Baseball, Mental Toughness
Eyeball to Eyeball Moments Changing Lives
As a baseball player, I watched hundreds of what I call mound moments—when a pitcher’s game and even career fate is at stake.
The manager comes striding out of the dugout and stands eyeball-to-eyeball with the pitcher, often who has been struggling in getting batters out, or perhaps it’s just a strategy visit. In either case, it is the manager affecting the pitcher's future.
Those adrenaline-pumping moments of suspenseful intervention mirror my life's work today with black boys who come up to bat in life with two strikes on them. One is being black and the other is being male.
You’ll hear me often say baseball imitates life and these face-on crystallizing moments I have with young men happen on baseball diamonds, classrooms, living rooms, and dangerous street corners. The only difference is we’re not talking balls and strikes anymore, we’re talking success and failure.
These moments begin with a premise that cultural biases and stereotyping shrink black boys’ margins for error. Born with those two strikes, black boys face enormous pressures living under a skin-colored perceived condition of guilt until proven innocent—a mode forcing them to survive from the outside in.
I use baseball actually and metaphorically to have mound moments with them and reveal these three steps necessary to beat the odds and make it to the big leagues in life and maybe even baseball:
There is an undeniable connection between socioeconomic status and the amount of trust one has for one's abilities and judgment. Most inner-city black boys are so afflicted and underperform when the stakes are highest.
Self-confidence is not inherited and young black boys need to learn how to turn the reality of adverse conditions into tools for building confidence. The concept of learning from losses transforms thinking and behavior, like the batter who strikes out and expects to hit a home run during the next at-bat.
Take Tyler Williams as a case in point. He struggled to be recognized by college scouts because he is short. Yet, his acquired self-confidence on and off the field is based on the tangible success he's achieved despite adversity. Tyler's undersized self is now headed toward a third season playing for Texas Southern University’s Division 1 baseball Tigers.
With confidence intact, the next natural step is to act. In more baseball lingo, knowing what needs to be done and failing to do so is the equivalent of expecting to hit a home run, but never swinging the bat. Sports and living skill-building requires the discipline to act. It sounds simple though in practice can be crippling. Black boys need to squelch the myth that hope is enough and confidently take uncomfortable and inconvenient actions that move them toward their desires. The recipe for mastering self-discipline includes gaining control over feelings, prioritizing needs, and resisting the temptation to abandon goals as key ingredients.
I’ve come to admire how Charlestavious Brooks represents how self-discipline epitomizes our efforts. Charlestavious comes from one of Atlanta's roughest neighborhoods where life could have taken him in a disastrous direction. Instead, his self-discipline fueled his drive to graduate from high school, get employed, and becoming a donor to our L.E.A.D. Sports-Based Youth Development Organization, and get on track to attend the Atlanta Police Training Academy at age 21.
Comfort in their uniqueness is the grand slam for black boys. Ultimately, winning is the mastery of self and having it indelibly installed is glory at its finest. While black boys know they exist separately from their environment, they relegate confusion, complaining, and excuses to the bench, permitting themselves to explore their individuality.
Austin Evans epitomizes real-world self-awareness. Realizing he would not become a collegiate baseball player, Austin used the L.E.A.D. Program core values—excellence, humility, integrity, loyalty, stewardship, and teamwork—to express himself. As an off-campus Senator at Texas A&M University, he engineered the passing of a bill to erect a statue of the first African American graduate of the school.
While we justifiably celebrate the successes of Tyler, Charlestavious, and Austin the work we do in Atlanta is like trying to empty the ocean with a thimble when you consider how big the issue is.
Those boys learned to make adjustments to themselves in environments and cultures which suppress much growth. Baseball and other sports are a platform that can help change society for the good because when players are on the field together it's similar to the cohesive marching of soldiers, all dressed in the same colors.
In this blog, we'll continue to tell the success stories of amazing young black men who we were able to have eyeball-to-eyeball contact with and impart our L.E.A.D. values and celebrate their growth.
SportsEdTV's influence with millions of viewers and followers provides a strong platform to influence communities of advantage to step up with me and help level life's playing field for black boys who begin the game with two strikes on them.
That means you, too, Mr. or Ms. Mayor, Councilor, Representative, and Senator of anywhere.