If you ask any of the player who have played for my teams over the last thirty years, or any of the thousands of players who have taken a lesson or a clinic from me they will tell you never give Coach Loveless an excuse, even if it’s legit.

Many years ago I had twins who played for me. These young ladies were masters of the excuse. Here are a few they attempted to throw my way, when explaining a bad throw to first…

    1. It’s too early (morning game)
    2. It’s too late (night game)
    3. It’s too wet
    4. It’s too dry
    5. It’s too bright out (day game)
    6. It’s hard to see under the lights (night game)
    7. The seams of the ball are to small
    8. The seams of the ball are to high
    9. The ball came too fast
    10. The ball came too slow
    11. The ball was to my right
    12. The ball was to my left
    13. The infield is too rough
    14. The infield is too smooth compared to the last infield that was too rough.

I could go on but by now you get the idea. No matter the conditions, or the situation, the twins had an excuse for everything that went wrong. And the twins delivered these exuses freely, openly and with total confidence.

But there was a problem. These excuses, as all excuses do, stunted their progress and improvement. Why? Because if they made a bad throw, and this bad throw was caused by a day game, then it wasn’t their fault and there was no reason for them to look to change or adjust anything. And if you are not looking to change or adjust then you are not going to fix what you are doing that is the cause of the poor performance.

As a result the twins performance plateaued out. Other players began to pass them up. Finally one of them came to me in tears.

“Coach, I feel like a falling behind. What do I need to do to fix it?”

Finally, we had reached the threshold of success. The mind was ready for the teacher.

My response, “I know what you need to change. But are you willing to do whatever it takes, no excuses?”

Yes, Coach!

OK then, I want you to get rid of all your excuses. No more excuses, for any reason. Here’s why. The moment you give an excuse your brain understands that this is the reason for the failure and so it ceases to look for a cause beyond the excuse. As a result, the moment you make an excuse you cease to improve.

Although reluctant, this twin agreed to try it, and within a couple weeks her performance had made a noticeable improvement. So noticeable that her twin also approached me and we made the same agreement.

By the end of the year the twins were among our top fielders.

What is it about an excuse that carries so much power? It has to do with how our brains work. Our brains do not question the information we feed it. It simply acts upon that information. So when we give our brain an excuse, it says, “OK, that’s the reason for the bad performance so I’m done. No use to look any further. No need to look at my performance. No need to change or adjust. We will just keep doing the same thing.” As a result there is no improvement.

There is much science behind this truth. One of the books that is required reading for the players on my Elite Fastpitch Summer Team is Shad Helmstetter’s book “What To Say When You Talk to Yourself”.

In Chapter 9, “The Five Levels of Self-Talk” Shad discusses Level One Self-Talk where we say things like…

    1. I can’t…
    2. If only I could…
    3. I wish I could, but I can’t…

This level of Self-Talk is in line with an excuse. I can’t make a good throw because it is too wet, or too dry, or too early, or too late… etc. I wish I could, but I can’t because it is a day game, or a night game, or the seams are too high or too low…etc.

The moment we give an excuse we are telling our brain “I could, if, but I can’t, because”. As a result our brains have not only solved the problem and no longer seek to get better, but the excuse leaves a negative program in our mind that is called up on the next play. So the pattern repeats.

The players on my Elite Summer Team are high school players 15 to 19. I also give lessons to 8,9 and 10 year olds. Age makes no difference. The brain works the same way regardless of age. When one of my players or students gives me an excuse everything stops and we discuss it. We do not move forward until she says out loud the excuse was wrong. And then she says out loud what she needs to think about in order to execute the proper performance on the next play, pitch or swing.

An example of this would be the SAAP (Self Adjusting Pitching Process) the process that I developed for our pitchers. The following is how SAAP works.

A pitcher throws a pitch to the right off the target.

    1. Step One: She is required to identify the pitch was off target and acknowledge it.
    2. Step Two: She is required to state out loud where she wants the next pitch… “To the left” or even better, “To the right corner of the plate or to the left corner of the plate.” (You might think it would be better to say, “over the plate” but the plate is too big a target. The brain needs more precise information to execute the task correctly.)
    3. Step Three: This is the step that is usually missed. The pitcher has to say, to herself or out loud, HOW she gets the pitch to that spot. What adjustment does she make to deliver the pitch to that spot.

Step Three is the key. It takes the pitcher from I did not throw a strike because it was too far to the right. It takes her from what she WANTS to do on the next pitch. Why is this important? Because she wanted to throw a strike on the previous pitch, but did not. So wanting to throw a strike on the next pitch leaves her in the same thought process she had on the previous pitch that was not a strike. As a result HOW she threw the previous pitch is still in her head, so she is most likely to repeat the same bad pitch.

However, by stating what she is going to do to move the pitch to the left, or to the inside corner, takes the brain out of the last pitch and into the new process for the new pitch. This simple step breaks the pattern of “I can’t, because I just tried, but it didn’t work.” Now we are in the pattern of “This is what I do to throw a strike.” This then leads to “I will throw a strike.”

How effective is this. My Elite Summer Team charts every pitch and the result of that pitch. What we have found is when our pitchers use the SAAP System outlined above, and they throw a bad pitch, if we come back with that same pitch, 80 to 90 percent of the time they hit their spot. This is slightly higher than the percentage of spots hit when the pitchers transition from one pitch to another pitch.

The result of this is simple — even after failing on one play, if a player takes mental charge of the process, in the end she will increase her odds of success.

To be perfectly clear, the SAAP example given above, is a form of Self-Talk.

For more information on Self-Talk see Shad Helmstetter’s book, “What to Say When You Talk to Yourself”. Another of Shad’s books that is related to this topic is The Power of Neuroplasticity.

© 2014, Greg Loveless. All rights reserved.

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