People often try to categorize athletes into two types. There are the talented “freaks” born with endless natural ability that never seem to have to work very hard to perform amazing feats. And then there are the rest of us. Those who didn’t throw 90+ mph as a sophomore in high school or blast 400+ foot home runs at 16 years of age. Fortunately, those people are wrong. There is another group of athletes too: those athletes who work their butts off to improve and over time become elite athletes. The people who try to categorize athletes into just the first two groups I mentioned above often take the approach that throwing 90+ mph is simply a God-given ability that can’t be taught. At some point, I’ll address just how wrong that type of thinking is and why that philosophy is really just a crutch. This post, however, primarily addresses those athletes who have worked hard to reach their athletic goals, although it also has some use to those fortunate athletes who are supremely talented from a very young age too.

First, let me begin by saying that I am from the group that had to work very hard to make it to the next level. When I was 17 years old as a junior in high school I was topping out at 83-84 mph. I didn’t get any looks, much less offers, from Division 1 schools, and I certainly didn’t have professional scouts coming to watch me play. The summer after my junior year of high school I began working out with Coach Ron Wolforth at his facility, which was then called Can-Am. I had numerous inefficiencies in the movements of my delivery and had to work very hard to overcome them. By the time my senior year rolled around my velocity had improved to the mid to upper 80s, and I was topping out at 89 mph. I continued working hard and by my freshman year of college my fastball was up to 91 mph. I eventually went on to top out at 94 mph and had the opportunity to play in the Seattle Mariners farm system.

My story is not all that rare, especially with athletes who have the opportunity to train at facilities like the Texas Baseball Ranch, where they are pushed to their limits and often see results they could have only dreamed of beforehand. But I have witnessed too many athletes who make drastic improvements in their abilities then proceed to make a common mistake, and I fell victim to it as well, and that is what I wanted to address today. It’s what I have labeled the “I’ve got it now” mentality. This mindset seems to creep in once a player reaches a level of performance he has never been at before. For example, take a pitcher who used to top out in the upper-70s, but is now throwing in the low 90s. His world has drastically changed. But when this happens, sometimes complacency sets in. This athlete has worked for countless hours and has finally reached what he believes to be the finish line. He has made it. Now he has a 90 mph arm. The athlete has got “it” now.

So what happens next? That athlete starts coasting a bit. The workouts become less intense, the focus less acute, and perhaps the athlete begins to skip workouts. I mean he doesn’t need to keep working hard since he has arrived, right? WRONG. There is no such thing as “having it.” A fairy has not touched you with a magic wand guaranteeing you that velocity from here until eternity. But this is a common mistake. I made it. I went to college as a freshman and had great results. I was winning games, getting hitters out, throwing harder than I ever had, so I stopped doing some of the things that helped get me to that point. I begin to skip out on my arm care at times and I didn’t keep up the intensity during workouts. The result was that my velocity began to drop during the season and my arm became tender. The next thing I knew I was back in the mid-80s and I couldn’t seem to find my way back to the 88-91 mph range that I had previously reached. Of course, this ultimately motivated me to get back to work and to never let that happen again, and it didn’t, and I fully believe this bump in the road taught me the work ethic that was required to reach the mid-90s and to make it at the next level.

But looking back, I wish somebody could have warned me about this type of complacency. That is what this post is all about. I have been around Coach Wolforth and the Texas Baseball Ranch for over a decade, and in that time I have watched countless players face this problem. I have seen athletes work out at the Ranch and reach mid-90s with their fastball, which resulted in them being a top 5 round pick. And then mysteriously, I didn’t see them again until 5 years later when they were about to be released and their fastball was in the mid-80s. Nobody owns a talent, whether it is pitching, or hitting, or speed. By own I mean nobody will have that talent regardless of what they do until the day they die. If you don’t continuously work to maintain AND improve that talent, you will begin to lose it.

This message is especially true for those of us who had to overcome all sorts of obstacles to reach that goal. Those of us in that group had to change movement patterns and overcome a number of constraints (such as flexibility, strength, and athleticism). These old habits will begin creeping back into your movements if you aren’t constantly working hard to improve. My ending thought for those of you reading this is to continue setting goals, especially once you reach the goal you have been fixating on for years. You can always get faster, stronger, hit the ball further, improve your average, or increase your velocity, regardless of how fast, strong, powerful, or hard you throw today. For those of you who have hit 90 mph on the radar gun for the first time, that’s great. Now get to work throwing 91 mph. The moment you feel as though you are “there” and “have it” that is the beginning of a downhill spiral. Resist that temptation and continue to improve and move forward.

Until next time,

Brian Oates