In my second year of professional baseball, I didn’t know what to expect after playing short-season A in Elizabethton, Tenn. I got off the plane from Vancouver, BC, Canada in Fort Myers, Florida for minor league spring training. Not only was the heat of the sun overwhelming for my pale white Canadian skin, but so was walking into the clubhouse that first day. There were A LOT of baseball players, almost 200 of us. Dominicans, Venezuelans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Australians and two Canadians. (Just in case you missed it I wrote an article on this. (Just in case you missed it I wrote an article on this. Opportunity Can Hurt )
After spring training, I played in the Midwest League for the Fort Wayne Wizards. That was the year I went from a suspect to a prospect. I had a phenomenal year. I made the Midwest League All-Star team. I hit over .300 and had 16 home runs. It was one of those years where everything clicked; however, defensively, I was terrible. I think I broke the record for errors made by a third baseman in the Midwest League. But I was hitting. Jake Patterson, our first baseman, and I went back and forth for the home run lead on our team. The year came to an end when we lost to Battle Creek Michigan, the Red Sox farm team, in the first round of the playoffs.
I didn’t want that year to end! Everything I hit was on the screws. My swing felt soooooo good. I remember thinking, as we went into the offseason, I don’t want to lose this swing. I felt like I could play in the big leagues that year simply because of how good my swing felt.
Going into the offseason, because I didn’t want to lose my swing, I didn’t take any time off. I hit ALL year. I went from the beginning of September to the next spring training hitting two to three times a week.
My third professional season, I went into spring training feeling pretty good about my career. I started to get some press about being a “top Twins prospect;” however,I didn’t have the same sense of urgency as I had the year before. I wasn’t as mentally sharp. As I felt this, I thought, “When it gets closer to the season, I will just focus more.” Well, we got closer to the season, and I couldn’t flip the switch. I did move up a level to the Florida State League, and I played for the Fort Myers Miracle. It’s a tough league, because of the bigger field and the heat. I ended up hitting .260, or something like that. I got hurt three times. I pulled my hamstring twice! It was such a frustrating year, coming from Fort Wayne where my swing felt great and moving to Fort Myers where my swing felt terrible.
I tried to get that swing back, but it left me. I was so emotionally drained. After the year, I said, “I don’t care what happens to me the following year, but I need a mental blow.” So, I took September, October, November, and December away from baseball. All I did was work out and lift. I didn’t think about baseball. I didn’t pick up a bat for four months.
In January, I started to prepare for the next season. I remember grabbing that bat for the first time thinking how good it felt in my hands. Boy did I miss it. I started slow. The first time, I hit once that week. Then, I hit twice the next week. Then, three times, four times and so on. As we got closer to spring training, I was hitting every day to prepare. Going into that season, I had a purpose. I had intent behind everything I did. And, you know what? I had a great year.
What I learned as an athlete
An athlete’s biggest fear is that if we take time off, we will lose “it.” That is the biggest lie that I bought into as a young athlete. I needed a break. It is mentally impossible to be “on” for 12 months a year and practice with intent. I couldn’t train for baseball all year. It wasn’t that I needed a physical break, but I needed a mental blow. I had to get my mind right. The most important part of being good is practicing hard with the intent to get better. When I hit ALL year, I just went through the motions and developed bad habits.
How I apply this to business
If we are always on, then we are never off. We can’t possibly be go, go, go all the time. You’re “on” will never be 100 percent, if you don’t take a break from what you are “on” for. I struggle with this, because I’m going all the time. I am working on this as we speak. I am getting better, but still have a long way to go. (For those of you that are in business, DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO FOR THIS ONE)
How I apply this to youth sports and coaching
Back when my oldest was playing sports, they talked about specialization—kids playing one sport all year round. Now, however, there’s talk about how it’s better for kids to be multi-sport athletes. So, now what is happening is kids are playing multiple sports all year. There are no breaks. Kids are developing bad habits. They can’t possibly be “on” all year. And, once they develop a bad habit, they can’t just turn it off. If a kid is playing all year, it becomes really tough to bring the intensity and focus needed to get better. What makes me sad is the amount of money parents are spending on year-round training. If a sports trainer is worth their price tag, the first question they will ask is what else is your child doing? If they are doing too much, the trainer should refuse to work with them and tell the kid to rest.
I remember playing hockey. We played hard all season, and, bam, it was over. I wouldn’t go to another hockey rink until the following year for a pre-tryout camp. When I walked back into the arena, there was that first smell of hockey. I was so excited to be there, and I couldn’t wait to get on the ice. And, when I did, I had a purpose. If kids don’t have that excitement and purposeful intent when practicing, then it’s a tough road.
What would be the best thing? Take time off! Not two weeks or one month, but rather take three months off, minimum, from ALL activity related to that sport. Go to the lake, enjoy family time. I can tell you from my experience, if they play all year, they are not helping themselves. AND, IT GOES BY FAST! ENJOY YOUR CHILDREN!
Here is the podcast for this article
You can read more stories like this at www.linklete.com or just sign up to get them weekly into your mailbox at https://buff.ly/2Mta2a9