Ahead in the Count

Competition & Confidence: Balance in the Middle

written by John Bramlette

Among the conversations I have most frequently with parents is the one where they express a desire to find the “right” level of competition for their aspiring athlete.  Concerns run the full gamut; from “I don’t want Sam to be in over his head” to “will Julie really get better if she is a stronger player than all of her teammates?” 

In my experience, young athletes are best served by accumulating experience at all competition levels relative to themselves.  Being the “star” can do wonders for a young athlete’s confidence, whereas competing with and against better players can help a player improve and provide the motivation to do so.   Most of all, playing in “the middle” can teach players a lot about how to stay even-minded and be a good teammate.  Having experience with third such scenario is, in my mind, the most important. 

Very few experiences from my playing “career” (apologies to my co-authors who played professionally and might thus object to my using this word) stick out as “bad.”  One, in particular, does.  When I was a freshmen in college, I struggled.  While I can site a multitude of reasons why I didn’t play up to my capability, I know that the biggest reason was because I was not prepared for my role on the team. 

My High School team was bad.  Okay… terrible.  We didn’t have a baseball field, which made it difficult to build a program.  Other sports that had exhibited consistent success were the athletic department’s priority in terms of coaching and resources.  Unfortunately, baseball was left to fend for itself.  As a freshmen, I was told that I had enough ability to play Varsity but that the JV needed some good players.  The following year, I started at shortstop, and batted third – positions I would occupy until I graduated.  I knew that college would be different; and I tried my best to find more competitive baseball in the summer.  Unfortunately, I was without much guidance on the topic, and my summer team experiences weren’t significantly different than High School.   So, despite the fact that I was not a particularly strong player, I had never known how to be anything other than one of the “stars” of a team.  While it might have been fun while it lasted, it was not the ideal preparation to play at a higher level. 

My play during my first season of college baseball made it painfully obvious that my confidence on the field stemmed from having been a “star.”  I didn’t have diverse experiences from which to draw confidence and trust in my skill and preparation.  Looking back now, I know that it would have been good to have rode the bench sometimes, been a role player others, and a star perhaps occasionally.  Confidence in one’s own abilities doesn’t have to come from great stats or results; it can also come from a good at-bat against a superior pitcher, or learning a new skill by watching a better player from the bench. 

My advice to young players: don’t avoid situations where you’ll be the weakest player, nor those where you might be the strongest.  But most of all – get comfortable being somewhere in the middle.  If you play long enough, you’ll end up there at some point.

December 27, 2008 - Posted by | written by John Bramlette

1 Comment »

  1. JB:

    Great post. I deal all the time with parents who want to push, push, push – always insisting on placing their student-athlete in the highest level of competition possible. As you mention, it’s not always for the best. While there are certainly benefits to playing “up” and always being challenged, often times this is done at the expense of the development of leadership skills and qualities. An athlete will never learn to lead if they’re always the youngest and most experienced on the team. And the at bats against better pitchers, opportunity to defend older quicker players, or seeing faster serves just aren’t worth that sacrifice.


    Comment by BSully | December 28, 2008

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