Today’s post is about self evaluation, which is important to all of us—whether you are an athlete, a coach, a teacher, a lawyer, a businessperson, a friend, a parent, or in any other position. This topic is universal because every person instinctively analyzes their performance. It’s human nature. It’s necessary and usually required simply to function in the world. The problem with many of us is that we do not accurately evaluate ourselves. Most of us believe that we have done a great job, or at least a sufficient job at whatever past act, task, or performance we are evaluating. It then becomes a shock when we receive negative feedback from someone else on that act/task/performance. Whether it is a supervisor telling you that your memo was poorly written, a principal telling you that your teaching method is not satisfactory, or a coach discussing your mistakes/errors in the last game you played, we as human beings don’t like to receive this kind of feedback.

Instead of believing what our superiors are telling us we love to blame other things. Perhaps the memo was poorly written because your boss didn’t give you enough time to properly write it, or the reason that you didn’t play well in the last game was due to the umpire squeezing you on the strike zone, or your fielders didn’t make any plays behind you. We all come up with reasons (excuses) to explain why our performance was sub par. But these excuses, while at times might actually be part of the reason your performance was dismal, really don’t do any of us justice. We use these excuses as a crutch instead of truly evaluating who we are and what our weaknesses are.

I have talked in the past about the important role objective measurement has in improving an athlete’s skill set. If an athlete doesn’t know where he is at the current moment, whether it is his peak velocity, the distance he can long toss, how fast he can run the 40/60 yard dash, his vertical, or the number of reps he can perform in a set amount of time in a particular exercise, how is that athlete supposed to improve or increase these skills? The short answer is that he/she can’t. The way an athlete improves is to push himself every day slightly harder/further than he could the day before. This is practically impossible if you don’t know what your limits are.

This concept holds true to self evaluation as well. While it is easier to evaluate ourselves in certain drills when we have objective measurements that hold us accountable, it is more difficult to do so when we are talking about our game time performances because there are so many moving parts and variables to our performance. For example, one day I might take the mound and have the best velocity, breaking ball, and command that I have had all season and yet the other team seems to find every hole in the defense to bleed hits through so that I give up 5 runs in 5 innings. The next outing my velocity might be down and I can’t command any of my pitches, yet every scorched line drive the other team hits goes right to somebody and I give up only 2 runs in 7 innings.

These are two very different outings and if I can’t accurately evaluate myself I might be more inclined to be happy about my 7 inning, 2 run outing and displeased with the 5 inning, 5 run outing. But truth be told, I should be more upset with the 2 run outing than I am with the 5 run outing. Most of us, however, would not think twice about the 2 run outing because “we only gave up 2 runs.” Awesome, right!? And we might be really peeved about the 5 run game because “man it just wasn’t my day...everything they hit just found a hole...that sure was unlucky.”

Assuming the above was my self evaluation of my two previous performances, what did I take away from them that could help me better myself and target my weaknesses? Absolutely nothing. I did not take away anything that will help me improve my future performances. But this is what we do all the time. I did it at times when I played and I hear current players doing the same thing. Instead, each one of us needs to be able to evaluate our own performance as accurately as possible in each activity that we do. A major part of doing this requires us to not focus as much on the results or look at outside influences/factors but instead simply look at how we performed and executed tasks.

What would have been a more accurate evaluation from the hypothetical 2 run outing I mentioned above is, “I didn’t have very good command...I fell behind 15 of the 28 hitters I faced...I consistently missed high to the arm side with my fastball.” Now this evaluation is much more helpful to my improvement as a pitcher. From it I can go to work at practice and know that I need to work on spotting my fastball down and away. Further, I can deduce from my evaluation that I likely have a late disconnect in my delivery which is causing me to consistently miss high and to the arm side. Loaded with this information I can now go to practice and target these issues.

The bottom line is that you must know what is wrong in order to fix it. Imagine a mechanic trying to fix a car that won’t start without testing certain things under the hood and looking for problems. Or imagine a sick patient coming into the hospital and the doctor just starts treating the patient randomly without running tests or asking specific questions to the patient to try and diagnose the problem. The mechanic and doctor need to know the state of the car and patient before they can improve them. That is what self evaluation can do for an athlete. If done accurately, it can be a huge tool for improving an athlete’s skill set.

Being evaluated by others is often difficult because the other person’s evaluation does not match the evaluation you have done on yourself. But in all likelihood this has less to do with the other person being wrong and more to do with the fact that human beings struggle to accurately evaluate their own performance. If we can begin to more accurately evaluate ourselves then it will be a huge step to becoming the best athlete—or coach, teacher, lawyer, doctor, businessperson, parent, etc—that you can be.

Until next time,

Brian Oates

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