Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life. -Ernie Harwell
When you park your back-end on a bleacher for a good chunk of the summer, your mind occasionally wanders. I think it’s a by-product of the summer air, sunshine and warm nights, and the endless possibilities stretched out before you as a favorite player/team take the field. This magical time at the ball diamond lends itself to reflection and contemplation. And as a result, I’ve come to appreciate the game on an entirely new level this season.
If you’ve played the sport (or you know someone who has,) you’ve heard the adage “baseball is 90% mental, the other half physical.” While I’m not sure exactly how the math adds up, I do think there’s a lot to be said for the mental game. Everything from practice and coaching to adequate sleep time and game day meals, contributes to and sets the tone for a player’s performance during a game. From little league to MLB, players have their own unique rituals–special socks, flavored sunflower seeds, eye black design and even music…e.g., “the walk up song.” Sure team’s have been playing tunes in the locker room for years. Music selections that inspire and pump up the crowd are blared from the speakers at numerous sporting venues. We’ve all seen images of ball players from every sport getting off the team bus with headphones/ear buds playing their favorite jams. This attempt to block out the world, focus on the task at hand, energize the athlete and ultimately get him into the zone, have been going on for decades. For a non-athlete like myself, the process is fascinating! And thus, the baseball walk-up song has been at the forefront of my mind this summer…so much so that I’ve been experimenting with the concept on my children (how’s that for parenting?)
Before you starting thinking that I must have a lot of time on my hands (or that I’m an insane baseball mom,) let me explain. I’ve always thought of sports as a metaphor for life: work hard, practice and learn the basics, prepare, be a sponge, respect the coach, LISTEN, try your best, believe in yourself, be a team player, never blame the officials, realize that there will be both good AND bad days (and the bad days don’t define you), stay coachable and finally HAVE FUN! Baseball teaches these concepts, but there’s one more notion that I had somewhat overlooked (until now,) and that’s attitude– you know, confidence and the mental game. When our children are young, I think we focus on fundamentals and rightly so (there’s only so much teaching that can be absorbed at that age.) As they grow up and develop we can add the nuances, the fine distinctions that play a big role in success and in the long run, enjoyment and satisfaction with one’s efforts. Accomplishing a goal in any area of life hinges on these details. And if the details include being in the right frame of mind (and not relying on luck, superstitions or circumstances) then the baseball walk up song makes a lot of sense.
Players will tell you that a certain degree of thoughtfulness goes into their walk up song choice. The selection is used to invoke baseball nostalgia, entertain fans, instill confidence, set a tone for success and maybe even intimidate the opponent. Above all, it gives the player a moment to focus, be still, assess the situation, breathe and maybe even smile. The value of the strategy is obvious. So, why leave this mental game method strictly to secular areas like sports? Imagine if we purposefully approached our daily lives in this manner?
For years, I have used scripture and music as a source of peace, to call my spirit into focus, and essentially to put myself in a good mood. When walking into a job interview, the doctor’s office, approaching a loved one with a difficult situation, in parenting, ministry, and countless other situations… this practice has proven helpful in preparing myself for whatever lies ahead–both good and bad. And I know that it works! Psychologists often refer to this approach as “visualization,” a mental technique geared to create success and/or positive outcomes. While all of this sounds pretty heavy, I think there’s a place for it in both serious and less weighty scenarios…and you may already be using this strategy without even realizing it. Here’s how it works: You’re all set for a night out on the town with your friends–you know the right music will set the tone. Family road trip? You create a playlist that incorporates a little something for everyone in the car. Special date night or anniversary…a little Sinatra never hurt anyone! You get the picture 🙂
So here’s where it comes full circle…. My baseball musing went from the bleachers to my favorite players–my kiddos. These competitive and determined little league players often put a lot of pressure on themselves. As a parent, we want our children to have SUCCESS as well as FUN and having a good attitude plays a key role in that. It wasn’t long before our pregame routine included a couple of walk-up songs. Sean has two or three songs that he looks forward to hearing as we cruise over to the ball park. Casey enjoys listening to her own personalized playlist before games, but also before practice as well. Look, I’m not saying this tactic is the missing link between Losertown and Winnerville…but it sure has led to high-spirits, less pressure, and a lot more smiles! Ultimately, I hope it’s a game plan that the children will carry with them as the grow up, not just where sports are concerned, but for life. Setting the tone truly can make a difference!
We have a choice in how we approach, prepare and deal with every situation that comes our way…and the mental game has a lot to do with just how successful we will handle both the highs and the lows. And personally, I welcome any positive strategy that sets us up to “win.” I’ve even claimed my own walk-up song, a little ditty that rolls through my head as I’m pouring coffee in the morning. Because come on…we could all use that extra something (especially at 6am!)