Winning the Mental Game First

(This is the third in a series on wisdom from baseball. In this article, Mark Stanifer continues to mine his playing experience for insights into how to better play the game of life.)

As a boy growing up, baseball was my game of choice. I enjoyed the game and was naturally gifted with some physical talent. But I was not very good at playing the mental side of the game. It wasn’t until long after I hung up my cleats that I realized just how important the mental game is to success, and how weak I really was.

During my last year with the local American Legion team we hosted the State Championship tournament. We had played our way into the championship game, in front of the home crowd, and against our in-state rival. The winner would move on to the National Regionals. And the entire game came down to the bottom of the last inning. We were trailing by one, with two outs, and the tying run on third base. And I was on-deck and thinking, “I don’t want to bat!”

Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success does it? As it turns out, I never got the chance to be the hero of that game, but given my mental state — doubt, fear, lack of confidence — odds are that I would have made the third out myself.

With time and lots of life experience, I’ve come to realize just how much of the game of life is really mental. I have read numerous books this year on the power of our thoughts to shape our actions. What we tell ourselves, or absorb from others, is a significant contributor to our state of mind. Dr. Caroline Leaf, in Switch On Your Brain, says this, ‘What you are thinking … becomes a physical reality in your brain and body, which affects your optimal mental and physical health.”

I don’t often hear baseball used as a metaphor for life. But there is some rich insight to draw from this sport, especially in how we play the mental game.

Don’t focus on the negative

Baseball is not a game of perfection, especially when it comes to batting. Whether it is an errant throw, a missed opportunity, or a strikeout (more on this in an upcoming article), there are many opportunities to focus on what didn’t go right. And while reflecting on mistakes for lessons learned can be very valuable, dwelling there can be debilitating. The better approach is to own it, learn from it, and then move on.

Be in the moment

There is a lot of down time in baseball. An average MLB game lasts around 3hrs, but with less than 20 minutes of actual playing time. The rest is transition and preparation. Sometimes life can feel that way too — a lot of time invested in the “game of life” but in the end only a small amount really counts. It is important to be looking for those few precious moments and be ready when they come. Blocking out distractions, being prepared for when the ball comes to you, and being fully present, are good ways to help you stay in the moment

Be clear on the truth

It is hard for a professional player to ignore the critics. It is equally tough to ignore the critics in our own lives — both self and others. The best way I know how to do this is to continually remind yourself of what is true. The starting point for me is always “I am valuable simply because I am a child of God.” So much of our perceived worth is derived from accomplishments or accumulations, but these are not really our identity. Knowing who you are won’t eliminate the critics, but it will help lessen the potency of what they say.

Maybe you’re a huge fan of baseball or maybe the game isn’t your thing. Regardless, we are all involved in playing the mental game of life. And the winners of that game have figured out the importance of these insights. While I’m not fully there yet — maybe that’s not even possible — I am definitely a lot stronger now than that 18 year old back in the on-deck circle. And I like my chances this time around a whole lot more.

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He Gets on Base

(This is the second in a series on wisdom from baseball co-written with Mark Stanifer.)

Moneyball. Seen it (released 2011)? Read it (published 2003)? If your answer is no, go ahead and hit pause on whatever you’re doing, including reading this post, and get that done.

Yes, it’s that good.

If you’re a baseball fan, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re a movie fan, it received six Oscar nominations. If you love one liners, there are a plethora. So pardon my repetition, but if you haven’t watched or read it, you must.

Besides the one liner “Who’s Fabio,” one of the more memorable lines is when Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) asks Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) repeatedly why the scouts should consider several players that they otherwise weren’t. The answer over and over again was, “He gets on base.”

Beane and Brand were referencing principles based on sabermetrics, something not widely done at that time across Major League Baseball. Although it had its beginnings in the middle 20th century, sabermetrics had not been embraced by traditionalists. Beane and Brand were challenging tradition.

They didn’t care how the batter got on base; they just knew that the only way to win was scoring runs, and you can’t score runs without getting on base. If the batter is willing to take a walk, he still gets on base. If the homerun king hits a single rather than a homerun, he still gets on base.

This sounds fairly simple. But as a guy who had a whomping one hit all season in the only little league season I ever played, I can attest that getting on base is not simple. It requires several things. Several of those things are applicable to life, to what it takes to be considered worthy of the scout’s attention. Here is a short list.

Patience

Swinging at every pitch will not get you on base. Waiting for the right pitch takes discipline. Discipline and patience are teammates. It takes discipline to learn how a pitcher thinks, understand the rhythms of the game, and commit to the strategy of the manager. And this learning, understanding, and committing will require patience. The hitter who can grow in their patience at the plate and get on base will also grow in their value to the team.

