The psychology of baseball isn’t all that different from the psychology of dating.
Stay with me.
My college Sport Psychology class taught me about the expectancy-value theory. The Dictionary of Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine defines expectancy-value theory as “the theory that behaviour is a function of the interaction between a person’s expectancies about the outcomes of actions and the value they place on those outcomes.”
Here’s an easy way to think about expectancy and task value. Have you ever sat down to play with a dog, one that really wants to play with you?
If you decide that the game is to put his favorite toy on the highest shelf in your house and wait for him to jump up and get it, the task value is super high. It would be amazing if he could! However, the dog is going to take one look at that shelf 8 feet off the ground and know he has no chance. His expectancy of success is low, so he’s going to be disinterested.
If you decide to play tug-of-war, he’s going to be really interested, but not if he wins every time. The expectancy of success becomes high, but the task value is low – he doesn’t need to work for his win.
But when he’s giving that best “please, play with me” face, and you make the game challenging enough that he can get the toy from you, but has to work for it, then it becomes fun.
Creating a somewhat equal amount of expectancy and task value in any game is where the Goldilocks zone is for achievement motivation.
Like dogs, we are achievement-oriented beings, and baseball gives us a good backdrop to explore this. Say I’m asked to face three pitchers. My sister, a professional baseball player and the Nolan Ryan model of the Terminator. Even though my sister is a great athlete, I think we know where all these opponents fall in terms of expectancy and task value.
Now, expectancy and task value are dynamic. They change. Beating the Nolan Ryan Terminator seems like an impossible feat at first, but what if I was told of a flaw in his programming that I could exploit to improve my chances? Now my success expectancy is higher than before.
Let’s say in my first at bat of a game, I have no doubt in my mind that I’m going to hit the ball hard off of the guy on the mound. Three pitches later, I’m back in the dugout wondering how that guy got me out. Am I going to be as confident going into my next at bat against him?
Our knowledge and experience plays in, but so do the people around us. Expectancy and task value are influenced by other factors. Psychologist Albert Bandura identifies four factors: personal experience, vicarious experience, social persuasion, and physiological factors.
So now let’s circle back to the question you’re all waiting for. What does this have to do with dating?
Have you ever been out with your friends, and you all notice the girl at the end of the bar? You’re pretty sure she’d have a great smile, but not a single person there is talking to her, so you don’t know for certain.
Here’s a common conversation in that scenario:
Your buddy with 20/20 peripheral vision comments on the girl’s attractiveness saying, “Hey, check out that girl over there. She’s pretty cute. What do you guys think?”
FOMO guy adds, “Damn, she’s gorgeous.”
1-Up man escalates the stakes with “Wow, she’s like a 10…way out of our league. She must have so many guys bothering her anyway.”
Mr. Periphs, who was initially planning to go to talk to her, is now discouraged and agrees with them saying, “Yeah, she probably just wants to be left alone.”
FOMO guy ends up conversing with a woman that he’s less interested in, and 1-Up man gets rejected by the smoking hot bartender who doesn’t want to be bothered at work.
Meanwhile, the guy in the corner no one noticed walks away with the girl’s phone number. “How’d he get her number? Why not me?” someone from the group adds.
Now you’re left with only your great 20/20 peripheral vision and no number from the girl with the great smile. Oh, not you… I meant your buddy, right?
you your buddy and the entire group were influenced by the expectancy-value theory. Personal experience may have taught FOMO guy and 1-Up Man that the expectancy of success was just too low, even though the task had high value, and discouraging social persuasion has Mr. Periphs giving up as well.
Your friends, FOMO guy and 1-Up Man, are what you could consider low-need achievers, or those who avoid challenging tasks because their fear of failure is greater than their expectation for success. They are examples of the two types of fear of failure:
FOMO guy chose the easy task because he was more likely to succeed, and 1-Up Man went with the impossibly hard to get bartender because it’s less shameful if the goal isn’t reached.
Mr. Periphs should take some notes from the guy who ended up getting the number from the girl with the great smile. Instead of saying, “how’d he get her number?” Mr. Periphs should be saying, “if he can do it, I can do it as well,” which would be considered a vicarious experience.
Vicarious experience isn’t as influential as direct experience though. That’s why I think it’s important to be less like the fear of failure duo, FOMO guy and 1-Up Man, and more like the guy who got her number–not just in dating.
Understanding that failure is part of the learning process makes it easier for us to embrace it when it happens to us. When we have a combination of successes and setbacks, that means we are challenging ourselves in that goldilocks recipe of expectancy and task value for achievement motivation.
And there you have it. Playing with a dog, hitting bombs, and success in love all come back down to the same basic psychology. Now you just have to stop reading about it and go execute.
Here’s my newest video on how to make your last-minute Halloween plans inexpensive!
During my trip to the Bay Area a few weeks ago, I was part of an experience that reinforced something that is so valuable to me: acceptance.
While I was there, I stayed with Rich and Chris, my “host dads” from earlier this year when I was playing for the San Francisco Giants’ Single-A San Jose club. Rich and Chris describe their home as a revolving door, meaning that an impromptu visit from me was no big deal. But what was a big deal was our plan to head up to San Francisco to attend the Folsom Street Fair — something I had committed to before I even bothered to Google it.
