In baseball you constantly hear the concept that 3 out of 10 at bats is good enough to get you into the Hall of Fame. Essentially that is the equivalent of a .300 batting average. Ty Cobb holds the highest batting average in the Hall of Fame at .366.
You constantly hear that baseball is a game of failure and it's how you deal with that failure that will set you apart. BUT if you have ever been to a youth travel ball tournament you know failure is not accepted. When kids strike out you can hear the frustration in the parents voices, when plays are messed up you can see the coaches jumping up and down, and there is reason why there are so many memes in the social media world making jokes about parents thinking their kids will be college recruited or MLB recruited at their tee ball games.
We can laugh about it but the fact of the matter is: Baseball is one of the hardest sports out there. You are trying to hit a fast moving ball with a stick and if you are on defense you are making sure that ball doesn't get past your glove and being aware enough of the next play. Baseball is a team sport yet it is also an individual spotlight sport. Everyone has their position and if you mess up everyone knows it. Then there is the pitcher. A kid out there on the mound responsible for strikes across the plate. As long as they are throwing the ball across the plate as a strike that should be sufficient but really that is only sufficient if the field is doing their job as well. If the field isn't doing their job they don't pull the field, they pull the pitcher and replace them with one that will pitch differently. It's all part of the game.
On top of all of that how many times have you been hit by a pitch? Trucked by a kid running home? Tackled by a kid after the play and left with a broken collar bone? Been running routine plays and took a wrong turn and ended up with a broken leg? Went to head-butt the soccer ball and walked away with a concussion? Cut from a team? All true stories.
Everything mentioned above has happened and will happen. But it's the impact on the youth athlete that is important. Sports are physical but more importantly they are mental. If something has happened that has caused physical pain or emotional pain to a kid, a mental block will go up. This happens in all sports. Anxiety in youth sports (all ages) is a real thing and most youth athletes will never admit they are feeling anxious as they don't want to disappoint parents, coaches and teammates. Plus there is a stimga that you "just need to suck it up and get over it.". However, that concept doesn't work as the anxiety plays itself out on the field/court during games and during practice. At the end of the day if a youth athlete is struggling all the mantras and quotes in the world won't help that athlete succeed. Plus if adults have trouble with the concepts how can we expect our youth athletes to grasp them?
This week in our catching class we were videoing our catchers receiving. We noticed one of our veteran catchers had a slight bounce as he was waiting for our new BIG machine to release the ball. It was almost like there was a spring under him. Very slight but noticeable if you were paying attention. Then we observed when the ball came he moved to the left and his glove to the right. We kept telling him to hold still but every single time he did the same thing. When he was done he got up and said I am not moving. He had no idea he was bouncing or moving. Until we showed him the video. The past two weeks this same athlete had caught the ball in his glove wrong and jammed his fingers (the machine is throwing in the 80's). Prior to getting in front of the machine this week he said, "I have practice this afternoon, I don't want to get hurt so I am not going to catch off the machine.". So he had previously sustained injuries and he had already prepped himself to be injured during this session. We told him he needed to work on catching in the pocket and to pretend the machine was a high schooler not a machine. He got in front of the machine, caught the ball in the pocket and sustained no injuries but his body was still bouncing. All three sessions. He had no idea.
So we went over to the smaller machines that he had caught on a thousand times with no injuries, and what did we observe. NO MOVEMENT. No Bouncing. No body to the left and glove to the right. Perfectly still, perfectly receiving. So what was the issue? Anxiety with the big machine. Even after all of that and after showing him the video difference he still didn't want to admit there was anxiety. Grant told him that he needed to remember that he was 12 and at 12 catching off a machine like that he was bound to have some type of anxiety and that it was okay. He just needed to get more comfortable. Grant said told him that it wasn't about having anxiety itself but admitting you have it, knowing it was okay and then how do you work through it. The young athlete then admitted that he had been hurt and that the machine made him nervous. He then asked if he could come in during the week and work off the machine with a staff member on his own so he could become more comfortable and get over his fear.
The same type of adrenaline that causes "fight or flight" is the same type of adrenaline that occurs during highly competitive sports and in the world of year round sports that idea of "fight or flight" is not rare, like it should be. Honestly, how many times in your life have you been in a true "fight or flight" situation? It's happens every time an athlete takes the field/court to play, every time they practice. In travel baseball through the course of year a youth athlete is playing approx 15-20 tournaments (that doesn't included extra guest playing). Athletes year-round could be in a competitive nature for over 30-45 weeks of the year by practicing, studying and playing the sport and keeping themselves in a highly competitive state. Youth athletes are being flooded in constant states of adrenaline. This adrenaline flood leads to different levels of anxiety and some anxiety is perfectly normal (pre-game jitters) but some creates the mental block that impacts their play. Teaching youth athletes to be able to communicate effectively will enhance their overall training and allow them to progress to the next level in their sport.
At Athletes Lab Performance Center we believe one the most important aspects of athletic training is mental training. The same athlete mentioned above also once stated, "If you lose the mental game, you lose the real game." That is a very true statement but as you can see from the story above it is much easier said than done. We want to help our athletes not only be able to recite what they should know but more importantly we want them to LIVE IT. At the end of the day Teddy Roosevelt said it best:
Due to the seriousness of anxiety in sports, Starting in April we are going to be offering classes/seminars for parents and athletes about the "Mental Game".