Hitters: Even the Best Fail More Than They Succeed

(This is the seventh 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.)

One thing that has always fascinated me about baseball is the best hitters still fail to get a hit about 7 times out of 10. Think about that for a minute. Only 3 in 10 appearances at the plate result in a hit. The all-time MLB leader, Ty Cobb, finished with a career average of .3664. This season, José Altuve leads all players with a .350 average. There aren’t too many professions where a 65% failure rate would be tolerated, let alone celebrated as hall of fame worthy.

Learning to live with failure is a must to be successful in baseball. It cannot be avoided. It is a key part of why success requires winning the mental game first. Interestingly, being successful in life also involves dealing with failure. I’m using “successful” here in a very broad context — parenting, running a business, balancing career and family, living fulfilled, following Jesus. Regardless of what you are pursuing, you are bound to make some mistakes along the way. The key is how you look at those mistakes.

Defining Failure

My Mac dictionary says the verb fail is defined as “being unsuccessful in achieving one’s goal.” This has long been my only understanding of failure — an unsuccessful attempt to do something right. In fact, and I admit this with some embarrassment, there have been times I avoided even making an attempt at something for fear of experiencing failure. I realize some of this is my personality wiring, but more often I have not appreciated the benefit that comes with failure.

There is another way to look at failure — neglect to make an attempt. Thomas Edison famously stated that he didn’t fail in his many attempts to make a light bulb, he simply discovered 10,000 ways not to. He also said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Do you think his perspective on failure had anything to do with his success?

Learning From Mistakes

For the successful batter, there is a balance between expectations and reality. If you don’t first expect to succeed then the likelihood of success is diminished. But regardless of your level of expectation, it does not guarantee a hit. I have always believed that making mistakes are rich experiences for learning, for others. But I have not always been so understanding for myself. Maybe you know what I mean.

What do you do when you swing and miss? For some it is a helmet toss or slamming the bat. But after the emotion passes, the successful batter will reflect on the at bat — “What did I do well?” “What could I do better?” “What pitch did I miss?” He analyzes what he can in preparation for the next time. It would be foolish for the player to say “I didn’t get a hit so I’m not even going to bat next time.” Is it not also foolish for us to take the same approach?

Keep Looking For At Bats

Professional hitters are really good. We often say things like “this guy is horrible” or “I can’t believe how bad he is” but that is a relative comparison. And while natural ability has a lot to do with it, much of what makes them so good is they had a lot of practice, a lot of at bats. It’s not always true that the more you play the better you get, but the more at bats you have the more chances there are to get better. I think that’s why so many successful people emphasize the importance of failure as part of growth. They recognize that with each attempt there is an opportunity to get better, to get a hit.

There are no stats per se to measure our life’s batting average. Even if there were, I’m pretty certain that none of us would bat 1.000. Maybe you struck out in your last at bat. Or maybe it has been a while since you’ve even been to the plate. Whatever your game, your previous at bat doesn’t have to be your last. Consider your attitude towards failure. Use failure as an opportunity to learn. Don’t let it keep you from trying again. You can stay in the game and continue to get better, but the next move is up to you.

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