And so, before we continue, allow me to borrow from Wikipedia: “Folsom Street Fair (FSF) is an annual BDSM and leather subculture street fair, held in September, that caps San Francisco’s ‘Leather Pride Week.’ The Folsom Street Fair, sometimes simply referred to as ‘Folsom,’ takes place on Folsom Street between 8th and 13th Streets, in San Francisco’s South of Market district.”
I was nervous.
It helped, of course, that we’d be meeting up with my brother Frankie, a truly proud gay man who lives in San Francisco and happens to be a tad more worldly than I am. You may remember a post I wrote about him earlier this year, titled “Redefining Sportsmanship.”
But, yeah, I was still nervous.
In preparing for our big Folsom adventure, Chris wore lederhosen and Rich climbed into the catcher’s gear I used this past season. I didn’t pack anything to wear for myself — that is, not for Folsom — so Rich loaned me a pair of purple boy shorts with drawstrings. I hadn’t worn something that revealing since this Ninja Turtle/diaper costume from back in the day:
Having arrived in San Francisco, I was wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt (yes, I still wear Ninja Turtles) and black Nike shorts (over the purple boy shorts) during the walk to Folsom from where we had parked. When we got through the donation section, it was time to unveil our outfits.
Yes. It . . . was . . . time.
Problem was, I just stood there making every excuse possible to not remove the black Nike shorts. I mentioned something about chaffing thighs. I broke out the old line about bad tan lines. You get the idea.
Rich and Chris kindly pointed out that this was my choice but added that nobody would be judging me. Not here. Not at Folsom. They had said as much during the drive from San Jose to San Francisco, pointing out that the best thing about Folsom is that people can be themselves.
And I asked myself: What was I afraid of?
I was with two close friends, surrounded by thousands of people whose outfits were far more revealing than what was lurking under my black Nike shorts.
To borrow from an old front-office baseball term, my fear was given its unconditional release. I completely forgot about the purple shorts when Rich and Chris introduced me to their friend Pete and his girlfriend. Pete was wearing basically the same thing I was wearing (under the black Nike shorts), and he was owning it. His willingness to be a part of all this made it easier for me to do the same.
Frankie showed up later, and we all went to the dance floor at the end of Folsom Street where the DJ did his thing on top of a bus that had a huge sheep sculpture exterior. (They called it the BAAAHS, of course. Ha.) We had a blast, and when it ended our group started a “one more song” chant.
A ton of people with varying interests were represented at Folsom, like leather and bondage enthusiasts and LGBT activists like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. No guilt. No scrutiny. No tsk-tsking. The Folsom Street Fair has a culture of acceptance, and I’m proud to say that the world of professional baseball — my world — is working to acquire a similar culture. But maybe without the purple boy shorts. Or maybe with them. Whatever.
I’m not sure if the purple shorts would make a difference, because when I’m on the diamond, my butt gets slapped as often as it got slapped at Folsom. And if I’m seeing the ball well, even more often.
During this past baseball season, we saw David Denson, a first baseman/outfielder in the Milwaukee Brewers’ farm system, become the first openly gay active player for a Major League Baseball-affiliated minor-league team. He was able to do so with the help of Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s Ambassador of Inclusion.
At the end of this season, Billy Bean stated, “I am confident that we are creating a culture of acceptance across baseball. The ultimate goal is to make inclusion second nature.”
Creating a culture of acceptance is not about changing people’s beliefs. It’s about getting people to chill a little and to stop sweating the small stuff. They don’t have to agree with everything. And they don’t need to be particularly interested in, say, Gay Pride. But I don’t think it’s asking too much for them to smile as the parade goes by.
At Folsom, the side streets are joyfully filled with people expressing themselves. You don’t have to enjoy what they enjoy. Their opinions needn’t be your opinions. But it’s easy to let down your hair a little and allow their fun to be your fun.
Yes, I was worried about taking off the black Nike shorts to reveal shorts that were a little shorter, and a different color. And a little tighter. OK, a lot tighter. But I guess it’s nothing compared with what these Folsom-goers must have gone through in their own very real quest for acceptance.
I’m down in San Diego for the rest of the offseason, and it’s been amazing here. I live a 30 minute walk from the beach (45 minutes if I’m walking the monster I’m dogsitting).
Purchase I made
For the upcoming Offseason Money Saving Tips video, I had to film using duct tape, my smartphone car mount, and my cousin’s vertical floor fan as a tripod. Nikki, my cousin, wasn’t too fond of that becoming a common occurance, so I decided to invest in this tripod and smartphone tripod mount. You’ll have to watch my videos to see how it goes.
Commercial that made me laugh (and also want to buy the product)
You might see the Squatty Potty on a biweekly bullet again because I think this will be my new Amazon purchase.
What’s on deck
I’m working on the Offseason Money Saving Tips video, which I’ll finish editing after writing this post. Wednesday’s post will be about my experience going to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco with my brother and my host dads from San Jose. It should be a good one.