Sunday, August 14, 2016

What do "fight or flight" moments teach us?

Yesterday on my morning run on the local trail near my home, I ran into the father of a softball player I coached a few years ago. We caught up with each other on what our kids were doing, and a story about his oldest daughter came back to me as we parted ways.

I met his oldest daughter when she was a freshman in high school. She was a student at Hoover High School (where I currently work), but at the time I was working in a different school. I met her because she was a pitcher for the high school team, but she and the pitching coach were not working well together. The pitching coach, a personal friend of mine, called me and asked me if I would work with her. (I was a private pitching coach for over 20 years.) He was frustrated and didn’t feel like he was able to help her. At the time, he knew that I had stopped giving lessons due to time constraints, but he asked if I would meet with her and her dad and give share my observations. 

I met her at the field, and I put her through an hour-long pitching workout. She was a natural. She had good form and technique, as well as a good attitude. She was nervous, though, and I could sense that she thought I was going to harshly criticize her. She listened to everything I told her and tried everything I suggested. She was the kind of athlete that made it hard to give up giving private lessons, but I knew that there was no way I could take her on as a student.

Fast forward a few years to her senior year in high school. I had just left my administrative position at another school to return to Hoover High School as a classroom teacher and pitching coach for the softball team. The young pitcher I had met was now a senior and I would be able to work with her in her final year of high school. She had basically given up on pitching her sophomore and junior year, but she was willing to pick it up again to help the team any way she could during her senior year. I was excited about the prospect of getting to develop her as a pitcher as much as possible in a single season, but I knew that there would be hard work ahead for her. 

She was our starting shortstop and one of the back-up pitchers. We had a pitcher on the team who was a strong, dominating pitcher, but we knew that we would need to give her some relief and be able to strategically pitch other pitchers in some key games in order to prevent our opponents from facing our number one pitcher too many times (if at all) during the regular season. We wanted our opponents to face our number one pitcher for the first time in the post-season play. 

While our shortstop knew that her time on the mound would be limited, she was still a part of our pitching staff. The pitchers and catchers had to come in for a pitching workout before school most days per week during the season, and she was always there and worked hard. 

Then the time came where we put her in against a team that we decided as a coaching staff would not face our number one pitcher. It was a good team that we would face in the post-season. We started another pitcher who had trouble against our opponents. It meant that we would put our senior shortstop in the game. 

When she went in, she looked confident. Attitude on the mound was something I emphasized with pitchers and demanded that they maintain whenever they were in the game. They needed to be in control of their emotions and never appear as if they weren’t confident. Our shortstop was a senior with experience in the field and offensively, but in the role of pitcher, she was still at the experience level of a younger player. Her confidence began to wane as the game went on. She walked several players, and she had  tough time finding her “groove.” She would look at me from the mound, her eyes pleading to be taken out and end her misery.

I knew she wanted to come out of the game, but I also knew that she needed to stay in. It was part of her growth… a defining moment… a strength builder. She had not experienced the situation before. In the past, she would have been taken out and replaced. In her current situation on the mound where she was walking players and throwing wild pitches, she was forced to face her circumstances. She had to maintain composure and keep working to focus on the skills that she had spent so many mornings sharpening.

From the dugout, I encouraged her. I reminded her to stay focused on one pitch at a time. I ached to end her embarrassment, but I also knew how important it was for her to stay in. I talked with her when the team came in for offense after a long time in the field. I used phrases I had used during practice... Focus on one point inside the catcher’s glove. It’s you and the catcher and no one else. You can do this. 

My pitcher had to fail to succeed. Whether or not she ever went on the mound again, she needed to stay there at that time and not be “saved” or relieved from her discomfort. It was a “fight or flight” moment that would teach her that she was stronger than what she believed. That lesson is one that I hope that all students will learn. The lesson goes beyond athletics, it’s about life. When we’re faced with tough times as adults, where does the courage come from to face our challenges? How do we know that we have the strength to get through the tough times? 

Young people are all the time asked to do things that are uncomfortable for them. As adults, how often do we do things that are uncomfortable? We must continue to remind ourselves that we are stronger than what we believe. How do we do that? By doing something each day that it outside our comfort zone.

What have you done lately that is outside your comfort zone? Share in the comments below or reach out to me on twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer,

    What a powerful example of learning through our trials. As a former coach, it really resonated with me. We really need to push our teachers and ourselves to step out of our comfort zones. When we do this we grow...and so do our students!