By Ethan Guevin
As a coach, I love players to have unshakeable confidence bordering on cockiness. What coach doesn’t love having players who believe in their ability to get the job done every time they step on the field? But there is a fine line between being confident and overly cocky. I can tell the difference between a confident and overly cocky player by what he says before a game or an important play. I have a friend who is a good example of a confident athlete. When I once asked if he was ready for his upcoming mixed martial arts fight, he said, “I have trained my mind and my body will follow.” His confidence and belief in himself was grounded in training and process, not results. Confidence comes from controlling the things that you have power over (your fitness, your training, your focus) to have a positive result, not from becoming fixated on specific results. To me, the confident player has learned from experience that he can trust his own effort and the process. The cocky player talks as if he can guarantee the results, and in baseball, no player has total control over results (like numbers of hits, strikeouts, wins, and losses). I‘ve seen many situations when being overly cocky has interfered with a player’s judgment, focus, and ultimately their ability to get the job done. KPB wants you to get the most out of your confidence by keeping your focus on the right things.
Here are some examples of things I have heard from players, usually right before they wind up in a slump or have a poor performance.
- A pitcher coming in from the bullpen before getting shelled: “I’ve got all three working today, coach!”
- A starting pitcher before a terrible outing, “Arm feels great, I’m gonna shove.”
- Another hitter before his at bat, “I’m gonna get a hit right here.”
These are just a few of many examples that have ended up as precursors for nothing good. Some players use these overly cocky comments as a defense mechanism. They may not be confident in their skills at all, so they talk about results as if talk will make them happen. However, most players who come off as cocky talk that way because they are focusing on the wrong thing. That’s why it matters when players talk about results rather than process.
Confidence alone can be a double-edged sword. Let me use a real life example to show how being overly confident can hurt a player, and consequently, his team’s chances of success.
In a close game, a player came up to me between innings and told me, “I’m about to go 3 for 4, coach!” While I appreciated his confidence, I knew at that moment his focus was in the wrong place. What I wished he had said was, “I’m totally focused, coach! I know what I’m looking for and I understand the situation.” In this situation, the player was leading off the inning against a reliever who didn’t throw a lot of strikes. What the team needed was for him to be focused on the process that made him successful in his previous at bats (patience, getting a good pitch to hit, having a good approach given the game situation, etc.) and the context —for him to get on base anyway he could. You can probably guess that the hitter was overly aggressive and got himself out chasing a 3-1 pitch that would have been ball 4.
How can being cocky hurt your game? If you are fixated on getting a 3rd hit (especially because you just told your coach and your teammates that you would do it), you will likely try to force it. You won’t stay with your successful approach that just got you 2 hits. Your aren’t going to be patient enough to take a walk because you didn’t say you’d take a walk.
Sure, you might believe that you are about to go 3 for 3, but you need to remind yourself of the process that gets you to the results. So what do coaches want to hear? How about:
- “I’ve been watching this guy.”
- “I’ve been working on letting the ball get in the hitting zone.”
- “The approach we talked about is working.”
Coaches want to hear and see that you are putting your thinking into action. Coaches want to you to focus on the processes that are successful for you. They don’t want you focusing on “I’m going to get a hit off this guy” when it is much smarter to be thinking “I’ve been working on being more patient and now I’m 2 for 3. Gotta keep it up.”
Confidence can be seen in the way a player carries himself, there is no need to talk about it. Now you know, talk is cheap. Focusing on your process and the game will help you build success and when needed, help you figure out what might be keeping you from performing the way you want. Next time you or your teammates get a little too results oriented, remember that confidence breeds success in baseball when accompanied by knowledge and situational understanding. You’ll notice that quiet confidence is contagious and when your whole team is focused on learning, successful processes, and in-game situations, your opponents should watch out.