I’m a true believer that sports can be a great learning experience to prepare young people for their future endeavors. I’ve learned a lot about life through sports. I’d like to share just a few of these lessons, particularly living in the times we do today.
1. Life’s not fair. Use your advantages and overcome the rest. In high school I took a trip to Arizona with a baseball teammate, John. He wanted to meet the coach at Glendale Community College, and I was going to meet the head coach at Arizona State University.
At Glendale Community College, the coach was more interested in talking with me. I was over 6 feet and had, at the time, what was considered a “baseball physique.” John was about 5 foot, 6 inches and, while sturdily built, did not have a stereotypical baseball body. Afterwards, John remarked that the coach was more interested in me. I felt his disappointment.
When we arrived at ASU, we met with Bobby Winkles, the head coach at ASU. He had coached ASU to three national championships and, ultimately, was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame. Winkles, as it happened, was about the same height as John. On the way home, John couldn’t stop talking about the enthusiasm and positivity that Winkles demonstrated to both of us.
I went on to play at ASU. During my freshman season we played Glendale in a practice game. There was John playing centerfield, leading off, the leading hitter and the team captain. John had taken his best attributes – hard worker, natural leader and intense desire to succeed — and he simply overcame the obstacles.
2. It’s the competitive effort that lasts. During my sophomore year at ASU, we set the NCAA record for the best winning percentage (64-6) in the history of college baseball. We entered the College World Series ranked No. 1. USC, the two-time defending champion, was ranked No. 2.
In the series, we opened with a win against Iowa, followed by wins against Oklahoma, USC and Temple. USC battled through the loser’s bracket and needed to beat us twice in the double elimination format. In the first game, they beat us 3-1. The championship game was a pitching duel with the Trojans scoring a run in the third inning on a catcher’s passed ball. In the ninth inning, I came to bat with one out and runners on first and second. I walked to load the bases, but the next two batters struck out and USC won.
It was a devastating end to an extraordinary season. But I don’t think my life would have been any different if we had won. What I do carry with me in my life is that I had the opportunity to compete at the highest level of college baseball. The thrill and excitement, and the confidence it created, remain with me to this day.
3. Learn from the errors but remember the good plays. Successful players (and people) don’t dwell on their failures — the strikeout, the error, or the hanging slider that sailed over the 400-foot sign. Instead, they learn and adjust from them.
Success flows from the “good” memory – embedding in the mind the good swings, the good pitches and the good plays. Those are the memories to build on for improvement. Don’t look back with regret, excuses, sorrow or guilt. Move forward with promise of improvement and success.
4. Don’t compare yourself with others. Compare today’s you with yesterday’s you. In sports, as in life, it is inevitable that we compare ourselves with others. In baseball, it’s batting averages, home runs, earned run averages and the plethora of statistics poured over every day. In life, we compare cars, houses, shoes, dresses, salaries and much more.
But stressing over comparisons adds pressure and dissatisfaction. As individuals, we only have control over what we do and how we react. Focus the comparison on yourself. Compare how you did, what you knew and what you learned from the day before. Each day do something to make yourself a little better than you were the day before.