This past weekend, I was able to play the assistant coach role at a 14u tournament. Having the ability to simply watch a game and not be an active participant is beneficial on many levels. It afforded me the ability to objectively view the game and assess various points of potential growth. It also enabled me to effectively analyze our team’s play, our opponents coaching “philosophies,” and hear parental comments that I regularly don’t hear otherwise.

As we were playing, I kept focusing on how athletes develop and how we measure success. Do we develop a fraction at a time? Do we improve a little bit with each swing we take, each groundball we field, every pitch we throw? In my opinion – and coaching philosophy – athletic growth is not that linear. We are not going to be a little better on Sunday than we were on Saturday. In fact, we may be worse on Sunday than we were on Saturday. Athletic development – therefore – is not linear, but under the right conditions, it can be exponential.

Additionally, during the course of our games, it was clear the coaches of the other teams were focused on winning. In fact, one of our opponents had his 15 year old player throw over 120 pitches (which does not account for the 30 pre-game warmup pitches or the 6-8 pre inning pitches). I then cringed at the throws he made when he was moved to shortstop. I’m not here to judge other’s strategies, but the focus of the other team was clearly to “win.” But what did they win? In my opinion, they won a game on a random field against a random team on a random Saturday. A game they will probably forget by the next weekend. So what’s the point? It made me reflect on my own career. Between the ages of 12-18, I lost a combined 20 baseball games in school baseball. In my high school career, I struck out under 10 times total. My career varsity batting average in high school was .442. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize I wasn’t that good, until I stood in the box against Southern Conference pitching. Success, therefore, is relative.

Since growth is not linear and success is relative, why spend so much time focusing on winning a random 14u game? In short, I don’t. And ironically, I am the most competitive person I know. I am obsessed with being the best. And that’s the point of our program. Being the best is not about winning random games. It’s about developing skills and a mindset that will facilitate long term success. It’s about obtaining goals that many thought improbable. The focus, therefore, should be on the long term. It should be on failing today, losing today, striking out today, getting thrown out today, so that you can learn from it. I heard coaches and parents from all teams complain about a player thrown out or chirp about an error. But why? It is only through this failure that they will learn. They will learn that getting thrown out at second base on a routine double was due to them not busting it out of the box. They will learn that hanging sliders will get hit a long way. They will learn that walks and giving up extra bases set the foundation for crooked number innings. They will learn that having defensive swings on 2-0 counts are pointless. And ultimately, they will learn that 99.9% of the time, they are not as good as they think they are. And in order to be successful, they have to continually compete – whether they won or lost on a random Saturday.

Growth and success are forever linked. They are the athletic rewards for student-athletes who are willing to fail, willing to lose, but unwilling to accept not learning from their mistakes. As a player, I failed too late to reach my goals. As a coach, I continually fail and – hopefully – continue to learn and grow to be the best.

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