Hitting - Fear of Failure


You see it all the time. A player hits the cover off the ball in batting practice and then gets up during the game and looks like a completely different player. Instead of looking calm and confident, he looks nervous and scared. It may be that the pitcher on the mound throws really hard and he's afraid of being hit. It may be that his Dad finally made it to a game and he's nervous because he wants to do well. Every player is going to have an at bat or game where they have a difficult time focusing and feeling confident for one reason or another. For some players though the "fear of failure" can last an entire season or be the reason why your best hitter goes into a slump. I define "fear of failure" as a negative focus on results. In a nutshell the player will approach an at bat or every at bat with the focus being on the result and the negative implications of failing to achieve the desired result. The following are some examples of that negative self-talk:

  • "Whatever you do, don't strike out."
  • "If I don't get this hit, the inning will be over."
  • "If I don't get a hit I'll let my team down."
  • "Bases loaded, two outs, I have to get a hit or we'll lose the game."

By focusing on the result and thinking about the negative aspect of failing, the player is setting himself up to accomplish the exact thing he is most fearful of. I'm sure if you've played any sport you've experienced this type of thought process. Personally I remember this happening to me anytime my brother would come and watch me play. He's eight years older than me and wouldn't make it to many of my games so when he did I really wanted to do well. Unfortunately I would lose my focus and always perform horribly at the plate whenever he was there. I wanted the big hit so bad that I set myself up for failure by losing my focus at the plate and thinking about results instead of using my normal approach.

You'll sometimes hear an announcer or read an article where a team is praised for "playing fearless". As a coach, one of your goals each season should be to develop your team to play in that manner. Teams that play fearless give their best effort and don't hold back. They play aggressively and take chances on the field. These are the same teams that can rebound from a deficit and find a way to win. Overcoming the fear of failure is a key component to developing that type of team and one method to instill that in your team is to teach positive self-talk.

Positive Talk from All Coaches

If you want to teach positive self-talk to the team then you need to be a role model by the way to talk to them. Now I want to make sure I'm clear on this and you understand where I'm coming from. I've known and coached with people who will watch a ground ball roll through a child's legs while he is looking at the sky and they'll yell out, "good effort, you'll get the next one". Now everyone including the player knows there wasn't a good effort given and it doesn't help that player because it conveys very low expectations from the coach. On the other side of things you'll see a coach yell at a player for making an error when the player truly did give his best effort. The coach uses fear as the motivator with his players. If you want to promote a team to play fearlessly then it makes no sense to use fear as a motivator.

Motivational Patches

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Coach Edlin,
I am continuously encouraged by your common sense words of wisdom for us dads/coaches who are trying to pave a path of baseball success for our boys.

I catch myself every now and again “over-coaching” my son or other players on the team. I also see a lot of it out there, and it's easy to identify the over-zealous dads to nitpick their kid’s every nuance on the mound or at the plate. By sharing your thoughts, I am given the cerebral reasoning behind what I find distasteful in other dads/coaches... and it reinforces my own goals to avoid that cycle in myself.

Thanks for your efforts. I appreciate it!

- Andrew T.