Path to Success

It is pretty common to hear every player say that he desires success, but when pressed to “define” that success the conversation often becomes bogged down in details. 

As a teacher and baseball person, I would agree that success is an important part of our coaching vocabulary and so we discuss it often.

Often, I will encourage players and parents to think about their own definition of success and to give it shape, structure and color with specific short and long range goals with a caution not to get caught up in what todays society places value on as often those values are misplaced.

In baseball, all too often we mistakenly equate success with wins, batting averages, championships, rankings and trophies. Or better yet, the day we finally throw a baseball 90 mph.

Yes, these accomplishments are part of the landscape and can often serve as a pleasant milestone on the journey but they surely do not define success nor should they.

Is getting a college scholarship the definition of success?

Is being drafted by a MLB team the definition of success?

Is hitting 90 on the radar gun the new definition of success?

Or maybe getting 100,000 followers or likes on social media is the current definition. 

I pray not.

Case in point: There are over 1,600 college baseball programs and each of them will recruit 6-10 players each year. That is about 10,000 or more players. How many of them will have a successful season? Not 10,000 I can say for sure.

There are 30 MLB teams. Each of them will sign players in the draft, on July 2 in the DR and both International and Domestic Free agents. That’s  about 40-60 per team or about 1,500 new players. Success will only go to a few and not to the 1,500.

The Yankees have more pitchers throwing 90 in the minor leagues who will never see the Bronx than they do at Yankee Stadium, so is 90 a true measure of success?

My feeling and recommendation is that we need to be careful how we define success when we are talking to our players and helping them to plan a future.

Defining Success

The best definition of success we have seen comes from the great Basketball Coach John Wooden. For those of you who might need a refresher, John Wooden, known simply as Coach, holds more records for winning than any coach in any sport and his records will stand the test of time. In coaching circles, he stands alone as the undisputed best of all time and is revered by coaches from all sports. In 2000 ESPN selected him as the greatest coach of the 20th Century. In 2003 he received the President Medal of Honor.

Coach was a teacher first and coach second. We can learn much from him.

He defined success “as the peace of mind that comes with the satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming”.  

He continued by saying say that “the trophies and Gold medals we receive when gotten is simply a by product of that effort”.

It is a fascinating fact that he never talked about winning to his players.

He never talked about the big game coming up or the big tournament that the fans or media thought was important.

He never talked about rankings or points.

He never talked about losing.

He talked about “The Process and the Effort required to be the best one could be” which interestingly led his teams and players to be the most dominating we have ever seen.

We mention this as we have seen our baseball parents and industry become so self absorbed with rankings, trophies, winning, and social media promotion. The word elite and nationally ranked has now come to describe hundreds of teams in every age bracket by adults profiting off of the hoopla and hype. 

We now have Elite 6 year old National Baseball Championships. Really??

We now have Perfect Game hyping “elite” 11 year old players and ranking them knowing full well the real reasons why they do this. If they did this as a community service I might buy in, but it is all about the money and the hype of making people feel good and having them bust out that credit card.

The correct definition of Elite means a special part of a group which is clearly superior. 

  • Navy Seals are elite.

  • Green Berets are elite.

  • The Blue Angels are elite.

  • Tom Brady is elite.

  • Mookie Betts and Mike Trout are elite.

  • Muhammed Ali was elite.

It is a sad commentary that our baseball society in it’s quest to generate gobs of revenue has watered down that definition to fit the normal player who has parents willing to shell out money for the glitz and glamour that accompanies the hype.

The reality today is that travel baseball is expensive, over hyped and for every elite player hyped, there are 2-3  players out there who are bigger, stronger and faster but do not have the credit card luxury afforded to many of us. 

And now every town in America is now featuring an Elite team in every age bracket and parents are buying into the false hype like never before and any coach involved in the mix is scrambling to be labeled elite after winning a tournament or 2 or risk being marginalized.

Want to be an All American? Just register on line, pay an inflated tournament fee, show up and you are an All American. And you can buy the jersey and a photo to prove it on Facebook just in case there is any doubt to the validity of such a bold claim. There was a time when “All American” meant one of the top 10 or so athletes in all of the United States and you were promoted on the front sports page, the TV Guide and the Ed Sullivan show. Those days apparently are gone as we know have thousands and thousands of All American Elite players in every sport from coast to Coast.

Follow Instagram and you will see high school players announcing to the world that a college called them to show interest…..or that they finally broke 82 mph and shut out another team for 4 innings in fall ball so success is imminent and within their grasp so somebody needs to sign them up quick with a scholarship.

PG and Prospect Wire and PBR feel compelled to publish a report on every player who gets 2 hits in a game and shows good bat speed or feel as though they are being overlooked or not relevant to an adoring and paying public.  Apparently the prestige of seeing your sons name in print is very powerful to this new generation.

Self promotion, hype, exaggeration is now officially a run away train.

Coach Wooden spent a considerable amount of time teaching us how to build real success and how to be leaders in society but the only coach who gets press today is a Tony La Russa type who gets taken to task by social media for promoting good sportsmanship under duress.  

Coach Wooden espoused love, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, humility, sportsmanship, and self control.

He said do not look at the scoreboard, don’t show up your opponent and embrace adversity as an asset.

He said forget about winning and focus on the process of being the best you can be. Apparently his message doesn’t garner likes or followers in this new age of Tik Tok 1 line tweeting worshipers so his profound messages about teaching and leadership and attaining true success is not relevant or newsworthy.

My feeling is that our players, families and society could benefit tremendously from his wisdom as a coach as we move towards our own definition of success for our children.

I would encourage you to visit his web site at  http://www.coachwooden.com/the-journey