“There are times you wake up, feel great, go to the park, throw a pitch and it’s like you’ve never done this before. Other days, you feel like you couldn’t break a window pane and you go eight shutout [innings]. It’s the nature of baseball,” said Jon Lester, Cubs starting pitcher. It’s easy to commiserate with Lester because we’ve all been there—perhaps not on the pitcher’s mound, but we’ve all faced the yips in life.
Losing your edge is a different kind of mental struggle. It’s a state of mind that can get comfy, stay a while, and then leave without a moment’s notice. If you look up the definition of yips, it says they are poorly understood and have no known treatment or therapy. It’s no wonder they’re a source of frustration for leaders on and off the field.
A few pitchers like Lester shared how they find that good feeling again:
- Jacob deGrom on pitches that give him trouble: “My big thing is, early on, if something’s not working, to not completely give up on it … Keep using it. It happened to me Opening Day this year. My changeup wasn’t very good, and we stuck with it and ended up coming around.”
- Tyler Chatwood on losing the well-known spin on his curveball: “Anytime I’m sitting around watching a game, I’m holding a ball in my hand just to make sure my grips feel good. Some days it’s just not there. The biggest thing is to keep throwing it.”
- Jose Quintana on when he feels like he doesn’t have it: “When I don’t have it, … I just rely on the pitches that are working. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you look at all the variables from that day and see what went into it.”
What struck me about these responses is they were as varied as they were effective. Yet after a closer look, some common threads start to surface that are relevant to us who lead without a glove or home plate.
- Resilience: Each player’s personal method is helpful in recapturing their mental edge when the pitches felt effortless. What habits do you have or need to create that help you get back into your effortless zone? What settles your anxiety so you can refocus? For me, reflecting on similar leadership situations, re-applying what worked and modifying what didn’t helped me regain my focus.
- Confidence: Every player felt confident that it was only a matter of time before the pitch would come back. In the business realm, I experienced how much leadership is a long-view game. It takes time to create meaningful change. Have patience with yourself and those around you. Have faith in your consistency—not the brilliant flashes that fade quickly.
- Stick-to-it-iveness: No player abandons a particular pitch that isn’t working; they keep it in the rotation until it feels good again. Personally, when I was struggling with a specific competency in my job as a CEO, I would step away and focus on other areas that needed my attention, knowing I could return with fresh eyes and perhaps see my challenge in a new light.
Like so much in life—especially sports—losing your edge is often a mental battle rather than an actual loss of a skill. Losing your edge is rarely a permanent state of affairs. You need only to look at these players’ strategies to see they are designed to help them withstand and outlast a temporary setback. Persevere and take comfort in the fact that you don’t have to regain your edge while millions of booing viewers are watching.
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