7 Lessons that Baseball & Softball Teach Us about Life“Experience is the teacher of all things.” — Julius Caeser
Most children spend countless hours sitting in school being told what to learn and what they need to know. Then students cram information into their uninspired minds, only to regurgitate the information onto a test in the specific format that the teacher requires. While following directions is an important life skill, I believe that this skill, along with many others, can be learned more effectively from experiences and actions outside of the classroom.
As a lifelong athlete and current coach, my bias leans towards large fields and baseball diamonds to serve as better “life classrooms.” Playing sports, or more specifically baseball and softball, can teach athletes many lessons about determination, working with others, themselves, and life in general. Below is a list of 7 important life lessons that baseball and softball teach us.
- “The name on the front is more important than the name on the back”
This is first on the list because it is invaluable in nearly all aspects of life. Being part of a team teaches us gratitude, putting personal differences aside for group goals, and how to be a good teammate.
Successful baseball or softball teams are guided by a “team-first” mentality. In other words, all coaches and players base their decisions on what is best for the team first and what is best of the individual second. The” team-first” guiding principle forces athletes to ask themselves three important questions:
1) What can I do to best serve my team?
2) How would I feel if my teammates were acting as I am?
3) How do I fit into this team and organization?
Using these questions to guide their actions, athletes learn to become more coachable and receptive to feedback, they understand that the gravity that brings athletes together for a team goal is stronger the differences amongst individuals, and working hard for the people standing next to you is more rewarding than doing it just for yourself.
- Failure is a tool for success
The best baseball and softball players fail 7 out of every 10 times that they step into the batter’s box. Therefore, the best players in the world use failure to build better skills instead of destroying their confidence. Failure gives us an opportunity to improve by highlighting our weaknesses and areas that we need to improve.
For example, if a batter only sees outside pitches during a game and goes 0-3 with two strikeouts and a weak groundball to second base, then they have a few options. They can make excuses like, “the pitcher was too good,” or “the umpire’s strike zone was too big,” or the athlete can realize that they don’t see outside pitches very well and that they aren’t very skilled at hitting pitches on that side of the plate. With the second mindset, the athlete has just learned something about themself and now has a new area to focus on during their future training sessions.
Whether someone is trying to execute a new recipe or learning how to improve their photography skills, they can apply these principles of self-evaluation and adjusting practice habits to enhance any skill. The take away from this life lesson is that it’s only a failure if you don’t learn from your mistakes.
- Success is a pitstop, not a destination
Despite being based on failure, baseball and softball also teach important lessons about success as well. First of all, success is earned, not given. Therefore, when a player reaches the level of skill required to succeed, they can easily identify their hard work, dedication, and consistency as the roots of their positive results. One might ask, what if the athlete doesn’t experience success? The answer is simple. They are yet to discover the importance of these driving factors that foster positive results.
Additionally, experiencing positive results in these games based on failure will undoubtedly boost the confidence of the athlete. However, these boosts in confidence are short-lived, as baseball and softball continue to challenge the athletes every pitch and every play. If an athlete spends too much time celebrating their success, then they will not be prepared for the next challenge coming their way. Moreover, this is one of the most important lessons that the games offer. Success is temporary. Therefore, it is essential for players to remain humble and striving for never-ending improvement.
One of the best ways to achieve anything in life is to set goals. However, once a goal is accomplished, it is crucial to set new goals with new challenges for people to maintain a sense of greater purpose and fulfillment.
- A leader knows, goes, and shows the way
The differentiating factor between middle-of-the-road teams and top tier teams is not skill level. Rather, it is their leadership. This does not mean designating a “captain” or even paying a professional coach to design practices and gameplans. In baseball and softball, leaders naturally arise by leading from the front.
Leaders always give their best effort, listen to their coaches’ feedback, respect everyone involved with the game, and never put themselves above anybody else. By demonstrating the “right” way to be a teammate, these leaders give a tangible example for others to emulate. If everyone can act in a similar way, then the team will experience the joys of team success. While this is the recipe for good leadership in baseball and softball, it also applies to the classroom, workplace, and even to groups of friends and family.
When seeking to make a difference, it is always a useful strategy to be the change you want to see in the world. This is really another way of saying “lead from the front.” If you want your teammates to work harder during practice, then you must be the hardest worker on the field, or if you want to have better communication with your family, then be the one to reach out to family members instead of unhappily waiting and wishing for something better.
- The limitations of control
Regardless of the amount of preparation that goes into a baseball game, there will always be many factors that are uncontrollable, like the umpires, weather, field conditions, and the play of the opponents. With the being said, there are always two things that can be controlled: attitude and effort.
