Nine Lessons for Incoming Freshmen From the Mental Side

        All over the country, thousands and thousands of student-athletes have started their college careers.  I touched on it a couple of weeks ago with the Avoid the Overhype piece, but I felt like it had the makings of an entry on its own.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a little inspiration for the topic I got from Casey Fisk.  Casey is a baseball coach in the midwest and has become somewhat of an ambassador for the game via the Twitter forum.  He has a lot of really good ideas about a variety of topics and never shies away from a chance to interact and learn from others.  Casey had a series of tweets with tips for incoming college freshmen, and I think the topic stuck with me.  They led to my idea for some lessons from the mental side.  Many of the lessons within the blog were learned through my own experience, and I'll put a spin that will hopefully allow today's freshmen to learn from the mistakes of my past.  I hope you enjoy them and learn a little bit along the way.

Lesson 1:  Find the balance between knowing you're good and being willing to make adjustments.

You are there for a reason.  The coaching staff thought you were good enough to play for them and be a part of their program.  It doesn't matter what others thought of your commitment to the school.  You're good enough to be there.  It may seem a little overwhelming right now.  Those other guys may be much bigger and stronger.  Yes...that is a player!  He's not a coach!  I'm reminded of something I read in one of Harvey Dorfman's books about a player who was in rookie ball and made a comment to Dorfman about the other players, saying something to the effect of, "Those guys are PROFESSIONALS!"  "So are you!" Dorfman replied.  Well here is your "So are you!" reminder from me.  You're now a college baseball player, and you belong there just as much as those other guys.  That being said, you need to be willing to make adjustments.  Just because something worked for you in high school doesn't necessarily mean it will in college as well.  The quicker you understand you still have much to learn about the game the better.  The college game has its differences.  You don't know everything, and that is okay.  You're not supposed to.  Be willing to adjust for the sake of improvement over the long haul.

Lesson 2:  Understand that struggling/needing to work harder doesn't mean you don't have ability.

This lesson relates to the first in some ways.  You're likely going to have to make adjustments to be successful at this new level.  I can remember really struggling as a freshman and being red-shirted.  It beat me up pretty good.  Failure to me was personal.  I allowed it to affect my value as a person and a player.  Was I not talented enough to be here?  Everywhere I turned I had people criticizing me:  the way I hit, the way I shuffled before throwing on a ground ball, etc.  My problem was my perception of these messages.  I took them as attacks against my ability.  Did they not think I was good?  A much healthier perspective would have been to understand that struggling is part of growth as a player.  Needing to work harder and to make those adjustments had nothing to do with actual ability.  It was much more about experience.  I was just doing what I had always done and what had made me successful in the past.  If I had realized that the changes were not connected to ability, it would have helped me significantly.  So to you, college freshmen, you're going to be there for a long time.  You'll be there 3,4, or 5 years, and you're going to have times of struggle.  Needing to work has NOTHING to do with your ability.  Understand this, and keep plugging along.

Lesson 3:  Don't allow yourself to obsess over "The Other Guy."

For many of you, this is the first time you have had to really compete for a position and for playing time.  You were really good in high school, and it was generally accepted that you would probably play no matter what.  It's likely going to be different in college.  That being said, one of the worst things you can do is allow yourself to do is view the competition for playing time as a threat against you.  The healthier view is that of a challenge.  The healthiest view is that of a challenge to continue to improve yourself.  You will drive yourself crazy constantly making comparisons between you and the guy or guys you are competing with.  I can remember actually focusing on whether the competition was getting hits in intrasquad games.  It makes me want to vomit to think about today how much of my time and focus I spent worrying about what they were doing instead of just focusing on my own improvement and performance.  You only have so much focus to expend.  Please do so on things within your influence.

Lesson 4:  You won't like everyone.  Everyone won't like you.

This is a harsh reality of team sports at the college level.  When you think about it, the logic makes sense.  An increase in the size of the roster from the HS to college level only makes it more likely for there to be people you don't like because there are more people.  I'll use the term jerks when there are probably much stronger, more accurate terms available in the English language.  There will probably be sophomores who are jerks to you simply because you are a freshman.  The same can be true for seniors.  Equally likely, there will be some who just have very different views on college, sports, and life in general.  There will be some who like to engage in activities and substances you may not choose to participate in off the field.  All of that said, there will be sophomores and seniors who are awesome and want to help you out.  There will also be those you get along with very well.  My advice to you would be to spend your time wisely.  Don't allow the jerks to win out over you.  Also, understand that you are still on a team with them even if you don't like them.  You ultimately don't have to like everyone, but you still want to be able to coexist and compete WITH them rather than AGAINST them come spring time.  No matter how little you have in common, the hope would be the commonality of being on a team together outweighs the other stuff when it matters most.  Hopefully, your team leaders and coaching staff understand the toxic influence jerks can have on the team and don't allow it.  Then, as you become a sophomore and later on a senior, be sure to remember the negative impact it can have on the team.  Don't allow it!

