Pressure is all around us (part 1)

by Justin Brown, Assistant Baseball Coach at Mount Vernon Nazarene University (OH)

If you have been around the world of collegiate baseball for any time at all, certainly you are familiar with the concept of pressure. Pressure is all around the game of baseball itself, but especially at the college level. It’s not just on the field itself, but in the dugouts as well, pressure will follow anyone who is trying to make a career associated with this game. For athletes the pressure feels different and looks different than it does for coaches, however, pressure is certainly present for both athletes and coaches alike. The pressure that I am speaking of is not necessarily the nerves, doubt, and fear of failure that we find in the athletic realm. The pressure that I am speaking of is the worry/fear/gut wrenching angst that plagues us day in and day out, the fear that the course we are on may not actually come to be. This type of pressure is not a quick fix for a mental coach on how to throw strikes or make solid contact. Pressure has many forms.

When you are an athlete pressure takes its form in a number of ways. Maybe you were really successful at the college level, and quickly in to your career the potential to play professionally began to swirl around you. Pressure entered the game in the form of the scouts in the stands. Maybe you are were an upper classman starting shortstop, returning all-conference player and the coaching staff just signed a highly touted freshman at your position. Pressure may have taken the form of a threat to your playing time. Maybe your parents were way overbearing, in between games of a double-header your dad took you down the right field fence and told you all the things wrong with your swing, and how this needed to change right away in order to have success. Pressure may have taken the form of an external source draining the enjoyment out of a game you once loved. Or maybe you are the player that puts way too much pressure on yourself. You want to be great at what you do, you have goals way above your skill set, day in and day out you push yourself over and over again because you saw the movie “Rudy” and since that guy played at football Notre Dame you will be the next Derek Jeter. Pressure is all around us.

Coaches are not exempt from pressure either. The presence of scouts may not make your stomach turn in knots anymore but there is pressure surrounding coaches as well. Coaches in college baseball today may not want to admit it, or show weakness, but they are facing enormous amounts of pressure, much like the athletes. On one hand you may have pressure from the administration. Maybe there is talk of dropping the program. Or maybe you took a new head coaching job at a different school. The pressure to turn a program around in the right direction can keep many coaches up at night. The opportunity that once caused joy and celebration, when the phone rang, “We got the job!” may now cause dread, frustration, and self-doubt. Maybe you are new to the coaching realm, and the pursuit of climbing the career ladder is causing pressure. In your mind you are constantly day-dreaming about how to make the next career move, how to meet the right people, impress the coach of a program you are interested in with the ingenious new way you created to tamp the mound or throw soft toss at a camp in the summer. You hope the head coach sees you and says “I’ve never seen the field raked with such perfection-hire that man!” Or maybe you are feeling the pressure that all coaches new to the industry feel- financial pressure. You’re not making much money, you are finding ways to make ends meet as you pursue your dream, you are keeping your head above water but internally in your heart and emotions you are suffocating. You are worried about how you will pay the bills in the summer when your stipend runs out, you are worried about how in the world you will ever be able to have kids, how will the $6,000 stipend coupled with your wife’s teaching salary ever be able to put sneakers on “junior’s” feet or buy a house?

However the form, pressure is all around us in the collegiate baseball world. Players and coaches alike, face this nagging, unseen angst internally every day. When pressure enters your world in the form of the unknown all we really are after is relief. We want relief from the pressure that causes worry, fear, anxiety, angst. When it hits, and turns your stomach in knots, the one single thing you want is relief. In that moment, relief is all we care about. Maybe you cannot relate, maybe you are always on it and you just have pressure under control in your life, you do an incredible job just pushing back against the pressure, you are just the Derek Jeter, or Mariano Rivera of life, the pressure just doesn’t get to you. You may now adjust your halo and exit the conversation, but for the rest of us normal people, let’s carry on.

Keep an eye out for ‘Pressure is all around us- part 2’ next week!