Think the Game

Lessons from the Bullpen

The Situation:

It’s the first bullpen of fall ball on a college campus. Due to NCAA restrictions, pitchers only have 30 minutes of instruction time with the pitching coach. As such, Coach W has asked that all the pitchers show up to their slotted bullpen time ready to throw off the mound. That means the warm-up, band work, and throwing program should all be completed by the player prior to their start time. This means that a player should arrive a solid 30-40 minutes before their bullpen to go through their routine, and they have been reminded of this several times. In fact, during the first meeting of the year, the emphasis with the pitching staff was on preparation, attention to detail, and doing the little things right. Ronny, a freshman, is slotted for the 3:30 time.

The Play:

Coach W, the pitching coach is in the bullpen with his 3rd group of pitchers for the day. Like clockwork, pitchers have shown up with plenty of time to complete their warm-up, long-toss, and pulldowns so they can jump on the mound when their time comes. Coach W glances down at his watch. It’s 3:00 and Ronny is nowhere in sight. Ten minutes later, Ronny comes walking down to the field, looking down at his phone. With 20 minutes to go, Coach W knows there is not enough time for Ronny to warm-up properly for his bullpen.

The Outcome:

Ronny starts his warm-up and is going about his business getting ready, when Coach W walks over from the bullpen. In a completely calm voice, Coach W asks Ronny if he thinks he’ll have time to be ready to pitch at 3:30. Ronny shrugs a bit and his cheeks get flushed a bit as he knows he has messed up. He tells Coach W that he thinks he will be ready. It’s at that time that Coach W tells Ronny that he’s missed the lesson for the first week, which stressed the importance of preparation and attention to detail. He tells Ronny that he’d like him to go home and try again next bullpen. He stresses the learning opportunity Ronny can take from this experience and reiterates that it is the details that will make a difference at this level. It should have been Ronny’s first time on the mound as a college players, instead he’s headed back to his dorm.

What Went Wrong:

Ronny makes a big mistake here. As we stress in every Think the Game, details make the difference. Ronny thinks that his bullpen is what Coach W cares about and decides he’ll show him on the mound that he is ready for college baseball. Unfortunately, Ronny’s mentality is all wrong. What Coach W and all college coaches want to see from first year players during the fall is the ability to make the adjustment to the college game and the ability to establish the work ethic, attention to detail, and process that will create success over time. Had Ronny been listening intently during the first pitching staff meeting, he would have picked up on this. Coach W harped on the warm-up, band-work, and throwing program being the life-blood of the pitching staff. There’s a reason why coaches stress the importance of proper preparation and routine. When things start moving fast in game play, players fall back on their training. When the going gets tough, coaches want you to fall back on strong habits and allow for the attention to detail to take place without having to think about it during game play. This is why college coaches put so much emphasis and importance on doing things right on a daily basis. “Oops, my bad” at practice becomes “Oops, my bad” during games, and that impacts everyone on the team.

It can be a rude awakening for first year college players who aren’t mentally ready for the competitiveness and demands of the next level. Ronny will now have to work to get back in his coach’s good graces and show that he can learn from this lesson. You can learn from his lesson, too. Start developing a better understanding for the demands of college baseball and what will be expected of you on a daily basis. Work on your time management skills and understand the importance of preparation. When you get to college, it’s on you to show up prepared and ready to compete. Don’t underestimate your competition or what will be expected of you. Start preparing for success by doing the little things the right way now, so that by the time you get to the college, you will already be thinking the game on a college level.