Breaking Down Weaknesses: Identify, Evaluate, Attack
Many parallels are drawn between our personal lives and the sports we play. It is easy to compare how things relate in both of these worlds when it comes to dealing with adversity, handling success, and leadership. A burning question for all of those looking to improve their work life, personal life, physical appearance, and more specifically, their sport, is ‘How do I improve upon my weaknesses?’
In this article, my plan is to outline how to identify, evaluate and improve weaknesses pertaining to baseball specifically. However, I want the reader to be able to connect the dots and use the same parallels to assess weaknesses in other sports and areas of their life. Understanding our weaknesses is an essential component to turn them into strengths.
My purpose is to give you the tools to assess the weaknesses you do have and choose a smart path to improving them. I want to provide you with the tools, I want YOU to do the work.
Identify your weaknesses
Be Honest with Yourself
The first step in this process, and perhaps the most important, is being honest with yourself. If we are truly trying to identify what is holding us back as a ballplayer, there is no point in trying to sugar coat it. After all, it is our own responsibility to identify and conquer these shortcomings. It becomes so easy to pass blame, avoid the ugly truth, and make a weakness seem less severe than it may be.
My challenge for the young athlete is to look into the mirror and have the courage to identify with a weakness as transparently as they possibly can. When I use this term “transparently” I refer to the athlete being transparent with themselves, not necessarily their peers. Be accountable for yourself. Be real to yourself. Set the ego aside. Don’t add extra pressure by feeling like you always have to draw out your weaknesses for others to see.
It is time to ask the big question. “What is my weakness?” or “What is holding me back?” It is safe to say that every athlete or growth minded individual has either asked themself or been asked these very questions. The reality is that it can be hard to answer. As athletes, and more so, as humans, we can often have a skewed perception of our behavior and performance. You may think you are doing great and nothing can go wrong, and in your mind, this may be true. But is this reality? Do your peers see it the same way? Do your coaches view it the same way? Many struggle with this.
If you know you have trouble picking up the curveball out of the pitcher’s hand, but the teams you play continue to feed you fastballs and you are hitting .350, then it may not be necessary for you to alert the whole world that you struggle to pick up the curveball. This would be an instance where you just need to be honest with yourself and address the problem before others catch on. However, you don’t want to just mask the problem with the fact that you are hitting .350. There will come a time where your numbers will cool off and you won’t be able to hide from that curveball, or in other words, your "weakness". Do yourself a favor and lay it all out on the table for your own viewing.
Where do I start?
Once you have identified your weakness, where do you go from there? What do you do if you truly don’t know where to start? This is the biggest hiccup for baseball players and all athletes across all age groups and levels. You know where you struggle, and you just don’t know where to start. Or maybe you have an idea where to start, but you just don’t have the knowledge to fix the issue. You have multiple options.
Option 1: Seek Advice
Having trusted individuals such as coaches, mentors, and truly honest peers can really help out. Seek their advice. Find out what they have to say and find out where your differences are. Try to have an open mind and assess where your thoughts and theirs may differ. Your greatest weakness may even be your lack of self-awareness. When the time comes to identify your weakness, always go back to the previous step and honestly assess the criteria.
Option 2: Self Reflection
You can do some reflection of your own and think back to your successes and failures. Ask yourself if you have more successes than failures. Ask if your successes come from your failures. Do you make the same mistakes again and again? Are you blind to other ways of thinking, or narrow-minded, using only your style or knowledge and shutting out potential growth? You may be surprised how much you can learn from yourself.
Much of this will take time. You will not learn everything overnight. In the game of baseball, and more importantly, the game of life, you will always be learning and looking for ways to improve. You will not have all the answers immediately. Nor should you. Working to improve is half the battle. Searching for the right answers and the satisfaction of finding them is what makes your athletic journey worth the while. When you do have the answers, you will still have to organize a plan of action.
Is this really a weakness of mine?
