When I was a pre-teen playing little league baseball, I had a coach who had a method to help my teammates and me “keep our heads in the game.” When our team held the field, he told us that after each pitch – after each time the ball returned to the pitcher – each of us should mentally ask ourselves, “What’s the count and where’s the play?” During practices he would spot check to see if we could answer those questions. At times, one of the players would not know when asked. “Take a lap around the field,” the coach would say.
For those less familiar with baseball terms, “the count” is the number of balls and strikes for the current batter. In simple terms, this allows an observer to predict how likely the batter might swing at a pitch. “The play” is where the ball needs to be thrown if it gets hit to us as an individual player. All in all, it created a scheduled discipline to take notice of the current conditions so we would realize how to respond properly during the game. Because the young players put it into practice, mainly out of not wanting to run laps, as a team we performed better and simply had a general awareness of what was happening armed with the knowledge of what to do for most situations in the game.
People familiar with childhood sports probably have many similar stories of coaches who had little tricks to help the young players pay attention and maintain their awareness during the match. However, I recall my own father telling me on several occasions that the purpose of playing sports as a child is to understand the lessons learned there help to prepare us for our adult lives. Basically, he summarized that philosophy with several sports clichés: how you practice is how you play and you get out what you put in and it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but rather the size of the fight in the dog.
I think many who played sports as young men and young women would agree with my father’s idea. Perhaps not at the time they played, but now as an adult. It's somewhat of a "Karate Kid" moment as we realize all those things in sports gave us applicable tools for what we really wanted and needed. We recognize the universal truth that we reap what we sow and hard effort truly does pay off. However, I think the lessons gleaned from my athletic youth don’t have to be limited to the arena of only one’s work ethic.
I think that “what’s the count and where’s the play” can apply to my social life too. Think about it. Knowing what’s going on around and how to react applies effectively to social situations.
The count: what is the status of batter and how likely is he to swing at a pitch. In social situations, this is being aware of what the status of your peers, coworkers, children or spouse is. Knowing the count is like being empathetic and aware. It might be as simple as noticing a friend’s new shirt or shoes; perhaps it comes out when realizing my spouse has had a very tough day; or even discerning that my daughter is struggling with some social-circle issue. But knowing the count of others around me is an awareness on my part, not because they complain. Also, it is something I have to check after every pitch. Applied socially, this means with every interaction - every time!
The play: where does the ball need to be thrown. Once I’m practiced in being aware of the status of others, then I can better assess what I need to do – or sometimes what not to do and mind my own business. It starts with knowing the count, but that does me no good if I don’t think ahead of what I should do if the ball is hit to me. Should I ask where my friend shops or simply compliment him? Should I offer to grab some take-out or just let my wife tell me about her day? Should I get involved with my daughter’s dilemma or just give her hug? What to do can’t be done unless I’m aware of the issue.
And this doesn’t necessarily apply only to “fixing things.” The noticing of a new wardrobe item isn’t a problem; it’s just a nice gesture that conveys that I care. Perhaps my coworker has a problem that I can’t or shouldn't solve, but asking “how’s that going?” is again a way to let that person know I am compassionate to his or her pain.
One other benefit I have noticed as I’ve been trying to put this baseball discipline in place for social interactions is that it removes the focus off of me. I often want to talk about me and my interests; I think that’s a fairly common thing. But if every interaction I have starts with, “Let me tell you what just happened,” then others get tired of talking to me. Or if I complain about my woes, people will eventually wear down listening. As I balance, “here’s stuff about me” with “I’ve noticed this about you,” it makes for more pleasant contact. People like people who like them. Not to mention, focusing on others is therapeutic for problems that I have…really.
I’m no social butterfly, but I’m not a hermit either. However, I have come to discover about myself that for much of my life I would broadcast what was about me. I never recognized that I portrayed conceit as strongly as I do. I was unaware. However, for the past few years, I’ve been attempting to be quick to listen and slow to speak. It doesn’t go well all the time; I’m still selfish at heart (as most of us probably are). To make that change, using this old baseball discipline has helped.