True competitors never give in to “give up”

I love competition. Actually, I like to watch it far more than do it. I just don’t have that perpetual competitive fire burning inside me – at least, not like Bob does. I wish I did. Bob loves to compete; to make a game out of even the most mundane tasks. It’s in his DNA – and it drives me crazy sometimes. But, I believe the successes Bob has experienced coaching the Indians over the years, and even successes he’s achieved in the everyday things, have just as much to do with his “life is a game” mindset as they do with his total inability to regard losing as an option. Oh, he accepts losing, after the fact – game over, move on, no regrets (okay, “few” regrets), but never, ever is losing a notion his mind can even entertain DURING a game.

In his book, “The Heart and the Fist, the Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL,” Rhodes scholar and Navy SEAL Eric Greitens says that many SEAL candidates quit during some of the least rigorous physical challenges simply because they allow themselves to think about quitting. Once you open that mental door, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that you’ll go through it.

I thought a lot about competitive chutzpah, about winning and losing, as I read that book. And, if I look only to my own experiences, I would have to agree with Greitens. I’ve run in five marathons, but only completed three. I could always keep going strong until the moment I let myself think about how good it would feel when I stopped – and shortly thereafter, I almost always did. Bob, on the other hand, ran nine and finished nine marathons, not so much because he was such a stellar runner, but because he absolutely refused to quit.

Over the years, I’ve seen this same phenomenon play itself out time and time again among the Indians players too. It’s not always been the most gifted athletes who have excelled, but it was the ones who wouldn’t, or couldn’t allow themselves to give up.

When is a play not play?

Easy.  When it’s a trick.

Merriam Webster says both a play and a trick are “acts or maneuvers in a game,” but Webster tacks on to this common definition a caveat for  the word trick, and that is: “to achieve an end by deceptive or fraudulent means; an indiscreet or childish action.” Agreed Merriam.

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez played a “trick” on a Toronto third baseman by yelling “I got it!” as he ran past him. Ball drops. Three runs score. Poor form, Alex.

Recently a team the Mountville Indians competed against attempted a different trick – the infamous hidden ball trick. Equally poor form – but in this case, unsuccessful.

But it IS “legal.”  And so are lots of other things. But does that mean we should do them, or teach kids to do them? And, if the hidden ball trick is legal and such a good idea, why don’t more teams do it? “Because,” according to one veteran umpire with 44 years of experience under his chest protector, “it’s impossible to pull off.  It’s tried by youth managers who don’t know the rules.” (SOURCE: Yahoo Answers) More importantly, it cheapens a great game.

This isn’t about sour grapes. The Indians won that “hidden ball trick game” quite handily. This is about genuine disappointment. Disappointment that the “trick” was tried at all – and in our league; that the opposing coach was overtly proud of it; and on a larger scale, that something that is a “trick” by name and definition is even considered an acceptable “play” by some – just because it’s legal. It’s called a “trick” for a reason, and there’s no place or need for tricks in a game where real, well executed plays and well thought out strategies can, and should, suffice.

Immeasurable victories

Twenty-five years. One thousand games. Immeasurable victories. That’s the inscription prominently engraved in the wooden bat presented to my husband by this year’s team at last night’s game.

It was the occasion of a significant milestone for Bob, the Indians, and the community; the celebration of Bob’s 1,000th game coaching the Mountville Indians.

An assemblage of current and former players, parents of current and former players, friends, youth association leaders, and family gave up what began as a beautiful sunny Sunday evening – one eventually interrupted by a  light rain shower – just to be there; to show their support and share this special time with Bob. (“Thank you,” light showers for arriving at just the right moment, and in just the right amount to only briefly delay the game, create an opportunity for the celebration, and disguise a few happy and proud tears.)

The celebration was perfect! A trophy presented to Bob; a touching tribute written and read in his honor; messages from former players who couldn’t be present; cards bearing hand-written and heart-felt words of thanks and appreciation; a game ball autographed by this year’s players, who clearly thought it was pretty darn awesome to be on the team that reached this 1,000th game mark with Bob; a gift card to a favorite restaurant; and even flowers and a card for the coach’s wife (Thank you very much!) Friends and family all fittingly gathered informally around Bob’s truck to share in the moment, up-close and personal.  And then – the bat, the one that the boys on the team were visibly proud to present to their coach, and he was equally proud to receive.

Yes, it was an absolutely perfect evening; a good time to reflect on the many kinds of victories witnessed and experienced over 25 years of coaching; victories both individual and corporate, public and private, fleeting and enduring, insignificant and immeasurably – immeasurable.

You always have the choice

One of my favorite authors is Steven Covey. I like him because his ideas are practical and they can be applied almost universally. In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” one Covey-ism I especially like is: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.”

When I first read that quote just a few short months ago, I liked it so much that I highlighted it in bright orange. I couldn’t have known then how soon I would be leaning on that quote to give me strength and encouragement to face a very serious health issue.

Finding out that I had stage three ovarian cancer – the “stimulus” – initially engulfed me in a tsunami of emotion. I was nearly numbed, paralyzed – able to react, but not to respond. In time though, I realized the one thing I could do – no, I needed to do – to help myself was to “choose” how I would respond to a situation that I didn’t expect, couldn’t change, and really didn’t like one bit. So I made the choice to focus on the things within my own control – diet, exercise, rest, attitude etc. – and let go of everything else.

Despite my current health challenges, I’ve made it to quite a few Indians games this season.  I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with this team. These kids have talent. Over the season their baseball skills should grow even more. And, if they’re anything like so many other kids who have worn a Mountville Indians jersey, they’ll also grow in other important ways; ways that will matter far beyond the confines of a baseball diamond.

They’ll learn that things will happen that they don’t expect, can’t change, and really don’t like one bit. But if they’re paying close attention between the situations drills, batting practices, and game days, they’ll also learn that how they respond to those situations is always a choice – their choice. Sometimes it’s the only thing they actually can control. And recognizing that, then choosing well, will make all the difference.