Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Confidence to Play

In most areas of life, you need to have a basic skill set to be good at something. Baseball is no different. But the good thing is that most skills can be learned, practiced and developed. While we are each given a unique set of skills and interests, if we truly want to become better at a particular craft, we can. It will just take hard work, patience and discipline. 

It is one thing to learn a skill, but it can be a different experience to put it into action, especially if you are standing on a baseball diamond. And if you are lucky enough to pitch, you are on the pitching mound with every eye in the stands, on the bench and on the field watching. 

Baseball skills are specific physical tools that help you perform on the field. Confidence is the characteristic that you need to succeed. Maybe you are the best player on your team, pitch the fastest in your league or are just an average kid looking to have fun. You won’t be able to maximize your talent if you aren’t confident in your abilities. 

Confidence is knowing and believing that in the batter’s box, on the mound, in the field or in any other area of athletics, and even life, that you are not only good at what you are doing, but also prepared to perform. 

So how is confidence developed? 

Confidence is built through success, which comes from preparation. Success usually comes by developing and refining your natural abilities. Developing skills the right way will make a better player. A player that has a better skill set will have success and build confidence. 

Please don’t think that you have to be the best player on your team or in your league to have confidence in your abilities. All that is required is belief that you are good enough. It doesn’t matter what your coach, parent, teammate or opponent thinks. You have to believe in you. 

Confidence is always a work in progress because your talent is always a work in progress. The more talented you become, the more your confidence should grow. As your confidence grows, you won’t worry about what others think. You believe in yourself.

My first college coach, Lawrence Nesselrodt, told us that to be successful in baseball you have to “play arrogant and practice humility.” Have total confidence in your talent, in any situation, but keep it to yourself. There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Make sure you stay on the confidence side. 

For several years, after I received my driver’s license, my dad and I would change the brakes on our family cars. I was able to practice five or six times. By the time I went away to college, I knew how to change the brakes. I have never changed the brakes on any vehicle by myself.

I may have known how, but I didn’t have the confidence to try it on my own.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Warrick Dunn

Warrick Dunn was an NFL running back. After a college career at Florida State, Warrick was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 1997 season. But being an NFL running back isn't the story. Winning the 2010 Humanitarian Heisman is.

He played with the Bucs from 1997 to 2001, then jumped ship to play with the Atlanta Falcons from 2002 until 2007, missing the Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII championship in 2003. He finished his career by returning for a final season in Tampa Bay in 2008.

In his career, he ran for just under 11,000 yards and 49 touchdowns and caught another 15 TDs.

Warrick Dunn grew up in a single parent home. His mother was a police officer and worked off-duty security shifts to make extra money. When Warrick was eighteen, his mother was killed in a robbery without achieving her dream of owning a home.

After making it to the NFL, Warrick started the Homes for the Holidays which assists single parents in purchasing their own home. Later, the Warrick Dunn Family Foundation was established to provide additional services to single parents.

By the end of 2010, Warrick will have helped 100 single parents achieve home ownership. He provides down payment assistance and new furniture. More than anything, he provides hope.

Many people struggle through life and are hopeless. While most of us cannot provide new homes or furnishings, all of us can provide a smile, a word or a gesture. Too many people walk around the world in their own little world - not speaking or even making eye contact with others.

Take the time to check on a neighbor or smile at strangers in the grocery store. Learn a lesson from Warrick. Life is more than ourselves. It is about the people and the world around us. Do your part.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sal Alosi

Until last night, Sal Alosi was not a household name. And while his name still may not be, if you watched any of the NFL games from yesterday, his actions did not go unnoticed.

The New York Jets' strength and conditioning coach is in the middle of his 15 minutes of fame.

Alosi was on the sidelines as Miami Dolphins' cornerback Nolan Carroll was covering a punt (with two Jets' players already blocking him) and was forced out of bounds. Carroll was running by Alosi, when Alosi leaned his knee into Carroll's way, tripping him. Carroll was shaken up on the play, had to be attended to by Dolphins' training staff and eventually walked off on his own.

Most of us have no idea what kind of person Sal Alosi is and I am not going to use my blog as an opportunity to shout how terrible he is or call for him to be fired (though I think it may be appropriate).

