Not Good Enough, Yet
James Barragan-I played four years of D1 baseball at a small school called Cal State Bakersfield. At the time, our team was mostly made up of overlooked, undersized, rawly talented guys. Some of us had been recruited by other D1 programs, but for most, CSUB was the only chance they had at the D1 level. There was nothing flashy about our program--no conference, no stadium seating, no bathrooms at the field, and our clubhouse was a portable building. We often joked that our program was Division 1.5.
That Stupid T-Shirt
During my freshman year, my coach made us special practice t-shirts that read “Not good enough” in big blue letters across the front. On the back, the shirt read “yet”. We had to wear these poorly designed, cheap cotton shirts at every practice, every week, all year until our coach determined that we were good enough to to take them off. Why did he make us wear these shirts? He wanted us to realize that just because we were playing D1 baseball, we hadn’t “made it”. He wanted us to be constantly reminded that we had something to work toward. We had work to do if we wanted to compete with schools like University of Washington, University of Nebraska, USC, and NC State. We had to work to be good enough.
Against the Culture
This kind of coaching runs counter to the “self-esteem” generation we currently live in. Rather than telling kids they’re not good enough yet, our culture tells us we need to fill their minds with happy thoughts and constantly affirm them in all that they do lest they doubt themselves. We mustn’t allow young athletes to feel disappointment, so let’s make some more trophies (but just a little smaller than the first place ones) and pass out 8th place rings. This kind of culture leads to entitlement. What happens when kids get entitled? They blame everyone else for their failures but themselves. They complain when they fail rather than allow their failure to fuel hard work.
I had a kid come in for a lesson one time claiming that he didn’t make his junior high baseball team because of his size. I responded with, “What if you didn’t make the team because you just aren’t good enough?” He looked at me puzzled, slightly put off by the suggestion. But then I continued, “If you’re not good enough, that’s fine. You just need to work harder if you want to make the team next year. Recognizing that you're not good enough is the first step to improvement.” I went on to affirm that I believed he could be good enough, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Most private coaches want their clients to finish on a “good rep” so that they leave with some confidence, feeling good about themselves. In baseball, that might mean finishing with throwing a strike as a pitcher or making solid contact in the cage as a hitter. I think there’s room for that, but sometimes I take a different approach. I like to end my pitching sessions with a simulated pressure situation. I have my pitchers imagine they’re in the bottom of the 9th (or 6th or 7th, depending on their age), with the bases loaded, the count full, and a tie game. If they throw a ball, they lose. If they throw a strike, their team gets to hit again. Whether they succeed or fail, that’s the last pitch of their session. Why do I do this? Well, I want my kids to learn how to handle pressure situations. I also want them to learn how to handle failure. I want them to know what it means to fail, and I want them to hate it. I want them to leave knowing that there is still room to grow, and to be hungry for it.
The Pay Off
What I remember most about wearing those “Not good enough yet” t-shirts was the sense of camaraderie my team developed throughout the offseason. We actually took pride in our shirts, and wore them around campus. Why? It’s not that we took pride in our incompetence. We took pride in the fact that we were working toward something, and we really believed we were going to be rewarded--we would be good enough. We trained hard. Putting in 7 hours of work at the field per day, 7 days a week, for months before Kansas State came to town for opening weekend. What ended up happening? We took the series 2-1. Little Cal State Bakersfield--an independent team of misfits and rejects--was good enough.
James Barragan is a former college baseball player for Cal State Bakersfield, private baseball coach, and owner of virtualpitchingacademy.com. His hobbies include playing basketball, trying new foods, and winning Nerf wars with his wife, Kate.