we are able to find a patch of grass in March. Day after day, night after night, we fill field houses and gymnasiums in order to develop our skills and prepare for competition. If you have coached in this setting you have undoubtedly heard it referred to as a “grind,”—a terrible obstacle which our players must battle through. Personally, I think that’s silly. Worse yet, I think it is damaging to our athletes’ perspective.
Having the opportunity to hone their craft every day is not a grind—they can stop whenever they want—and talking about it like a chore, like something they have to do, is a great way to kill their energy more than a lack of sunlight ever could. This is a chance to remind them that playing their sport and bettering themselves through practice is something they get to do. I believe this is particularly important because there is a strong chance that at some point in their life they will face greater adversity than cold weather and indoor practices. Because we know that the most important part of our job is building up young men or women, we cannot ignore that their approach to this challenge will impact their approach to future challenges.
Here is why I think this matters: how we talk about the more challenging aspects of our sport has an immense impact on how our athletes approach those challenges. If we as coaches present this challenge to them as a grind, they will assuredly trudge through the chore in front of them. However, if we talk about it as something we do to chase excellence and pursue success, we allow ourselves to approach it with a much more positive attitude. If we talk about the challenges of the chase and pursuit as our greatest opportunities for growth, our players are invited to tackle them with enthusiasm.
Grind: “I know today is going to be tough, it’s late practice and you had class all day. We just have to grind through it. We’ll be outside soon.”
Opportunity: “Today is a great opportunity to see how we perform when we don’t feel 100%. We get to work on turning the page from one thing to another, and shifting our focus to what’s in front of us rather than behind us. There is a lot of work to be done.”
Framing the same issue differently can shape our players’ perspective, and impact the way they attack the task at hand. While everyone else is plodding through the grind, I want athletes who are showing up every day to chase excellence, and if that is how I want them to approach it, that is how I have to talk about it.
Previous: Book Review: Mind Gym