One thing is for certain, Sal Alosi used extremely poor judgment. And I don't want to hear that it was an accident (Alosi admitted it wasn't) or that it was instinct (if you watch the NFL, players that cover punts are forced out of bounds and run out of bounds often). He purposely tripped Nolan Carroll.

Was it because the Jets were losing? Was it that they were playing so poorly and he was trying to get an unconventional edge?

Whatever his intentions were, I will only make two points about Sal Alosi's actions. They were unprofessional and unsportsmanlike.

No matter what level you play at (and in life in general) - little league to major league and everywhere in between - three things should be expected. You will try as hard as you can, no matter your talent. You will practice good sportsmanship. And you will act professional (even if you are not).

I'm not questioning Sal Alosi's work ethic. I can only imagine the sacrifice it takes to make it to the level he has. And it is unfortunate that most people who have seen the play will now say that his is not professional and not sportsmanlike.

Sal Alosi could be both on a day-to-day basis. But one play has changed the perception of him.

And one moment is all that it takes to change the perception of us all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jim Marshall

For the last two years, and the last several days in particular, a lot of the sports media has been commenting on the ongoing Brett Favre saga. Brett has made 297 consecutive starts. After suffering a sprained shoulder on a tackle on the third play of this past Sunday's Minnesota game against the Buffalo Bills, his status is in question for Sunday's game.

Will Brett make consecutive start number 298 this coming Sunday against the New York Giants seems to be one of the questions of the week. But I would argue that it isn't the most impressive streak in the history of the NFL.

Punter Jeff Feagles, whose 22 year career spanned the Patriots, Eagles, Cardinals, Seahawks and Giants, played in 352 consecutive games, though he isn't at the top of my list either.

Who is? Defensive end Jim Marshall. Jim Marshall played 20 seasons from 1960 thru 1979. The 1960 season was with Cleveland and the other 19 years he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Jim Marshall played in 282 consecutive games in the NFL.

But how can I say that Marshall, who played less games than Favre, owns a more impressive streak?

I understand that Favre is a quarterback and he has been sacked 524 times over his entire 20 year career (301 total games). And while that sounds like a lot, it ends up being about 1.75 times per game. And when you factor in the number of times Brett Favre has been hit after a throw and knocked down, he may get touched 10 times a game.

I'm not trying to dismiss or disrespect or discount what Favre has done. It is amazing. Cornerbacks and linebackers hit him from behind without him seeing them coming. Defensive lineman fall and hit him below the knees. Any defensive player has looked to get a good hit on him after an interception or in a scramble for a fumble.

But Jim Marshall played defensive end for 282 straight games. Brett Favre may get hit 10 times per game. Jim Marshall was hit on every single play he played. Not only on certain plays or every other play. Every play Jim Marshall played, he was lined up across from the line of scrimmage with an offensive lineman whose sole purpose was to prevent Jim from reaching his quarterback.

And Jim Marshall played in an era where opponents were able to get away with a lot more. Hands to the face, blows to the head, diving at knees. So to think that Jim Marshall never missed a start in 20 seasons isn't remarkable. It is unbelieveable.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Casey Peters

If I told you that Casey Peters is a collegiate success story, most of you would have no idea who I was talking about. Casey Peters is not a household name. Casey Peters is a 6'4" senior guard for the Duke Blue Devils.

He has never scored a point, has only three career rebounds and one career steal. He has played in 10 career games for a total of 16 minutes.

With numbers like that, why do I call Casey Peters a success?

Casey spent his first two years at Duke as a student manager - helping with practice and in the weight room among other things. After practice, he would work on his basketball skills and in the weight room, improving his game and body.

Similar to the story of Notre Dame football icon Dan "Rudy" Ruettinger, who walked on and eventually played for the Irish, and whose story inspired the 1993 movie, Rudy, Casey earned his way onto the Blue Devils roster as a junior. He was awarded a walk on spot for the 2009-10 season and earned a scholarship for the 2010-11 season.

Casey Peters may not be a household name and he won't be an NBA draft pick. But here's hoping that Casey Peters will get his opportunity to score a handful of points, even if it is at the end of blowout win. He already has won an NCAA championship and Duke is the early season favorite to repeat.

Casey obviously had a goal and was willing to work as hard as it took to accomplish his goal. I'm rooting for Casey and it's nice to see his hard work be rewarded.