Swinging Away

There’s something that deeply moves me about sports movie scenes where the hero hits the home run in the bottom of the 9th, or makes the game winning shot as time expires. I want to be that hero.

In the 1986 movie “Hoosiers” (Orion Pictures), the undersized small town high school from Hickory defeats the favorite South Bend Central on a last second shot by Jimmy Chitwood, the team’s star player. Every time I watch that scene I get chill bumps and my heart swells because it taps into a deep desire to play the part of the hero. But in reality I’m not confident that I could make the big shot to win the game.

There’s one part in that championship game scene that I can’t identify with, and it’s when Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) is drawing up the final play. He says, “Here’s what were gonna do. Jimmy, they’ll be expecting you to take the last shot so were gonna use you as a decoy. Buddy, you’ll take the last shot coming off the picket fence.” Almost immediately the players’ looks of disappointment and the deflated body language is apparent. Coach Dale shouts, “What’s wrong? What is it?” Nobody says anything and Jimmy looks around, then looks at Coach and says, “I’ll make it.”

Jimmy Chitwood’s confidence, and the confidence his teammates have in him, is palpable. He knows “he’s the guy” to take the final shot. He knows he’s going to make it, and so do his teammates. For me it’s difficult to identify with that kind of confidence, though everything in me feels drawn to it when I see it.

As a baseball player in junior college I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was always trying to prove myself to my coach and he knew it. He used that to his advantage to get the most out of me that he could. A good coach will do that.

The two years I spent playing for him, I always felt like he had it out for me and would never give me credit for doing something well. At the end of my two years there, he invited me to dinner with his family, and afterward as he was driving me back to the dormitory he told me how much he appreciated me and how proud he was of the way I conducted myself as both a student and an athlete. I couldn’t believe my ears. Never had I heard him utter those words while he was coaching me. He merely used my desire for approval and acceptance as a driver to get me to perform. I now wish at that time that I was confident in myself and my skills where I didn’t seek that approval constantly.

When I got to Div I program McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA, I still had this sense like I didn’t belong and I had to earn my spot, even though I received a 100% full athletic scholarship which is very rare for baseball due to the small number of full scholarships baseball is allotted each year. Again, I had a coach that rode my butt to get the most out of me, and I couldn’t shake the negative energy and lack of self-confidence.

Professionally I had glimpses of positive confidence, but it was still difficult coming off the drastically poor senior year I described in a previous post. As a catcher I matured defensively and felt as though I was as good as anyone. I felt like I got a do-over offensively, a fresh start, but I still didn’t have absolute confidence. In fact, the disparity between my defense and my offense could be summed up like this: as a catcher I felt covered and protected, but as a hitter I felt exposed and out in the open. And I was trying to win the approval of coaches, teammates and fans every time I stepped into the batter’s box.

I’ve carried that same performance driven, approval seeking behavior into my adult life beyond sport. Every boss, coach or mentor I’ve had I placed in the father figure role. Constantly seeking approval and worrying about whether or not I did it right in their eyes. And it’s caused me to doubt my own gifts when I didn’t get the validation I was so badly seeking. Thus, creating a flow of negative energy around me that manifests itself as under-playing my ability, not being able to receive praise (even though that’s the very thing I’m seeking), and thinking that I don’t have anything to offer when just being myself is all that is needed.

I’m now aware of where this all comes from… The Wound. The feeling of disappointing someone who loves me and vowing to never disappoint anyone ever again. That’s my wound. That vow came to life when, as a result of my parent’s divorce and being granted custody to my father, I desperately wanted to make sure he approved of me. But because he was stretched financially he couldn’t be present (most of the time) due to working long, arduous hours to make sure my brothers and I had opportunities. This is why, to this day, I place authority figures in the father figure role.

Buried deep in my past and psyche, the wound conveniently makes itself welcome when I least desire it causing me to doubt my talents and rob me of being ME…robbing me of being “the hero”, metaphorically speaking.

As I’ve grown, I have become more comfortable with who I am and the gifts I have to offer, though there is still plenty of room to grow. There are still times when my awareness of the approval seeking, positive energy-consuming monster is non-existent. There are times when I’m “not seen” and my thoughts feed the anger deep within and it gets released as a reactionary snide comment or a self-deprecating rant looking only for attention.

The Hero is still something I desire to be. I want the ball to take the last second shot. I want to come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded. To be the hero, I have to be willing to kill the false self that has cheated me out of so much. I have to be vulnerable enough to be my authentic self and trust the gifts and abilities I’ve been given. And when the opportunity to use those gifts, and be “the hero,” arises, I don’t need to worry about hitting the ball or where it will go… I just need to swing away. Because the only role I’ll ever truly be good at, is being myself.