Two of TPA’s showcase teams recently attended the WWBA National Championship in Cartersville, GA along with 344 other teams from all over the country. This is probably the biggest showcase event of the year on college coaches’ calendars. Events like these provide exposure high school athletes were rarely granted 20 years ago. A high concentration of scouts like this can provide an opportunity to save yourself from a mountain of college debt. But, along with the big stage comes significant pressure and stress. Moments like these often reveal the best competitors, while exposing any lack of confidence.
A lack of confidence generally comes from fear: the fear that you’re not prepared. The anxiety of the situation can turn the game you’ve loved and played your whole life into something completely foreign. You may ask yourself, “Have I really done enough to stand out against the best of the best?” Odds are, if you’re unsure then you probably didn’t prepare to the best of your ability. Every student knows that feeling of walking into a test they barely studied for. It’s no coincidence that the best athletes in sports (i.e. Lebron James, Tom Brady, Bryce Harper) ooze confidence. These superstars are also regarded throughout their leagues as the hardest workers off the field. Their confidence in their ability comes from the countless hours they’ve spent refining their craft.
As a millennial, I have trouble believing that an entire generation can be lazy or soft. I’ve coached plenty of hard working kids that pushed themselves to get better. However, I’ve also coached and played with a ton of gifted athletes that thought their past success and god given talent would be enough to lead them to the promised land. Soon enough, all these players get a big ole slice of humble pie. There always has and always will be someone bigger, faster, and stronger out there. But, you can train at a level that makes you seriously doubt that anyone out there has out-worked you.
A humble athlete stays grounded. A humble athlete doesn’t settle for where they are right now. Understanding that you’re one in a million drives you to get better. To be elite, you need to find a way to train with a chip on your shoulder. Being a teenager can leave you short of life experiences to drive you. Most current or former athletes have felt at some point like they were overlooked for a team, their primary position, or even just a starting spot. If this has happened to you, let it push you! Remember those disappointments when you don’t want to lift or run sprints. Even if you‘ve gone through the ringer, had a great travel season and are cruising through your senior year committed to play college ball, you still have to work. Train to beat out that other recruit coming in at your position. Look back at those other college coaches that didn’t want you. Use those doubters to push you through those 6am workouts. The best in the world at what they do always work like they have something to prove.
All these qualities that scouts look far and wide for are generally connected. A hard worker is prepared, which instills confidence. Confident players that have worked hard to prepare often succeed in the big spots. Obviously, some people are born with more talent than others. However, EVERYONE has the ability to create elite habits. Take pride in your work ethic at a young age so its second nature when the stakes get higher.
Of course, there are other factors that play a part in your chances of catching a scouts’ eye. Luckily, most are factors in every athlete’s control. Hustle is a no brainer. In baseball specifically, is a college coach likely to take a chance on a kid that can’t sprint 150 feet out to their position? Would a coach want a player that mentally and physically shuts down after failure? Can a staff count on a kid like that in a big, nationally televised conference game? The answer is no. As I’ve said before, college athletics involves long days of hard work. Through a coach’s lens, if a player can’t even sprint out the full 90 feet on a ground ball, he may not even make it through fall conditioning. If a player has taken 3 months to fill out a simple player questionnaire, that is a good sign that staying academically eligible will be a serious challenge. I’ll save the importance of academics for another day. But all of these simple habits that have hopefully been instilled in you since tee ball (energy, preparation, and attitude) provide a box for a potential suitor to check off. Let the downfall of your scouting report be related to ability. Check all the boxes you can control.
For me, showcase events were my only opportunities to get to the next level. I got my first elbow surgery in March of my junior year. The procedure put me on the shelf for my entire junior season, but all was not lost. When the doctor said I could be back to full strength by July that was all I needed to hear to push me. Yes, the rehab was boring and painful at times, but I knew what I wanted. I had a clear path set ahead of me and perhaps only one shot to show my capabilities. When the day finally came for me to pitch in front of hundreds of schools I had watched play on TV since I was in little league, I wasn’t nervous. Sure, I had butterflies. Most competitors with a pulse feel this to some extent before “the big game”. But I wasn’t scared. I knew I was prepared. I had put in the work laid out to me by the doctors and therapists, and then some. I used the people that doubted I would ever get back to normal to drive me through the monotonous scar massage and rotator cuff exercises. If the doctors said it would take a week to get full range of motion, I was going to get there in 3 days. There is no better source of confidence than having no doubt that you have done more to prepare for the moment than your opponent. This confidence allowed me to focus on the task at hand (getting outs) and propelled me to success on the big stage.
Take advantage of this off-season. Own a work ethic second to none. Work every single day to become a better athlete. If not, I can guarantee your competition is. Separate yourself from the pack with the little things. Train with a purpose. Train with a chip on your shoulder this offseason, so you can play free and confident when you get your big shot.