Whether you seek outside sources or just deep within your own thoughts to identify your shortcomings, you need to revisit the validity of the weakness. Is this really the thing(s) that holds you back? Don’t let others tell you what your weaknesses are without sitting down and rationally thinking about them.
If a pitching coach tells the ace of his staff that his greatest weakness is his lower half driving toward the plate, causing a lack of velocity; but in that pitcher’s mind, he knows the reason for the decline in velocity is his aching shoulder, then it is safe to say that the pitching coach is wrong. However, if you are a hitter who is told he is not pulling the ball for the simple fact that he is not getting extended, but you feel like you are...then ask teammates and other coaches. Watch film. Get a better understanding of what you are being told. Just because you don’t feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Make sure you rationalize what you are being told.
This is a step in the process that is often left out the further we get into our sport, especially when dealing with coaches and mentors that have played at higher levels than us and have higher credentials. However, in the end, you need to be able to rationalize what others are telling you. Do not take what others say for granted. Be able to ask yourself “WHY?”
Is It in my Head?
Often times, people are so quick to point out weaknesses as physical. In reality, there are just as many of us with mental blocks or trouble with focus. It is important that the young athlete is able to take a step back at times and assess what is going through their mind. Clouded thoughts can hinder physical performance. That may be the weakness altogether.
Let’s use a college shortstop for instance. He has always been strong defensively. Now all of a sudden, he has a coach who is a stickler for clean defense. He now has a thought in the back of his mind that he cannot mess up. After the first game, he makes three errors. He gets an ear full from his coach about how he is not charging the ball, his glove isn’t down, and his footwork is off. So now in practice, instead of just letting his body do the work that it has done for the past ten or more years, the player starts to focus on the physical part of it. Now he can’t seem to field a ground ball. This carries on a couple weeks, and the player may think, man I have a problem with my footwork. But is it really his physical play, or is it between his ears? All of us reading this article would say it is a mental weakness that came about from a distraction. But with clouded thoughts, often times you cannot see this for yourself.
Being able to relax your mind in peaceful thought and relection is an important skill that many young adults do not possess. As an athlete, you must know the difference between physical weakness and mental weakness.
Don’t Let it Snowball
I have seen many instances where a young athlete has a physical weakness pointed out, either by a coach or a peer. It may not be malicious in nature, but nonetheless can alert the athlete of a shortcoming. This awareness, if not addressed, can begin to fester. Now we have activated a mental block. Instead of the athlete operating on a confident, worry free basis, now we have a mental insecurity arising from another peer or coach’s proclamation of a weakness. This is exactly what happened to the shortstop in the previous paragraph. The premise of whether or not the idea being planted in the young player’s head is a true weakness or not, is irrelevant.
Now, what we should be more focused on is the mental weakness that we may be causing and the lack of focus it can initiate from the athlete’s ability to concentrate on his quality of play. Do you now see how all weakness, whether physical, mental, or focus based can all be intertwined? I like to refer to this as “Snowballing.” A physical weakness can snowball into a mental weakness and then lack of focus and vice versa. This will happen if issues are not brought to light and are not handled in the correct fashion.
How Do You Stack Up?
I think everyone would admit that the most common ground for judging weaknesses within athletes are in relation to the level and/or age group they are competing at. In other words, “How does one stack up in relation to their peers and other ballplayers?” Is this a weakness relative to your own skillset? Is this a weakness in relation to your peers and other ballplayers your age? Or is this a weakness on a professional level that you one day wish to reach? you may have to rationalize these things in your head before you come to a conclusion. Over time, your view on which categories your weaknesses fall into will change. That’s normal. Perception is everything. We still have to make sure we relate to what is reality.
Take a 46 year old male corporate office worker, who enjoys his leisure time long distance running. Let's say this individual has no intention of competing in any way. He just enjoys running. He also is not very fast. He runs a 10 minute mile. To him, fixing the weaknesses that are relative to his skillset are more beneficial than setting out to fix his overall weakness of not being able to run at a world record pace.
