ABC’s of Sport Psyc: C is for Courage
C is for Courage. Many people have different ideas of what courage is. There is often a misconception that people with courage are never afraid. I’m reminded of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz and his search for courage (I had two older sisters so cut me some slack here). The Lion gave off the perception of always being afraid, and therefore he had no courage. Harvey Dorfman, one of my favorites again and someone I write about a fair amount on here with good reason, says this about courage. “To many, it implies fearlessness. But that is not the point of courage. To have courage is to act bravely in spite of the existence of fear.” I love this quote. It breaks through this false perception we have of great athletes that they are never afraid or never nervous. Like you and I, they are people. They aren’t robots! The difference is the ability to act in spite of the fear. The Cowardly Lion acted despite his fears along the journey to the Great Oz. That is true courage.
What is it that causes these fears we have during performance and other situations we encounter? There is no one answer to the question. Sometime, we catastrophize a situation and it’s possible result. “If I don’t get a hit here, everyone will hate me.” “If I don’t get this guy out, I’ll never get to pitch again.” In reality, your teammates won’t hate you. In reality, you will get to pitch again. Both examples have a couple of qualities that get the athlete’s focus away from where we would like to be. First, the focus is out of the present moment. Those horrible results, which many athletes have had in their heads, are in an uncontrollable future. Sure we can influence, but we can’t control. Second, the focus is on the feelings of teammates and the decisions of coaches. Again, both are ultimately out of our realm of control. Finally, they’re both again related to results. Do you sense a pattern here? By accepting the thoughts are normal and making the decision to instead focus on, “Make a pitch.” or “See the ball,” we are able to better enhance our likelihood of acting in spite of fear, or courageously. Something I think trumps any skills is proper perspective. Having proper perspective on what an at-bat, an outing on the mound, or any other sort of situation we may encounter in competition can go a long way in acting with courage. Every pitch is important, but no pitch is important enough to become two. Likewise, no one at-bat defines who you are as a person or even your career. Also, understand that so many other athletes out there have had to battle through the same thoughts. Acting with courage is certainly easier said than done. Like you, there are situations and times in my life where I have acted without it. There will continue to be. We’re all human. Accept it, move on, and act with courage next time!