by Dale Trenholm
February 26, 2014 (ISN) – What is pressure? Why can some athletes excel under pressure while others crumble when the game is on the line?
“Pressure is just an external distraction to take you off your game—that’s it.” Dale Trenholm
It is really that simple; however, even something so simple can be very complicated if we don’t understand some few basic concepts, which I will cover in a series of articles in the future.
Only a few friends know this story:
Years ago, at the young age of 15, when I was playing competitive sports and had aspirations to play Senior “A” fastball, I was under extreme pressure to throw the biggest pitch of my life at a Western Canada Championship gold medal game here in Campbell River.
The Tournament was held at Willow Point Park, which at that time was surrounded by lush maple and alder trees. There was no Sportsplex or slow-pitch diamonds.
Ball was very popular back then, which really showed with the strong crowd from Campbell River that came out to support us for the Gold Medal Game. Our team won the Western Canada Games tournament the previous year, so the expectations to win, on top of playing in front of the home crowd, intensified the pressure to perform and win.
The biggest challenge I remember while being a pitcher wasn’t the external battles I faced during the game, but the battles going on in my mind leading up to big games (and after), which to me were every game I played. I hated to lose and would do anything not to lose (more on hating to lose later). However, the Western and Canada Games have additional meaning and rewards on the line, so of course the battle leading up to these big games was even a loftier battle with my mind. Once I was in the game, however, the mind games were somewhat easier leading up to each pitch, and each batter I faced. I couldn’t afford to think too much once in the heat of the battle.
So back to the biggest pitch of my life: a pitch I practiced and simulated in my back yard with my father many, many times, is a reality, here and now! I remember thinking, I can do this; I will do this; I have done it many times in practice and am determined and confident I will do it here.
I don’t remember how we put ourselves in the situation we were in, but that was the reality of it so I needed to deliver the biggest pitch of my life. The count was 3 balls and 2 strikes. We were tied 2-2, the bases were loaded, and it was the bottom of the 7th. If I threw a ball (Outside the Strike Zone) , or the batter hit the ball, we would lose and not have a chance to take the game to extra innings.
As I did during the hundreds of hours of practice, I settled in on the mound to focus on my target (the catcher’s glove) for an inside drop-ball. With greater determination than in practice, exuding confidence and determination off the mound to release the pitch, my goal was to make the batter swing and miss the ball, which I would throw in a way that made him think it was a big fat pitch for him to hit.
I remember clearly as that ball left my hand: I knew it was my best drop-ball of all the years pitching. In fact, it was so effective that it caught the catcher off guard, as he moved his glove up 6 inches moments before the ball crossed the plate. The ball dropped a foot and a half, and the batter swung and clearly missed; however, the ball went under the catcher’s glove, and, with horror, back to the backstop, after which the runners advanced to win the game and tournament. I was devastated. Walking back to the dugout, holding my head down, hiding the tears that were walking down my cheek, was a very isolating feeling.
At the time, I felt very foolish for losing, including feeling like I had let my team down, which was a big weight to carry at the age of 15. Receiving the best pitcher award for the tournament was rewarding, but I would give it back in a heartbeat…a heartbeat to have won that game for my teammates, my mom and dad, and the fans watching.
Even though that was a very emotional loss, the pressure I was under was a blessing in disguise, because I know I threw my best pitch under extreme pressure. To this day, with the understanding of additional insights I have acquired, the memory of that experience gives me a clear understanding, as a coach, what the pressure of competition is.