I used to wonder why professional athletes would need a month (or more, if you’re a pitcher) to get ready for a full, regular season of baseball. Haven’t these people been playing ball since they were five years old? Did they play last year? Are they likely to learn something new over the next few weeks that they do not already know? Well, there’s more to it than just baseball fundamentals.
Like learning multiplication tables, any life skill (especially any sports skill) takes time. We all know how to swing a bat or throw a ball. Likewise, we all know how to listen to a spouse, encourage a child struggling with math, or support a coworker on a project. We are in this game of life together. Having a “we” attitude rather than a “me” attitude is what strengthens all of our relationships with family, friends, community, work, and country. It helps us “reclaim the Commons,” (those things in life that belong to us all, from our environment to our democracy to our way of life). It’s a “swing-for-the-fences” attitude. So, in addition to knowing something, we
actually have to do something.
Essential to spring training is exercising key muscles, not resting on last year’s performance, and keeping oneself activated and motivated. That’s why there is great excitement surrounding spring training. Players, coaches, and fans all ask, “Who are we going to be this year?” It’s a metaphor for addressing the perennial quest of couples, families, work teams, and communities. How can we build on our past, use our strengths, and be the best we can be this year?
Spring training camp is the closest thing adults have to Little League. A player digs in at the plate after awkwardly missing a nasty slider, knowing that his job may depend on getting a hit. Surely, his team’s chances of winning in the regular season may very well rest on his ability to hit such a pitch in a clutch situation. He hears the chatter of “you got this.” He knows what to do. He just has to suck less at doing it (i.e. don’t miss so many of those pitches). He knows that his team members rely on him, just as he relies on them, to swing for the fences.
Spring training is an opportunity to make Little League as real and dynamic as it was when players were ten years old; every single year. Baseball is a game of fundamentals, like catching a fly ball with two hands, that needs constant reinforcement to improve. We get excited about spring training as new people show their skills at team building as well as baseball fundamentals. It’s exiting to see team members committed to being the best they can be and to see them show up to the tasks at hand, dig in to face any challenge, and suck less at what they know how to do as they swing for the fences. But it’s also a metaphor for life.
Like spring training, we are constantly recalling the past and regrouping: New Year’s resolutions, annual planning conferences, onboarding new co-workers, marriage, divorce, death, a new baby, department restructuring, and more. We look at past learning and make future plans. We motivate and activate each other. In ways small or great, we are a new team, even a new family or work group, on a regular basis. Like every spring training experience, with players showing up, putting forth their best efforts, encouraging each other, and working for the common good, we too are always coalescing into a team that is ready to take on the long-haul season of living in the modern world.