Sacrifice

Every at bat is not a heroic moment. Just because you have home run capabilities doesn’t mean every swing has to be for the fences. Sometimes your ego must be checked by being satisfied with a single that gets that player in scoring position across home plate. A valuable player pursues humility and gets on base however he can.

Focus

Monumental, game-changing at bats often happen in a game. The at bat becomes a mind game or a cat-and-mouse exchange. When a normal at bat of four or fives pitches moves into double digits, the batter takes the upper hand. Why? Because he has made the pitcher see his focus. This out is not going to be easy. The hitter who can stay focused, deal with whatever pitch is thrown, raises their chances of getting on base.

The player who illustrates this so well for my team (Go Cards!) this season is Tommy Pham. As of the writing of this post, Pham leads the team in six of the twelve batting categories. His story? He was drafted in 2006 but didn’t make his big league debut until 2014 at age 26. For eight years he was working on getting on base. When he was brought up, he didn’t immediately have success. But he kept working at getting on base. So much so that this year is his most successful year, by far. Not only does he lead his team in six categories, he also is among the highest in several categories in all of baseball; in one category he’s seventh. Want to take a guess at which one? OBP-On Base Percentage.

Paul wrote in Colossians 3:23, “whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Heartily means “from the core of one’s being.” Whatever our position-dad, husband, employer, son, leader, follower-God has given it to us. All he asks of us is to do it well, mean business, you might say, get on base. Each time it’s your turn to pick up the bat, approach the plate prepared to get on base. Grow in patience, practice sacrifice, and harness focus so when you stand before God he can say, “Good job. You kept getting on base.”

Baseball Series

Recently, my friend Mark Stanifer invited me to join him in a blog series sharing thoughts about life through the lens of baseball.  Of course I said yes.

So this is going to be a nine-post series, you know, because there are nine innings in a game.  But I have to confess, I’m getting you into the game late.  Why?  Because two posts have already been published.

So for those who don’t like getting to the game late, bear with me.  Here is a link to “inning one” that Mark posted last week.  Tomorrow, I’ll post “inning two,” which was posted on Sunday.

Feel free to subscribe to Mark’s blog, and you’ll see these upon publication as Mark posts them each Sunday.  I will try to do better to keep you “in the game” a little better for the remaining seven innings.

Go Cardinals!

 

The Night Before

It’s after 8pm. So being an obedient Manatee County resident, I’m off the streets. Waiting.

Marathon runners know what this feels like. You’ve prepped all you can for your race. You’ve laid everything out for the next morning. The alarm is set; you know because you’ve checked it a gazillion times. You’ve stretched, or not. You’ve attached your race bib, or not. You’ve prepared your liquids, or not. You most certainly have eaten your last meal and properly hydrated. And now you wait. The long night has started; and if it’s your first 26.1, it will most likely feel like the longest night of your life.

You make yourself go to bed; and after about an hour of asking yourself ridiculous questions about tomorrow, you somehow fall asleep…only to wake up thinking the alarm didn’t work because surely the night is over, but the clock says it’s been less than two hours. If you’re lucky, you’ll repeat this cycle a couple of times. And each time you ask yourself another question before falling asleep, “Why can’t I stay asleep?”

And from my experience, here’s the answer-anticipation of the unknown. 

  • Can I make it the full distance?
  • What if it starts raining?
  • They say you hit a wall at mile 18. What does that feel like?
  • Did my training plan really prepare me?
  • How will I feel when it’s over?

These questions can go on and on. And they probably will until the race startgun sounds. And then, for the most part, after about mile two, they stop. You’re not normal if they don’t return at some point during the race, but you find a way to cross the finish line.

So here’s to the night before. You’ve done all you can. Followed your game plan. Put your trust in the right hands. Prayed for endurance to last all the way to the finish line. 

It will come. One way or another, it will come. 

But right now, it’s the night before. And you wait. 

Think about that finish line. It will come.

Dude, You’re At…the Game

(An “Own It” series for dudes)

I’ve been able to get to two Rays games in the last couple of weeks. Both games were a lot of fun-good plays and good company. For me, baseball rarely disappoints.

What, or should I say, who can disappoint more frequently are dudes in the stands. These dudes seem to not understand the difference between watching the game from their recliner versus watching the game amongst strangers. So from one baseball-watching dude to another, here are some manly things to keep in mind:

  • Yes, you paid good money to come, and you want to enjoy the game. So do it already. Relax. Everybody has a better time when you do.
  • Chances are you don’t know anybody on the field, umpires or players. Follow the golden rule. Oh, and they most likely can’t hear you.
  • If you are so great to bring your kids to the game, here’s the best way to get the most out of the experience for you and them. Ready? Make it about your kids more than about you.
  • It’s a game. Somebody is going to lose. Chances are the players want to win more than you want them to. Be a good sport.
  • Yelling is fine, even encouraged. Try this rule though: for every degrading negative you yell you must yell three encouraging positives.
  • People are people. They have to go to the restroom and get food. Stand up and let them out of the row. It’s that golden rule thing again.
  • Excessive cussing and drinking do not make you a man (for what it’s worth, it definitely doesn’t look good on your lady either). The people in front of and behind you are literally inches away. One last time: Golden Rule!

