By Doug Bernier
Not everyone considers sports to be a worthwhile investment of one’s time. While I recognize that sports – and baseball in particular – aren’t for everyone, I’ve listed here what I think are 10 important life skills that I learned while playing baseball.
1. Working as a team – While this may be the most obvious, it’s also one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from baseball. The quicker you can mesh the strengths of others with yours, the better the overall end product will be. Working as a team is reflected in relationships, marriages, sports, and particularly in business and life after sports. Leveraging individual strengths into a cohesive group where everyone works together toward accomplishing the same goal is much more beneficial and rewarding than having a group of individually minded players.
2. Strong work ethic- Work ethic is the foundation for anything in life. You will find yourself in rewarding situations more often if you work hard and apply yourself regardless of outcome. A strong work ethic comes from a deep down desire and drive within yourself to improve. This type of mindset is contagious and is very much recognized and appreciated by teammates and coaches.
3. Dealing with pressure- Often it’s the decisions we make under pressure that define who we are professionally and sometimes personally. The pressure we place on ourselves to perform during a baseball game is not all that different than the stresses and pressure we may face every day in the real world. (I am not trying to compare a 0-21 slump to how you are going to make enough money to pay the rent). But I do believe the lessons we learn from the pressures we deal with in baseball helps us to learn how to manage our emotions and improve our focus on whatever the immediate task at hand might be.
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For example, when you are at the plate, you have to keep your mind on your hitting approach, and not be distracted by thoughts of what will happen if you don’t get a hit right then. Or if your mind wanders after hours of playing in the field without any action, inevitably it will be that moment that a laser line drive comes your way. In life, losing your focus or buckling under pressure creates different problems.
Pressure at work can affect your performance at work or at home, or a distracted moment at the wheel can lead to tragic consequences. This is why learning to deal with pressure in ways not controlled by your emotions or feelings is a valuable life skill.
4. Working with new and sometimes unfamiliar people- You will quickly learn how to deal with and talk to people you have never met before. In this game you are constantly meeting new people and playing on new teams. Being comfortable in situations where you may know nobody is a positive skill.
5. Dealing with failure- Baseball is a game of failure and learning how to take the positives out of our shortcomings is very important. There are many times in life where we come up a little short and being able to positively deal with the situation and learn from our past will help us in the future.
6. Dealing with success- It is important to strive for success and to be the best you can be. It is equally important to be gracious in our victories. Rubbing success in the faces of others does little for team chemistry and is not easily forgotten when you are on the short end of success.
7. Learning how to keep your cool when fans are yelling at you intentionally trying to get under your skin- This is another example of handling pressure. Learning to block out and manage your emotions when fans are yelling and sometimes being harsh is an important skill for helping you focus on the task at hand. Letting outside influences that you don’t control affect your performance will distract you from your goal. Learning to rise above and still be able to perform is in crunch time situations is an important skill I’ve learned through baseball.
8. Not making emotional decisions- Emotions can make you do things you normally wouldn’t do because of fear. Being able to cut through the emotion can be extremely difficult, but if you can keep the emotions from influencing your decisions you will find this skill to be very beneficial in the long run. Baseball lessons teach us to play the game with heart, but not let emotions take over and control your game.
9. Learning how to separate baseball life from personal life- It is very difficult to leave the baseball player at the field and not take a bad day home with you after a game. When you mix your professional life and your personal life without setting boundaries between them it can cause an imbalance between the two. My passion for baseball is an asset that has helped me be successful, but it can also cause me to be unsettled and emotional when it’s not going well. Without proper boundries between my professional and personal life, I couldn’t be the father and husband that my family deserves. Mixing the two can definitely lead to strained relationships on both sides.
10. Learn to push even when you are tired and don’t have much in the tank- How many times do you see people give up or not give all they have because they are tired and the let their body convince their mind that they have nothing left to contribute for that day. Pushing through and giving all you have on a day when you are tired says a lot about your character. The easy thing to do is “give up” but baseball makes you push even when you are feeling tired. This skill will definitely make you proud of yourself.
These lessons have been a big part of my learning process during my baseball career. I believe these are important for any young person to learn early in life. We all make mistakes, but mistakes made as youth tend to have less harmful consequences than those made as an adult. Better a strikeout than a car accident. Better to be punished with extra conditioning than prison or divorce. Maybe it seems dramatic, but that’s the point. Baseball mimics life in a lot of ways, and it provides kids with a learning environment that won’t be duplicated until they are much older.
Doug Bernier, founder of ProBaseballInsider.com, played baseball professionally for 16 seasons. Doug signed with the Colorado Rockies in 2002 and had his Major League debut in 2008. He stayed with the Rockies until signing with the New York Yankees for the 2009 season. Following that Doug played with New York Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins and TX Rangers organizations. He is currently the Colorado Rockies Defensive Coordinator.