I want to apologize for not posting as frequently as I had been earlier this season. A lot has happened in the past month that made it difficult to write. I’ll do better.
A couple weeks ago, I was demoted to one of our teams in Augusta, GA, home of the Masters golf tournament. It’s also the residency of the Low-A minor league team, the Augusta Greenjackets.
At least, that’s the traditional thinking. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a demotion to me. In some ways, it feels like a promotion. Right now, you’re thinking I’m crazy. How could going down a level possibly be good for my career, regardless of the conditions? I believe this is the best thing for my development as a player. Let me explain.
In the Sports Gene, David Epstein explains how athletes come to master their craft. He says that some athletic skills require gifted “hardware,” or natural talent, like speed, but other skills like reaction time and vision are dependent on learned “software.”
An athlete downloads this software to reach mastery through repetition of that skill. Epstein cites the case of Jennie Finch striking out every Major League Baseball player she’s faced.
When pitched to overhand, these baseball players have a huge mental database they’ve downloaded through repetition. They’ve seen hundreds of thousands of pitches throughout the majors and minors. Their bodies begin to react without conscious thought.
However, when facing off against Finch, these big leaguers, with their amazing hand eye coordination, weren’t able to come close to a pitch she threw. It’s not because they lacked talent but because they did not have the cognitive software for how a ball moves when pitched underhand. Their reaction times and ability to respond to the softball pitch became essentially like any average Joe.
Back to my story. My role in San Jose was to start one or two games a week. We typically play seven days a week, so I spent a lot of time on the bench. I certainly had no complaints about my role and did everything I could to stay locked in regardless of whether I was in the dugout or at the plate, but I wasn’t building my mental database as quickly without consistent plate appearances. In Augusta, my playing time has increased to about five games a week. I’m able to use those games to enhance my cognitive software and progress further on my quest for mastery.
Of course I’d rather be getting every day at-bats at the highest level. But ultimately, we may not have control over a particular situation. We can choose how we view it, however, and that is the real determination of whether it will be good or bad for our long term goals. If I focused on seeing the move as a setback or a demotion, my frustration and bitterness undoubtedly would be bad for my career. Seeing it as a positive allows me to concentrate on improving my skills and getting better every day instead of spiraling into self-doubt and fatalistic thinking.
You don’t have to be a minor league baseball player to spin a demotion into a promotion. Our moves up and down on the career ladder are more public than most people’s, but everyone has faced similar situations. No one wants to be fired or lose a big contract. But your attitude and perception of the circumstances will affect your future much more than a temporary title change. Take some time to identify the areas you can improve. The demotion may not have been because of something you did wrong, but there are still ways you can get better. Making those incremental adjustments is the key to having a positive experience. You’ll be better equipped to handle future challenges and tackle new opportunities.