At both of these games, a pair of dudes sat in front of me. They looked retirement age. They also looked like sports-loving dudes. They kept these manly things in mind and more. Thanks, dudes, for modeling how to be a dude at the game.

Fruity Fridays: Passing the Self-Control Test

(Final posting in this series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

(photo credit Amber Hatch FB page)

Nothing like a hurricane to test your self-control.

Publix test…check

Wawa test…check

I-75 test…still in progress

Saving the snacks…hasn’t even started

This very real storm brings to life how many situations in our lives make us feel in our minds and emotions. So Paul may have had some intention to placing this fruit at the end of the list. If the other fruits have been produced, this one should be easier to nurture. And we need it to pass the tests of life’s storms.

When I’ve not being doing well passing the self-control test, here are a few questions I review to check myself:

  • Where’s my sensitivity level? It’s entirely possible I’m making more of this situation than it is. Making more could mean I’m taking it too personally, I’m not paying attention to common sense, or I’m playing the “what if” game way too long.
  • What assumptions might I be making? Assumptions are usually the result of lacking communication (listening, clear explanations, waiting on someone else to take the first step, etc.). In these cases, I must review what has actually been said or not said and own my role in the communication failure.
  • What do I know? It’s my responsibility in my relationships to know who I am and who they are, what triggers I have and what triggers they have. That knowledge then should be the foundation for treating the relationship with the respect and the control it needs.
  • What boundaries are being violated? This question assumes boundaries are in place; if that’s not the case, then it’s time to set them. If they are in place, I must identify my violation and own up to it, both to myself and to the one I violated.

As we go through the next few days, let’s help each other pass the self-control test. 

*I want to thank the contributors to this series-Danny Bote, Jeremy Nixon, and Eric Vorhies. We started the series October 1, 2016. Alas, we’ve finished the task. Readers, thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Fruity Fridays: Digging Deep

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Eric Vorhies

Before I walk in, I think to myself, “Self-Control. I got this.

Why wouldn’t I? There are a lot of things in life to which people lose control of themselves. Alcohol, drugs, lust, hatred, anger, thoughts, friends, words. I mean, of course, I have slipped up here and there, but by no means do I consider to not have self-control. I don’t use destructive language. I don’t really get angry. I try hard to capture my thoughts before they capture me. I have never been drunk…not even buzzed.

But as I sit down, it doesn’t matter though because the chips and salsa are placed on the table before I even order. Game over. I haven’t even had a chip yet, and I already know that they will just need to place my meal in a to-go box.

Sad, but true. Though I do find it funny, that no matter how hard I try to discipline my life, there is always something that can defeat me.

Lately, that thing is me. As a freelance filmmaker, work isn’t always coming in. As someone new to an area, it can be challenging to meet the people who can give you the work you need. Lately, there has been a lot of pressure on me (mostly, by myself) to drum up new work. I have confidence in my abilities and in my personality. But when it comes time to solicit work or to network, the excuses come so naturally that I treat them as if they are the truth. “I don’t have time for this,” “I need to get this thing done before I can do that,” or “I can do this later …I wonder what’s on Netflix.” (It’s like trying to start a diet!) Then, when I lay my head down at night, I hate myself. I wasted my time. I set myself back another day…and for what, a few more scrolls of Facebook or a couple more episodes of TV.

I just read the parable of the two men who built houses in Matthew 7. One man built it on rock, and the other one built it on sand. It is easy to miss the depth of this because most of us have never built a house, let alone one in 1st-century Israel. To get to the rocky base of the land over there, people would have to dig several feet through hard-packed sand. That is miserable work that no one wants to do….unless…they want to build something that will last.

I am sure that you are like me, and you know exactly where you need to start digging down deep to build that thing that you want to last. You know what your excuses and weaknesses are. But if you want to be able to go to bed fulfilled each night, you need to become diligent and purposeful. For me, I quit watching TV on my own, I only am using Facebook to communicate with people I work with, and I definitely don’t sit down to eat some chips and salsa but that is related to a totally different problem. I am digging deep so that I won’t be defeated by some silly thing like excuses.

Now, I can’t close this without giving some specific clarity. Our strength and foundation aren’t found in ourselves. It is God. This whole series is about the fruit of the Spirit. I can honestly say that I don’t dig with my own strength, but with God’s. Eric, without God, takes shortcuts and finds the easiest-path-right-now option. But I receive strength from God through the Holy Spirit. The foundation is Him and His truth. And God is always taking people on journeys to help them discover just how much they can accomplish for His glory.