Stay Within Yourself
I am out in California today and have been since last Friday. While out here I had a conversation with a teenage catcher and it prompted me to write this article as I am sure it is something that a lot of young athletes need to hear.
Most of us have heard this advice at some point, "stay within yourself." What does that actually mean though? How many of us truly grasp this concept and apply it to our game? I know for me I did everything I could as a young athlete to "stay within myself" but I know I was always trying to do more than I could. I can recall my senior year in high school thinking I should hit a home run every single game. The previous year I hit a home run every other game. I know that I had the ability to the ball out every swing, but that was not even close to realistic. No chance it would happen. I can remember hitting a homer on my first pitch my senior year and thinking it was going to happen. As you can probably guess, I started swinging out of my shoes every single at bat after that one to keep hitting homers and ended the season with just three. I thought I was staying in myself by trying to hit a homer every game, a completely unrealistic goal. So by swinging as hard as I could on every pitch I was swinging outside of my abilities. Had I dialed it back just a bit, then I definitely would have had more success by making more solid contact, and in turn, potentially hitting more home runs. But instead, I tried to force it. I had too high of expectations for myself and I couldn't reach them.
My favorite example of a player who stays within himself and never does too much is Robinson Cano. Have you every watched him play? His swing is as smooth as anyone's. He never over does it at the plate. He swings with controlled aggression, not as hard as he can every time. And at second base, you rarely see him dive for balls he can't get. A lot of people over the years have described that as being lazy, but in the case of Cano I can assure you he is most definitely not being lazy. The thing about Cano is he knows his skill and range so well, he is not going to try to go past what he already knows are his limits. This actually makes him a better, more productive player because he isn't out there diving for balls that could get him hurt for no reason.
So for you young players out there who put too high of expectations on yourselves, my encouragement is to set lofty but realistic goals. I encourage you to learn your limits. See what you can do and stick with that. Sometimes the goals placed on us by coaches or parents can be too high and it is no fault of our own to reach for such high standards, but as an athlete you have to be mature enough to know what you can and can't do. The onlookers usually don't know because they are not out there trying to do what you are doing. You are the one playing the game. You know what you can and cannot do better than anyone else. Trust your own abilities and do as much as you can without trying to do more than you are capable. This will reduce your stress and help you to be a better player while you maximize your true talents rather than trying to play at a higher level that doesn't exist for you.
So what might this look like for you? Don't expect to block every ball in the dirt. This one is probably the biggest one for catchers that I see guys beating themselves up over. They along with their parents and coaches expect to block every ball that touches the dirt but this just simply will not happen. It is absolutely impossible. That is why we have a category in baseball for wild pitch because sometimes it is just a bad pitch on the part of the pitcher and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. You will not block every ball in the dirt. The best in the world don't even do that. Don't expect yourself to get a hit every at bat. Don't expect yourself to hit a homer every game. Don't expect yourself to throw out every base runner. Don't expect yourself to never drop a caught pitch. There is not a single player on the planted who has never made an error, never struck out, or never screwed up. We all do. I can remember playing in the college world series and throwing a ball into center field on a throw down to second. The runner got to third. Was I upset with myself? Absolutely. But there was more game to play, the play was over, and I had to focus on the next pitch and do my best in each moment. Mistakes happen, sometimes at the worst time, but they still happen. Learning how to accept mistakes and continue to play at a high level is so important for your success as an athlete.