Get to the Root
Even after being able to define a weakness, you still have the challenge of changing it. The single most important concept you can implement into your thought process needs to be addressing the weak point from the root. Wherever the problem is stemming from is where you need to start. This becomes especially difficult for those who have physical weaknesses that they are trying to correct. It can be so easy to try to tackle the issue from what they see on the outside, but is that really fixing the problem?
When you have a beautiful garden full of fresh vegetables, elegant flowers, and hearty trees, what is the one thing you want to keep out of that garden? Weeds. No one wants weeds growing in their garden. When weeds begin to grow, now your garden has a weakness. So you have identified this weakness and you think you have a solution, or at least a couple options. Pull the weeds out the old fashion way or you can kill them with weed killer. Before you make your choice, you have to decide what the pros and cons are.
The pro for pulling the weeds out is you physically can pull the roots out and they are actually gone from the ground. The pro for using a weed killer is you don’t have to exert as much effort and the weeds will die. The con for pulling the weeds is you miss some in the process, leaving them to grow further. The con for weed killer is it may damage your other crops. Most would choose pulling the weeds to avoid the risk of damaging their crops.
So now you have chosen to pull your weeds. It would seem very simple to just yank on the weed and pull what you see sticking out of the ground. Now you don’t see the weeds anymore. Right? Well what happens when the roots grow back and continue to infiltrate your garden? Or is it better to take your time, and make sure you dig out the whole root of the weed to eliminate any further growth? Do you see the parallel here?
It is very easy for a young athlete to be drawn toward the immediate attractiveness of easy fixes. I challenge the young athlete to take a more mature approach and trust the processes that need to be taken in order to properly correct weaknesses, instabilities, and shortcomings. The smartest way for the individual to approach this is to have their short term and long term goals clearly established. With clear goals set, it is much easier for the athlete to decipher where they need to go next to get to the root of their problem.
Have a Plan
Once you have taken the time to seek out the root of your weaknesses, there will need to be a specific plan or agenda in place to improve. In order to move on to this process, you may or may not need to seek some sort of guidance. Talking to coaches, peers, family members, and professionals who have been in your shoes can help on multiple levels both physically and emotionally. Do not hide from it. Seek this help, use these resources and references to help you create a plan of action to attack you weaknesses.
Once your plan is under way, and you have started to see progress, it is important that you set short and long term goals to evaluate how your progress is going. If you avoid this step, you can easily forget about what your weakness even was in the first place. Even if you have begun to fix the origin of the problems and things begin to get better, it is essential that you continue to evaluate, so that the original weaknesses do not reoccur. Certain things will have a tendency to recur. However, the ultimate goal should be to eradicate weaknesses altogether. Use notes with detailed progress reports showing where you started and where you end up after each checkpoint for future use and self reflection.
We all have weaknesses, and we all hope to improve on them. No one is perfect and we will always have weak points. That should never be an excuse to let it be ignored. Figure out where it comes from, how it relates to you, and then set a plan that will enable you to attack this weak area from the root of the problem so that you can ultimately turn this thing into a strength and never look back!
about the author
Dave is a graduate from Piedmont College, where he was a member of the NCAA baseball team. Dave spent his first two years of college playing baseball in Columbus, OH at Capital University. Upon graduating from Piedmont, he has spent his time working as a coach and strength training specialist at the Collegiate and High School level.
Dave is currently working with the Ninth Inning baseball academy in Atlanta, Georgia coaching and strength training with some of the nation's top high school athletes. Known for his superior work ethic on and off the field, Dave has devoted nearly a decade to coaching and researching the major aspects of baseball performance: hitting, throwing, and running. His main goal is to use his extensive knowledge and background in strength and baseball performance training to give his athletes a competitive edge in enhancing their on-field performance.