“Hit It To Me!”
As a kid baseball was a major passion of mine, as it was with many kids growing up in the 50s and 60s. We played every day after school, played Little League and Babe Ruth League. Many, like myself, played on high school teams — freshman, JV and Varsity.
From Little League on I generally played shortstop. I was quick, had a strong arm and certain leadership qualities. My head was in the game and my instincts had been fine-tuned from years of playing that position.
I liked keeping track of statistics, especially my personal stats so that I could improve them. For example, I had a batting average in the neighborhood of .385, second best on the team, in both by sophomore and junior years. (The best hitter each year hi .500, Tom Enos one year and Skip Hoy the other.) In short, I was competitive.
I also kept track of my fielding percentage and took quite a bit of pride in making very few errors. A key factor, besides practicing and drills, was a lesson in self-talk that I’d picked up from Mr. Dennison, our Junior Varsity coach.
Mr Dennison, my physics teacher Junior year, had also played pro baseball and knew a thing or two about the game. He’d been a pitcher, playing seven years in the minor leagues before being brought up at the end of a season with the Boston Red Sox. Sometimes Tom Enos and I were taken out of last period study hall so we could work on our hitting. He had a fierce, impossible-to-hit knuckle ball!
Somewhere along the way he shared an concept that resonated with me as a fielder, and has remained with me throughout my career. It had to do with our internal monologue during the game. When the pitcher is winding up, your self-talk should be, “Hit it to me.” What you’re saying is, “I’m the guy who can make the play.”
Losers have a different internal monologue going. Inside their heads they’re living a different story, a fear-based story, afraid of being the one who will bungle the play. The more that’s on the line, the more they are afraid. They’re saying to themselves, “Don’t hit it to me.”
That year at shortstop I made six errors in 22 games. Four of them came in a single game. Somehow I muffed a grounder, and on the next play there was a high fly ball that I failed to get under properly but should have had. Two errors in one inning. The next inning I made another error and mishandled another grounder.
When you’re out on the field, you have nowhere to hide. It’s humiliating.
At the end of the inning, I told Coach Dennison I wanted to be taken out of the game. He looked at me and said, “I’m the coach.”
After surviving the fourth inning I came off the field looking forward to my turn at bat. That’s when I heard Mr. Dennison say, “Erickson, bat for Newman.”
I loved hitting and looked forward to getting those swings in. Being taken out at that moment was painful.
I learned a couple lessons that day, and several from Coach Dennison those two years. The most important, though, had to do with our self-talk. In whatever endeavor I’ve set out to tackle, I am keenly aware of what’s happening in my head.
No, I don’t use self-talk to deceive myself regarding challenges like swimming the English Channel. I do, however, believe it is important to have a keen self-awareness as regards past achievements, strengths and weaknesses. My confidence is high when playing to my experience. Instead of saying, “I hope I can” we’re strongest when we’re saying, “I can.”
Confidence fuels motivation so that we see the end from the beginning. This is what motivational speakers mean when they encourage us to visualize the outcome at the outset, whether it’s hoisting a trophy or simply crossing the finish line in marathon you’ve never completed.
“Hit it to me” is a statement of faith of sorts. Others may falter, but I will not. I can do this. I’ll make the play. I did it before and I’ll do it again.