As Major League Baseball (MLB) teams begin preparing for the 2014 regular season in their respective spring training camps, one coach is taking the opportunity to ensure that one of his rookies receives some off-the-field education and training. On Monday night, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter discovered that Josh Hart, a minor league outfielder recently invited to join the Orioles in spring training, didn’t know much about Hall of Fame baseball player Frank Robinson – one of the greatest players ever to play for the Orioles. In response, Showalter requested that Hart write and submit a one-page report on the renowned player. After Hart completed the assignment, his coach offered high praise for the player’s willingness to learn: “[Robinson] should be a hero of his. [It] made me feel great, not just that he agreed to [write the paper] but that he wanted to do it…[Hart] has a chance to be a really good player for us, and I think it helped him…at the end of the day, I think he’s better for it.”
Showalter’s message to Hart was, in part, meant to encourage him to expand his baseball expertise beyond merely his technical and tactical ability by learning more about legendary baseball players who came before him. An important part of any athlete’s development is a commitment to knowing, and learning about, one’s sport. Of course, knowledge of one’s sport, at a young age, begins with an understanding of the rules and how to play the game. However, as athletes grow older, knowledge of their sport becomes more nuanced and involves learning from role models and elite competitors – watching them play and using that as inspiration to try new things and be creative.
As you watch professional games and competitions, you should focus on the athletes who play your position, paying special attention to their movement, the timing of their runs, their work rate, their communication, and their attitude. It is also beneficial to watch how they react after making a mistake, and how their responses impact their subsequent performance. Searching the internet for articles and interviews about your favorite professionals can also help you get an idea of their training habits, their journey to the professional ranks, and how they approach their development on a daily basis. Finally, knowing your sport is an important part of becoming an expert in your craft. Besides knowing the physical and mental skills that help athletes succeed in your sport, an awareness of the history and culture behind your sport will help to raise your overall understanding of what it takes to succeed. As Josh Hart attempts to make the jump to the major leagues, his knowledge of a Baltimore Orioles legend and his continued commitment to learn on a daily basis will continue to fuel his development.