After Hours

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” – Tim Notke

I recently read an article published on LinkedIn titled, “After work, is what determines your future! Spend one hour per day doing these 5 things and your life will change forever!”  In reading this article, I couldn’t help but think how applicable this is to baseball players, or any athletes for that matter.  The author outlines 5 keys that every working professional should focus on if they want to advance in the business world; whether as a member of a corporation or as an entrepreneur.  I’d like to touch on a few of these and how baseball players of all ages can benefit from them.

What you do every night is important

Players cannot think that simply going to practice will be enough.  If one truly wants to get better, work has to be put in after hours.  Practice is not the time for deliberate practice.  By deliberate practice, I am talking about a deep focus on improving your mechanics at any skill.  Let’s say you need to work on keeping your hands in on inside pitches.  During practice, you may go through various hitting stations where you’re hitting side toss; or front toss; and then BP.  You move quickly through the rotations and don’t have the time to take time between reps, or slow down your swing so that you can focus on the proper technique.  After hours, whether at home or at the cages is where you will truly get better.  You can take your time while you focus on the proper technique; making sure that every swing has the proper movement.  You don’t have to worry about being rushed through to the next station.  The same type of deliberate practice can be done for improving your throwing mechanics; improving your footwork; or becoming more confident in your glove work.  There is simply not enough time during practice to work on what needs to be improved.

Read more, anything will do

In my previous post, I go into detail on the effects that reading can have on someone, and recommend some great books for players.  So, I won’t go into too much detail.  But, I do want to stress that it’s important to read books on various topics that can be applied to baseball; and not specifically baseball books.  My recommendation is to read books that help improve your mindset.  As Yogi Berra famously said, “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.”  Visit the Psychology or Mindfulness sections in the bookstore or library.  Baseball players need to gain control of their mental state.  As players get older, they begin to realize that the game is sort of like a chess match.  What is the pitcher going to throw next?  Where should I shift on this next pitch?  If he hits the ball there, where do I go?  The brain, like exercising muscles, can be made stronger.  Books are a great way to exercise the mind.  Reading psychology books can help you better understand how the brain works and how you can begin to take control of your thoughts.  Taking control of your thoughts is a first step towards taking control of your success.  Another suggestion is to read biographies.  Biographies are a great way learn how champions of the past became successful; or how certain individuals overcame great obstacles to achieve great things.  If you look at some of our great business leaders today, I am sure you’ll find that they all share a love for reading.

The change of your life starts TONIGHT

Players get home from practice tired, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, and sometimes both physically and mentally.  However, the players that rise to the top are the ones that push through that tiredness.  Those that never rise are those that give in to that feeling of being tired and tell themselves, “I’ll get in some extra work tomorrow.”  Those that push off their work will begin to justify why they can’t get in the extra reps; or why they never picked up a book.  Putting things off then becomes a habit; a habit they will likely never break.  We all get tired.  We all have the temptation of laying on the couch and watching TV.  But the successful players press on.  They put in the extra time.  They know that the feeling of being tired can one day be replaced with a feeling of success.    It’s not guaranteed; but they are giving themselves a chance to succeed.  Colin Powell, a retired four star general in the US Army and former Secretary of State, once said that “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”

The formula is quite simple; but the daily engagement in what needs to be done is where people struggle.  They know what needs to be done; but they’re not willing to sacrifice.  Take small steps to get you to where you need to be.  Don’t force yourself to immediately spend several hours a day working towards your goal if that is not what you’re used to doing.  Start with an extra 30 minutes each day for a few days.  Then gradually increase your time.  What I know you’ll see is a gradual improvement in your game.  Once you begin to see the rewards for your effort, you won’t stop.

Stay Young

Growing up, my mom didn’t have to worry too much about how to keep four baseball-obsessed boys busy during the summer months.  Throw a few balls out in the backyard, put some sandwiches in the fridge for lunch, and make sure there was a spare light bulb ready for the back light; just in case of a burn-out.  However, when it rained, she preferred to cart us to the local library.  Otherwise, she risked us tearing apart the house.

I grew fond of reading at an early age.  Fiction, Non-fiction, it didn’t matter.  I just loved to read.  My preference, though, was for biographies.  And of course I turned to biographies on the all-time greats of the game: Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, etc.  I think I favored the biographies to learn more about how these greats started.  What were they like as kids?  What did they do to get themselves in a position to be great?  I took notes and worked to apply what I read.  Ted Williams, to train his eyes, used to toss pebbles in the air and hit them.  So, naturally, I went outside, and instead of pebbles, used some acorns.  Ty Cobb’s reasoning for being ultra-aggressive on the bases was that he believed a defensive play was 3x harder than executing on the offensive side.  I then took that mindset into my games.

For me, reading was, and still is, a learning opportunity.  Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams, once said “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence.”  At The School of Baseball, we strive to keep young kids in the game as long as possible, with the understanding that what they learn over the years of playing, will help them in what they do outside the playing field.  To better educate players, it’s imperative that we also educate ourselves as coaches.

Below is a short list of our preferred reading list.  We recommend these books for players, parents and coaches.

Grit (Angela Duckworth)

The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle)

Mindful Work (David Gelles)

The Matheny Manifesto (Mike Matheny)

The Obstacle is the Way (Ryan Holiday)

There are many well-documented benefits of reading: expands vocabulary, reduces stress, improves memory, etc.  But, the one that can benefit youth baseball players the most is the knowledge it can give us as coaches.  From the list above, there is only one baseball-specific book.  But, all of the others listed provide us with insight into how we can help players with  improving the mental side of their game; or how they can improve their work habits; or how we can better train them.  When looking for a good book, think about what your players need the most or where you can use the most improvement as a coach.  Either way, I’m sure there’s a viable option for you.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”  – Henry Ford