If you watched the last game of the 2015 World Series, you saw a classic and avoidable mistake. We all make them. And we wish we didn’t.
New York Mets starter Matt Harvey was pitching a shutout through the eighth inning. He had thrown a full complement of pitches. He was in the zone and ecstatic — until his manager informed him he that would not pitch the ninth inning. He protested, the manager gave in, the crowd roared and disaster happened.
If you watched Harvey exit the dugout, you could have easily predicted the outcome. Harvey ran to the mound, psyched up and ready to decimate the opposing batters. The fans chanted his name. The atmosphere was electric.
Pitchers walk to the mound. They are focused and intense. They are not distracted. The ability to throw a 90-mile an hour fast ball with accuracy, and mix in two or three other pitches, is what beats batters. Tuning out distractions, lowering the heartbeat, breathing slowly and delivering powerful pitches takes rhythmic coordination.
Harvey threw high, outside and almost wildly. The train wreck that was about to come was predictable and avoidable. Whether or not he deserved to be on the mound, he did deserve masterful coaching.
Harvey’s mistake was his failure to reclaim the Zen-like focus required of him in that moment. He needed the help of his coach to do this; a coach who could take him aside, get into his head, focus his vision inward, slow his breathing and create the calm mindset that allows a superstar to deliver in the intensity of a big moment. Psyched up, with his adrenaline running, Harvey’s pitch control was lost — and so were the Mets’ hopes for a World Series ring.
The ability to “center down” in a crisis, whether it’s exhilarating or life threatening, determines the outcome of many critical decisions in life. It is a wonder that mental control is not taught as a major life lesson for all of us. We can learn it, we can practice it and we can use it to improve.
And when the forces of enthusiasm are greater than our skills, we should be able to rely on our coaches to bring us to that focus. Harvey was let down by his coach; don’t be let down by yours.
It’s incredibly valuable to have a life coach, a confidant, a trusted friend in your life, and to rely on their perspective when yours is about to fail you. But knowing when that moment is at hand, and being able to ask for help, is the hardest part.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco. He pioneers advanced orthopedic surgical and rehabilitation techniques to repair, regenerate and replace damaged cartilage and ligaments.