Let's EAT! Controlling What You Can Control

"Controlling what you can control" is a very popular concept in sport psychology.  It is a concept with reach far beyond sports that can have a big impact on your daily life if you follow it.  As humans, we spend so much time worrying about things we don't have control over: the weather, traffic, many decisions made in politics, etc.  Something to consider is that for every minute we spend worrying about things we have no control over, we lose a minute to control what we can.

Early in the summer I talked to one of my friends, Banks Faulkner, who is the head baseball coach at Summerville High School about coming to speak at their baseball camp.  The camp is for a wide range of ages and ability levels so I felt like "controlling what you can control" would be a good topic for everyone.  As I thought through the message I wanted to get across, the three concepts that stood out to me were effort, attitude, and thought process.  All three are fairly simple yet are often not controlled by many of us.

Effort is pretty straight forward.  You have control over how much effort you give.  There is no valid excuse for not giving your best effort.  The shame is when you do not give your best effort you are actually losing more control of your performance.  Think about it.  The number one place where effort shows up when watching a baseball game is running to first base.  High school coaches everywhere simultaneously lose it, and Twitter blows up every time Robinson Cano goes for a stroll down the first base line.  Running hard to first base puts pressure on the defense to make mistakes.  That is something within your control.  When you don't run hard down the line, you are letting go of your power to pressure.  Notice I did not say you are a joke or think you're above the game or that you are lazy.  That would be a judgement (topic for another blog).  The fact that  you are not putting pressure on the defense when you don't run hard is an evaluation.  Effort is 100% in our control in whatever we do.  In relation to life, we have complete control of the effort we give to our relationships with others.  We choose whether we make the effort to support loved ones, to stay in touch with old friend, and to foster new relationship.  You either make the effort or not.

Attitude is the next concept.  I heard Joe Maddon on MLB Radio this summer put it perfectly when he said, "Attitude is a decision we make every day when we get up in the morning."  It really is that simple.  How you react to the events that make up your day define your attitude and is completely up to you.  When players pout about not being in the lineup, what happens?  They usually completely check out of the game mentally, aren't good teammates, and ultimately aren't ready when an opportunity comes later in the game.  How many times do you see hitters let one bad strike call ruin an entire at-bat?  How many times does that at-bat turn into four?  Even in the Major Leagues, pitchers will let one pitch call by an umpire dictate an entire inning or outing.  I am huge on having perspective and find this to be very helpful when controlling your attitude.  Remember why you do whatever it is you are doing, and don't allow yourself to overvalue the importance of any one pitch.  This will usually remind you that whatever you may be letting bother is isn't really as big a deal as you're making it and helps you gain back control.  Attitude is huge in a school setting.  One of the things that bothers me about mindset is when people answer the question, "How are you?" with the day.  "Oh its Monday," or "Hey, it's Friday!" are the two I hear most often.  To allow something as silly as what day it is dictate your attitude is to completely give up control again.  Why not approach every day with a "It's today" mentality instead and control what the day is made of?

The final concept of thought process is probably not as simple.  Many within sport psychology have differing views of thought process and thinking.  Some say you can control it, and some say you can't and actually hurt performance by trying to.  For me, it is as simple as asking athletes what they are thinking when they are performing at their best.  The answer, almost all of the time, is "Nothing."  They were in a flow state where the preparation and natural abilities just take over.  Although it is impossible to will yourself into this flow state (it just happens), I am a big proponent of Ken Ravizza's thought that the closest thing to nothing is one.  Keep your thoughts simple, and have some kind of reinforcement for the situation.  Keep your simple thought positive too.  Instead of "Don't swing at balls!" or "I can't underthrow my receiver here!" lets go with "Get a good pitch to hit." or "Hit him in the numbers!"  Simplicity and positive are key.  Again, there are parallels to everyday life.  Rather than telling yourself what you are not going to do today or focusing on who you don't want to be, make the decision to focus on what you do want to do and who you do want to be (This is a challenge for me at times, but I'm working on it!).

One of the things that bothers me about popular sport psychology is the amount of acronyms.  I've seen WIN, DTD, APE, PRIDE, SMART, and many others.  Although I am definitely a founding member of the SPEAOA (Sport pscy enthusiasts against over-acronymization), I have to admit that my mission to be in the sport psychology field without the use of any acronyms was crushed after thinking this topic through early in the summer.  As I was reviewing what I'd written so far, I accidentally saw that by putting the three concepts together they spell EAT.  With the concept of "eat" already being prevalent and another vague concept within sports, I thought this acronym could help provide meaning.

Telling yourself or teammate "Let's EAT today" could now mean that you're going to control your effort, attitude, and thinking.  Although there are certainly other things to be controlled, the goal of sport psychology is to keep things simple.  If you're able to control your effort, attitude, and thinking you will increase your chances of success and will have more fun doing so.  So challenge yourself and your teammates to EAT today whether it is in sports or in life.  Like anything else, understand you're not going to be perfect at controlling all three all of the time.  Focus on improvement rather than perfection, and you'll have a realistic measuring stick for yourself.  As always, please get in touch with me if you have any questions or feedback.  If there is anything I can do to help you at all, let me know.

Coach Ehrlich


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