It is so often said that it has become cliché: athletes need to have short memories.
- A quarterback throws an interception, he needs to forget it and get right back on the field.
- A guard gets beat on a wicked cross-over, he better be ready to bring the ball back up court.
- A pitcher gets taken deep, he needs to get a new ball from the umpire, climb back up on the hill, and attack the next hitter.
We hammer this into our kids, and deride them when they “take that at bat into the field”.
However, have you ever heard a former player interviewed? More often than not, they can recall – with precision – every moment of their career. Basketball players can tell you the score, the time on the clock, who set the pin screen, and who was the help defender, before they hit the big shot. Pitchers can tell you the inning, score, batter, and sequence of pitches prior to giving up the big homerun. Before Tony Gwynn made watching video an integral part of baseball preparation, players relied on their memory – of moments, pitches, tendencies – in order to be successful.
It turns out, having a short memory is only good in the moment. But having a long memory makes you a better player, a better storyteller, and, in many cases, a better human being.
For many years now, I have sat either on a bucket or in the stands and spouted that bromide about “short memory” to my son and to others. My hope was that they would “hit it and move on” (as a former professor used to say). But, I am not sure that was always the best advice.
Pete Carroll is the cover story for this week’s Sports Illustrated. Here is a guy who has coached on the biggest stages, made some of the biggest decisions, and failed – twice – in the biggest of moments. But he doesn’t forget. His memory isn’t short. Rather, he remembers; he learns. He takes those memories, chooses not to ignore them. He says that when those memories “bubble up, I’m going to think about it . . . and use it. Use it!”
When faced with adversity, how do you respond? Do you melt under the weight of failure, or do you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and persevere? In short, do you “use it” – use the memory of prior failures to have future success?
Not to go all psychological mumbo-jumbo again, but Angela Duckworth (a psychology professor at Penn and a frequent TED Talker) will tell you that if you are passionate and have perseverance, you have that inexplicable, enigmatic, mysterious trait known grit. Think about it, can you define, in ten words or less, the meaning of “grit”? Try it . . . without using human examples. It’s easier said than said. More likely than not, it sounds like this: “You know, he is a Dustin Pedroia-type . . . He plays like Wes Welker . . . He makes the most of his ability, like David Eckstein.” To put it succinctly, so you can wow future dinner party guests, if you are passionate and persevere, you have grit.
As I have often expounded about (too often, I am sure, for some of you), I have had the great pleasure of watching an incredible baseball team over the past three summers. Some of the players have changed, but the core has remained the same; the coaching staff has remained the same; and by-in-large, the outcomes have remained the same. What has been different, however, is the manner in which these outcomes have been achieved.
Two summers ago, this team ran roughshod over the competition, losing only once en route to a state championship. Last summer, this team faced adversity on the first day, and in one game, pulled it out. They faced unbeatable odds later that week, and in one inning, they pulled it out. For whatever reason, this summer the task became that much more difficult. This summer, the boys didn’t need to pull through for just a single inning or a single game. No, these boys had to remain passionate and had to persevere for days on end; back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Try keeping a 12-year old’s attention for four hours, let alone four days. And yet, these boys did it . . . twice. Seven times in less than two weeks these boys faced elimination, and on six of those occasions, they persevered. (We will get to the seventh in a minute.)
I don’t recount this story to brag or to shine any particular light on any particular kids (however worthy they may be). Rather, I do so to highlight lessons that can be learned at an early age that can be used for the rest of their lives.
Winning is easy . . . psychologically so. Losing, too, can be easy – it can happen quickly, and then it is over. And if you are 10, 11, 12 years old, the pain disappears as quickly as the grass stains on the pants. But staring failure in the face and overcoming it, time and again, that is hard. That is when you take measure of a man (or woman). That is when you determine whether or not someone possesses grit.
Our boys couldn’t prevail in that seventh attempt. But man did they fight. Chasing runs four different times in seven innings; tying the game three different times; down four in extra innings and still bringing the tying run to the plate before it ended. They fought, they battled, often with tears in their eyes. They had grit. And now they have to deal with that feeling of working so hard; coming so close; of falling just short. A decade’s worth of life lessons learned in two weeks, typified in two hours. They failed greatly.
Life is hard. More times than can ever be considered fair you are faced with adversity. The question is, how do you deal with that? If you are blessed with fortuna, you won’t be faced with too much until you are theoretically old enough to handle it. Some us aren’t so lucky. Some of us get hit at an early age and are forced to persevere.
Parenting is hard. We, as parents, want nothing more than to take away our children’s pain. We would love to cushion the fall or avoid the fall altogether. But that is a disservice. When our kids feel the pain, when they overcome the pain, when they have memory of the pain, they can use the pain to (hopefully) avoid that pain again. But don’t fear the pain. Find something your kid is passionate about, allow them to fail, encourage them to persevere, instill in them grit. That may be the greatest gift you ever give.
I – and many others – have been lucky enough to have had my son play baseball for a group of coaches (no names required, they know who they are) who inspired passion and encouraged perseverance. A group of men so dedicated to the effort, so singularly focused on the bigger picture (a potential oxymoron, I know), that they may not have even known what they were teaching, day-in-day-out, was grit. And, for two weeks now, we have been fortunate enough to see that grit on display nearly every day/night. On behalf of a large collective, I say “thank you”. On behalf of my son, who, while wise beyond his years, is simply too young to truly understand the gift that has been bestowed upon him, I say “thank you”.
Little League Baseball is over. For some, for a few months; for others, forever. But the losses endured, the lessons learned, the love of game cemented, and the true grit instilled, those are the ultimate take-aways. I will look back on these years; these past three summers; these past two weeks, and forever tell my son: “Use it!”
Now, the MLB trade deadline is a few hours away; let’s get ready for the Dog Days; and know that October is just two months away . . .