The importance of controlling attitude and effort exhibit themselves in a couple of key ways. First, you must take advantage of your opportunities as a player. Every practice is an opportunity to demonstrate high levels of effort and a positive attitude, while also developing your skillset. An amazing quote about this is, “You think that practice is boring? Trying sitting on the bench.” From a coach’s perspective, the athlete who always gives a genuine effort and supports their teammates will be given opportunities over someone with a similar or slightly higher skill, but rarely demonstrates productive attitudes and efforts.
Secondly, controlling one’s attitude and effort in the game is just as important. Sometimes the umpire makes a call that we disagree with, the ball hits off a rock and takes a bad hop, or we simply make an error. Despite the rush of emotions that floods the athlete’s mind, it is imperative to remain calm and collected because the game continues to press forward. So, the quicker that an athlete can regroup and refocus, then the faster they can contribute to the team, which they are lucky to be a part of.
Whether you are a student that thinks the questions on a test aren’t fair or you’re tasked to work on a project with a co-worker whom you dislike, the variables that you can control are the same: your attitude and effort. Life, much like baseball and softball, isn’t fair. It’s a hard reality that everyone must accept. However, successful people will always maintain a positive attitude and a high-level of effort because ultimately, your life is what you think.
- Developing a strong work ethic and long-term goals.
When asked about his work ethic, Jerry Rice, NFL Hall of Fame Wide Reciever said, “I’m going to do today what other people aren’t willing to so I can do tomorrow what other people can’t.” While Jerry Rice isn’t a baseball player, the driving force behind this go-getter mentality is useful in many areas of life.
Anyone who has begun an arm-strengthening program knows that there’s nothing flashy about it. The majority of work comes from strengthening and adding flexibility capabilities to specific muscles for throwing, which, spoiler alert, don’t make the biceps or the pecs bigger! Rather, there are many isolation movements that require resistance bands and light-weight dumbbells. You get the burning sensation of a good triceps pump, yet it’s without the visual benefits of seeing your muscles in the mirror. Nevertheless, these exercises are essential for making the progress that you want to see on the diamond.
Moreover, your arm strength or your batting abilities do not improve with a single session, or even in a couple of weeks for that matter. Instead, it is a long process involving the breaking down of your current skills, going back to the basics to re-build a better foundation, and then repetitions on top of repetitions on top of repetitions for newfound mastery. While the amount of dedication is daunting to many who wish for greatness, the athletes who achieve great things have a vision, make a plan, and take a step closer to their goal every day. This cycle is never-ending and there is no finish line. As long as there’s a drive to improve, then there are areas to improve upon.
- Performing in the spotlight
Baseball and softball are undoubtedly team sports. However, the spotlight shifts from player to player as the ball quickly travels around the field. For example, there is only one player batting at a time, and they are the only one who can successfully hit the ball or record an out. Therefore, baseball and softball players must remain calm and collected when it’s their “time in the spotlight.” Players who perform the best in the spotlight approach the pressure-filled situations with confidence.
Confidence in sports comes from two main factors: 1) preparation, and 2) not fearing failure. When a player is well-prepared and satisfied with their current abilities they can be confident that they can successfully perform the task at hand. They know that they have practiced the situation before with success, and they feel confident to do it again. However, without strong preparation, the player truly doesn’t know if they can accomplish the task, which leads to fear, hesitancy, and second-guessing oneself.
Minimizing the fear of failure is also essential for fostering confidence. In this article, we have discussed that a major component of baseball and softball is failure, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nevertheless, understanding that failure is part of the game allows for athletes to approach the game in a unique manner.
For example, a player with a fear of striking out will not take their strongest swings while focusing on simply making contact. In certain situations, this is very useful, but an entire team cannot have this approach and expect to win. Conversely, a player who does not fear failure will try to hit the ball hard by performing their best swing with an understanding of which pitches they hit the best. Sure, they may swing and miss more often than the timid player striving for contact, but they will also hit more line-drives, doubles, and home runs. So, accepting but not fearing failure during these challenging games will actually instill more confidence in the athlete.
In life, similar to baseball and softball, a few quick moments have lasting consequences on our lives. By sufficiently preparing ourselves and not being afraid of failure, we can confidently take on our few, yet incredibly important times in the spotlight.
If you made it this far, then congratulations for utilizing your growth mindset and determination to learn more. Let’s allow the words of one of the greatest athletes and competitors of all time, Kobe Bryant, to emphasize the importance of learning from sports.
“Sports are the greatest metaphor we have in terms of dealing with life. Even if you listen to music, music will give you guidance that you can meditate on and think about how you will apply it. In sports, you have to apply it in the here and now. You are faced with challenges from moment to moment. You are faced with pressures and anxiety, communication, or the lack thereof. It’s in the moment. So, you have to live with it. When you practice those things, you become better at it.” -Kobe on Jay Shetty’s podcast, OnPurpose.
— Zack Wade, CSCS