Think the Game

Bad Practice Habits

The Situation:

It’s a bullpen day for fall ball, which means that Jake is going to be catching a lot of pens. He’s the starting catcher for Big Time U, and this is his least favorite part of the season. Since NCAA time is limited, pitchers all bullpen on the same day, one after the other, after the other, for what seems like an eternity. The catchers rotate in and out. Jake is on his 4thbullpen, not even a guy he expects to pitch much. He starts getting lazy with his set up and receiving. He doesn’t even realize that he is getting loose with his throwing hand which is hanging out in the open, unprotected. Fast forward 4 weeks to the first intrasquad of the fall. Jake squats back to receive the first pitch of regular fall ball.

The Play:

The pitcher gets the fastball sign and shakes his head. He delivers a heater over the plate and the batter takes a hack. Fall ball is underway. Unfortunately, the pitch is fouled off and right into Jake’s free floating throwing hand, which was hanging out unprotected.

The Outcome:

Jake jumps around in pain and can hardly bring himself to look at his fingers. When he finally does, his worst fears are confirmed, as two of the fingers are bent sideways, clearly broken. He’ll be out at least for the rest of the fall. Not a great way to start off a big junior season.

What Went Wrong:

This is not our typical Think the Game, but the lesson is just as important. Can you guess what it is? That’s right! Practice is incredibly important. Your practice habits will dictate your in-game actions, without you even thinking about it. When the games get started, we fall back on our training. In this case, Jake falls back on some of the bad habits he picked up while doing tasks where he was not investing his focus in executing and getting better.

During bullpens, Jake didn’t have to worry about his throwing hand taking a foul tip, because there was no hitter. His hand eventually became accustomed to free floating out from behind his right leg. He also got a little bit lackadaisical keeping it in a fist to better protect it. Both these bad habits have led to an injury that is a major setback. Some might call it bad luck, but Jake’s practice habits certainly contributed to the injury. That’s not to say that we don’t feel for Jake or that he deserved it, that’s just the way the ball bounces.

This lesson applies to all players and all positions. Will you stay present in the moment on a daily basis and build good habits? Or will you allow bad habits to creep in when you are just going through the motions? This attention to detail is what separates those who play from those who don’t and those who are good from those who are great. A lot of times, the decision is up to you. Will you think the game and practice how you want to play all the time?