Expectations: They're What You Allow Them to Be

        Last weekend I had the great opportunity to speak with a team about "Expectations."  The speaking engagement was tentatively planned about a month ago when the head coach contacted me with interest in me coming.  He chose the topic which I really liked.  The main reason I liked that he chose the topic is he certainly knows his team better than I do.  Him having a pulse for what would be good to talk about was pretty cool to hear.  I also really liked the topic because I have some strong feelings about Expectations based on what I have read, learned, and experienced.  Anyway, the team goes into the spring with hope for a great season.  Collegiate Baseball Newspaper included them in their preseason poll, and Baseball America has them in their initial projections for the NCAA Regionals.  More on that later.  Expectations and opinions in general had been something I'd considered writing about for a while so I felt like I should take the opportunity to share my thoughts.  Here they are.

        For the purpose of this post I'll use the word "you" interchangeably to address both you meaning your team and you meaning you individually.  Expectations can come from any number of sources.  They can come from the media.  Although the professional level certainly is in another stratosphere entirely, high school and college athletes are not immune to the hype of the preseason poll.  Scouts can be a source of expectations as well.  Many a draft-eligible player has fallen victim to draft buzz.  Family members, girlfriends, and friends in general often place expectations, both real and imagined, on players too.  Finally, YOU can have expectations for YOUrself.  As noted earlier, this can be within the team or yourself individually.  So what to make of all of these possible sources of expectation?  Well, all of the external expectations are ultimately irrelevant to YOU.  I'm not saying to ignore preseason buzz.  It's cool to be ranked, but understand what it really means.  People think you are talented, and they probably value your track record.  Track record is something to be proud of because you likely put in a great deal of work to get the results you've gotten, but they are in the past.  If you are on the draft radar, its because of some sort of combination of talent, performance, and projection.  Where a lot of players can struggle is allowing the projection to trump what they do rather than the talent and track record.  They try to do a little too much or be someone they are not instead of being the person who has put themselves into this position to begin with.  Easier said from the outside looking in, but easy regardless if you are thinking rationally.  Your Mom thinks you're the best player on the team.  There's only a 1 in 35 chance she is right.  Your girlfriend thinks you're so much better than the All-American starting instead of you.  Unfortunately, she doesn't make the lineup.  They both matter a great deal in your life.  Among other things, they can remind you that life includes so much more than your athletic career.  They shouldn't shape your behaviors and performance either though.  YOU are who determines both.  As a team, you likely have expectations.  What I loved from the team I spoke with is a number of the expectations they have for themselves revolve around an approach to the day to day.  Those are solid expectations.  Those will drive their behaviors and performance.  They clearly believed in them.  As an individual (or team), you have to expect yourself to be good.  "You can't outperform your own self-belief" is something Dr. Jack Curtis wrote.  This can be challenged a great deal.  All over the country college freshmen are seeing their names not in the lineup for the first time in their lives.  That can be a tough experience.  Understanding you are still good and reacting in the right way can ultimately determine if or when you do see your name in the lineup down the road.  It also has a major bearing on what you get from your season.  Not being prepared or helped to deal with this is a reason I think we see such great turnover in college sports after one year.  I think we do a great disservice to these student-athletes when we just assume they should know how to react.  That is like getting mad at a kid who has never ridden a bike when they aren't popping wheelies on their first ride.

        The more you allow expectations to dictate your behavior, the more control you're giving up as a player.  Harvey Dorfman said, "What you have to prove depends on who is setting the standard for your performance."  Your is the key word.  It's your performance.  You, both as a team and individually, set the standard.  Dorfman mentions walking through a door of choice, and I thought of a two-door analogy to represent this choice.  Behind door number one is a brick wall.  If you try to walk through, you won't have much luck.  Constantly altering your behavior, approach, or beliefs about yourself based on the expectations of others is like walking into the brick wall over and over again.  You'll never please them all, and you'll get frustrated trying to do so.  Behind door number two is blue sky.  Walk through and you'll be floating in the air.  This is what playing free of the expectations of others is like.  The reason I like the doors is it drives home the point of choice.  You either walk through door number one, or you walk through door number two.  It's as simple as that.

     My hope for you this spring is that you don't allow the expectations of others to dictate your behavior.  I'm not saying you have to completely ignore the accolades and the polls.  It feels good to be recognized.  Make sure you understand what they mean though.  Remember why you play and what makes you earn those accolades.  Keeping perspective throughout the length of whatever your season is, filled with both up's and down's, is important for having the best season you can have.  This perspective includes understanding the proper value of a pitch, an at-bat, a game, a ranking, etc.  All the best to everyone who has gotten started, gets started this weekend, or gets started in the coming weeks.  Enjoy it.


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