In high school I played shortstop on our softball team. The shortstop position involves fielding a lot of hard ground balls. You cover a large area, and with right-handed hitters, that space between second and third base is the sweet spot for cranking out solid hits. I remember getting regular egg-sized welts from softballs hitting my shins (after I missed them with my glove) and having bruises on my legs and hips from diving after ground balls hit too far to the side of me.
This got discouraging after a while. It’s hard to put 100 percent into something that can cause pain. But being timid about it just made it more likely for me to add another bruise to my collection. Thankfully, my softball coach gave our team some advice that helped me overcome my fear of imminent danger, and I think about it frequently, not just in terms of sports.
He talked to us about the importance of what we said to ourselves, our internal dialogue, while we were out on the softball field. He said we should constantly describe to ourselves the game situation, so that we wouldn’t get caught not paying attention, or not knowing where to throw the ball. For example, as shortstop I would be saying to myself: “There’s one out. The batter has one ball and one strike. There’s a runner on first base. If a ground ball comes to me and I pick it up cleanly, I’ll throw it to second base. If I bobble it, I’ll throw it to first base. If a pop fly comes to me outside of the infield, I’ll catch it and then check the runner at first . . . ”
With this kind of self-talk, I would be prepared, thereby lessening the likelihood of a mental error. But it also made my reflexes faster, because I didn’t have to second-guess myself. When you know exactly what you need to do in a situation before it happens, you can act more confidently and calmly, and reduce the number of unforced errors that occur.
Our coach also said that our mental discussion should include saying we want the ball to come to us. Not just that we know what to do if it comes to us, but that we’re hoping it will actually happen. I should be itching for the ball, wanting to be the one to make the play, even if the game is on the line. This is what really great athletes have down. They’ll visualize and practice the game-winning play with themselves as the key component. They want the pressure.
I started saying those kinds of things to myself in practice and games, that I wanted the ball to come to me and that I knew what to do when it did. And it helped me overcome the dread of getting another bump on my shin. But it’s helped me in other ways too. At work I can anticipate potentially tricky situations and prepare for them. I can be the one to volunteer to solve problems or take on a challenging client. And in the Church, this advice helps me be more willing to serve and grow. I can be on the lookout for opportunities to help where there’s a need, and when someone asks me to fill a role, I can be up for the challenge, instead of shrinking back.
It’s not always easy to have this kind of confidence. But we can look to God for the encouragement needed to step up to the plate. Second Corinthians 3:12 says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (English Standard Version).
Whether you're a softball player or not, I hope this advice can be helpful for you like it was for me, so that you can anticipate and prepare for the pressures of life, and move forward into them, instead of getting stuck on your heels.
Kourtney Kovanis, Managing editor | firstname.lastname@example.org