You Have to Get Experience...Unless You Don't

       "You just need to get experience."  "You can't just expect to be good overnight."  "You've got to pay your dues."  If you have been involved in baseball (or countless other fields) for any period of time, chances are you have heard any combination of those statements, along with several other variations, time and time again.  Baseball is a sport with so many moving parts that it really does provide endless opportunities to learn.  The Lorenzo Cain play where he scored from first base on a base hit to right field in Game 6 the other day provided one such opportunity.  The baserunner, where Jose Bautista was playing, how he had to go get it and throw, the noise, the wide turn from Eric Hosmer, and the fact a similar play had almost happened earlier in the series all played into this perfect moment of baseball wizardry.  "The play" gave something for everyone who wanted to learn a little bit about baseball regardless of your experience and expertise.  Had Lorenzo Cain ever executed that play before?  No would be my guess.  So in this case, experience hadn't taught Cain to make that play.  That brings me to the topic of this blog.  In baseball, we often get stuck in a frame of thinking.  "That's the way it has always been," is so readily accepted as an appropriate rationale.  Something that has really had me thinking over the last few months is the growing number of very young players making it to the Major League level and excelling immediately.  There are still many who come up, struggle, get sent down to tweak their games, and then come up again to experience varying levels of success.  For them, experience is a great teacher.  But there have also been more and more players like a Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Miguel Sano, Lance McCullers, and Matt Duffy who have made it to the big leagues and experienced nothing but success.  Look no further than three playoff teams in the Mets, Cubs, and Astros.  All three are young in some crucial spots and were thought to be teams to watch in 2016 as a result.  They all found ways to speed up the timetable though.  The question to be asked then is, "Why?"  More specifically, "Why are more and more young players cheating the long-held belief of success at the big league level taking time?"

       To claim to know the exact answer would be irresponsible on my part.  Each player has had a different career path with an immeasurable amount of variables playing into why they have been so good so quickly.  I do have a guess though about something that is helping many of these players.  We talk so much about experience being important.  You need this many at-bats in the Minor Leagues.  There is the ever-popular 10,000 hour rule in which Malcolm Gladwell says you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert.  For me, I think the answer is not so much the experience but the perspective that often comes from experience.  Included in that perspective is a true understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses and what makes one successful.  Why does that take a certain number of at-bats to happen in the Major Leagues?  I would argue it doesn't for some guys because they have already been students of self-awareness for years prior to making it.  Also, this understanding never happens for some guys no matter how much experience they get.  It isn't from a lack of ability if they have already made it that far.  Some guys never see the improvement sometimes predicted of them, and some suddenly "find themselves" when they are 28 or 29 years old.  You will hear the quotes constantly if you listen for them.  "I finally know who I am as a pitcher/hitter."  "I know what my plan is, and I'm sticking with it."  My question would be, "Is there anything we can do to help players know themselves sooner?"  The answer to my own question is, "Yes," and a major reason why I think self-awareness trumps traditional mental skills in many cases.

        Also to be included in that perspective is a proper understanding of what each at-bat and performance really means.  The pattern for many young hitters is they come up, have instant success for a short period of time, start to struggle as the league adjusts, and then fail so miserably they have to be sent down.  A loss of confidence or belief that they belong often accompanies that struggle.  There are even stories of the great Willie Mays begging to be sent down to AAA after struggling for a time in the Major Leagues.  It's not always a question of whether they are talented enough to succeed.  The guys who are able to better weather the storm of not sustaining that initial success probably have a better perspective of what each at-bat and game means.  A poor performance has a rational explanation behind it, but it's often masked with a player's emotion.  One bad start doesn't mean you have terrible stuff or don't belong at a certain level.  Just as important is the rational explanation that accompanies a great performance.  One great performance does not mean you have arrived.  What made the great performance happen?  What did you do to prepare and to execute?  If you don't know why you are good, you're leaving your performance up to chance.  Increasing this understanding better equips the player for the ride.

       Those are just a couple of examples of the perspective that often is learned at the Major League level.  My guess, an educated one based on quotes, anecdotes, and informal observation, is that it has been learned earlier by guys who have had sustained success earlier.  Before the complaints come filing in, I do know many of the guys who have been successful right away are incredibly gifted physically.  There have been countless others who are just as gifted physically who have struggled initially or forever, however, and I think proper mindset has played a significant role along the way.  So what then can we do as coaches?  The easy answer would be to just believe some players have it and some players don't.  That is a lazy answer though and one you probably don't accept if you are a reader of this blog.  The more difficult answer is just as simple but demands time and discipline.  Help your players to develop a perspective that, along with many other things, includes self-awareness and proper valuation of at-bats and overall performances.  Get them to be able to verbalize and rationally understand what specifically makes them good when they are good and what makes them bad when they are bad.  Many times what seems so obvious to us as coaches is not nearly so obvious to the players we coach.  Create an environment that gives proper valuation to each pitch or at-bat.  Each is an opportunity to learn if we take advantage.  You may not see the "get rich quick" results you are looking for with these suggestions, but the player is going to be better off in the long run for the development.

       This blog has been my shot at the beginning of a discussion of what makes some younger players skip the experience "necessary" to sustain success at higher levels of play, but it really qualifies for multiple levels of competition and job fields.  There are some key sport psyc concepts peppered in, but again I don't think I can quantify the exact reasons for all of these players' success.  I can only share what I've read, observed, and discussed with others.  What do you think makes players successful so quickly?  I'd love to hear from you.  Shoot me an email at ehrlichb1@gmail.com or tweet to me.  Enjoy the World Series, and take advantage of the opportunity to learn.

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