Lesson 5:  Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

The difference between being extrinsically motivated and intrinsically motivated is great.  In a nutshell, being extrinsically motivated means you are driven by things outside of yourself.  You may really respond to the approval of others and rewards.  If you're intrinsically motivated, you're driven by the feeling the experience of sports brings and the experience for its own sake.  In all likelihood, it isn't 100% one way or the other for you.  What I will say is being largely extrinsically motivated is a dangerous path that will likely end at some point negatively.  Someone who is on a constant search for the approval of others is likely to be disappointed often.  If your motor is dictated by how much coaches stay on you and encourage you to work, then college will be a tough experience.  The player to coach ratio is greater, and the time of the coaches is more limited.  The athletes who are able to stay intrinsically motivated and self-driven will likely be better off in the long run.  They will be able to better handle "the grind" of collegiate sports.

Lesson 6:  Close the yearbook...it's a refresh for everyone.

This lesson ties in some with Lesson 1, but it's time to close the yearbook.  Nobody on your team cares if you won a state championship, where you were ranked by any scouting services, or what "elite" travel team you played for.  Everyone who plays in college was "good" in high school.  The longer you are stuck in the past, the more you will miss the present.  Looking back (ironic, given the topic of this lesson I know), it is still amazing to me how the college experience worked out for guys I played against in high school.  Some REALLY good high school players did nothing in college, and some solid players worked themselves into being really good college players.  The same has held true since entering the coaching profession.  Guys everyone loved in high school end up doing nothing and vice versa.  My point is it ultimately doesn't matter how you got to college.  You're there now.  Make the most out of the experience given to you in the present.  The quicker you are able to do so the greater your chances the future looks like you want.

Lesson 7:  Find YOUR healthy balance.

Everyone is going to give you advice about how you spend your college time.  "If you're not in the cages, someone else is," you may hear.  The amount of time you have on your hands can be overwhelming at first.  Yes.  You will spend more time as a team working on baseball and baseball-related activities than you ever have.  What people largely fail to get you to realize before you get there, however, is how much less time you are actually in class compared to high school.  What you do with all of this new-found time and freedom will likely determine both the length and quality of your experience.  The key here is you have to find out what works for you.  One player's balance may be different than another's.  This may take some learning and growing to find.  Who am I to tell you to do nothing but work on baseball?  Who am I to tell you not to spend all of your time working on baseball?  What I would encourage you to do is to reflect every now and again on how you are spending your time.  That may help you realize you need to spend more attention in one area or another.  Find what works for YOU, and understand you'll only have one college career.

Lesson 8:  Take control of your career.  Discover YOUR process.

This absolutely connects with finding your healthy balance and really with Lesson 6 as well.  You are in as much control of your career as you decide to be.  You may have read my thoughts on the process and how it can be an empty term if there is nothing to back up what the process is.  Process, without direction, is nothing but wandering around aimlessly.  This is how you may feel as a freshman trying to find your way.  My advice is, like with balance, find what works for you.  See how others go about working on their craft.  You'll likely take something here and something there until you find your process.  I didn't really discover my process as a hitter until sometime during my redshirt-senior year.  Don't get me wrong.  I hit, and I hit a lot.  I didn't really begin to understand what I was doing until then though, and I think often about why that may have been.  There were multiple variables that contributed, but I wish I had discovered it sooner.  This ties into the reasoning behind what you are doing.  Understand the why, and you'll discover your process.  The purpose for your work is AT LEAST as important as the rigor behind it.  Unlock this purpose, and reap the rewards.

Lesson 9:  Adjusting to the speed of the game

As you move up through different levels of baseball, there is a speed adjustment.  It happened as you moved up to various levels when you were little and again in high school.  Well, no matter how well-prepared your high school teams were, there is an adjustment to the speed of college baseball for you too.  You've likely had the feeling before of everything moving just a little too fast where you can't quite catch up.  College will likely bring this feeling at some point too.  You're bombarded with new information as you get there.  Changes in mechanics, approach, how we do this, how you do that, and so on and so on.  It can be a lot to take in, and it all can contribute to the speed being a little too fast.  Slowing things down is something that helps and can take a variety of forms.  Losing yourself in the routine of playing the game is something Dr. Charlie Maher talks about that has stuck with me.  To me, this is being in the present moment where the action happens.  What makes us feel like everything is too fast is all the other crap that keeps us out of that moment.  It's the doubt of whether we really belong.  It's being fearful of making a mistake.  It's the uncertainty of what to do in a situation.  There's nothing I can tell you that will fix that 100% of the time, but connecting to what your job is on a singular pitch will help.  You do belong.  You're not going to know everything.  You're going to make mistakes, and that is okay!  Or it should be.  Being fearful of mistakes can cripple performance.  Understand the game will slow down over time, but I do think having perspective helps.

Hopefully these nine lessons have helped you just a little bit.  Enjoy the next few years because they really are some of the best you will ever have.  The good will be easy to enjoy.  The bad won't be quite so easy.  This may not help a lot now, but some of the best stories I have are about what was bad at the time.  It's funny how that works.  Those experiences really are great opportunities to learn if you allow them to be.  Ultimately, how you choose to respond to them will have a lot to do with the other experiences to follow and who you become as a person.

Do you have other lessons for college freshmen to learn?  Feel free to tweet them to me, or shoot me an email.  Have a great fall!

Comments

  1. This guy is a Wise Man, Very Very Good Points.... Listen to him College bound ball players. (Football/Baseball/Basketball/Golf/Chess Team)

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