“I’ve never done something like this before,” he said doubting my request.
“Stop fighting me on this one and come for a walk,” I replied in a soft but stern voice.
“Ok, fine,” he said hesitantly.
“Great, see you tomorrow. 8am,” I said and walked out for the night.
My intent wasn’t to harm him. It wasn’t to show him some new analytic I slaved over all night. I wasn’t trying to change his swing to make it look like Donaldson’s. All I wanted him to do was come on a walk with me at 8 am the following morning - something he had never had a hitting coach ask him to do.
Over the years many have heard me say that hitting is a conversation. I believe in the power of communication, and more importantly, in the timing of the communication. Conversations are powerful, especially when the mentor, coach, or leader can be a world-class listener.
I’m a lifelong learner and in constant search of knowledge and learning from others who have experience finding success. I’m not into the one-size-fits-all approach; rather I’m trying to collect as many experiences as I can in order to influence as many different types of personalities as possible. To lead or coach, you need to be flexible. By listening how others have found success, it allows me to be flexible in my teachings and customize my message to the individual.
Learning To Separate
The thought occurred to me years ago while reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. In it, he talks about Jobs taking regular walks around his neighborhood to reflect, dream, and solve issues. He also liked to conduct his meetings via going on walks.
This fascinated me. I had been taking walks myself, but that was started only to stay in shape. My knees had been destroyed from playing (the slide rule wasn’t around when I played), and so running was not an option anymore. As I started walking more and more, I began to realize that walking was therapeutic. It no longer was just a physical exercise. It created self-awareness and stillness within me.
I began to experience what it truly meant to “separate.” One of my biggest downfalls as a player was that I couldn’t separate work from home. It’s a constant struggle that employees face in every industry, including baseball. There are many stresses that come from playing baseball (professional or amateur) that many outside of the game don’t realize. Players and coaches search longingly to experience that feeling of separation - to come to peace with themselves and find stillness in the “bubble” they live in. The season has been referred to by many as a “grind” and when you’re in the middle of working 7-days a week for 7 straight months, you don’t have time for anything else but practicing, playing and thinking baseball.
The city of St. Louis in July can be unpleasant at times. The suffocating humidity and the strong summer storms can take a beautiful city and turn it into a unpredictable landscape.
And not to mention, you’ve gone 0 for your last 21 - hang with ‘em kid.
As the clock struck 8 am on this particular July morning, I stood in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency with Starbucks in hand waiting for the player to come down from his room.
He walked through the elevator wearing sunglasses, jeans and a t-shirt with matching Jordan’s on his feet. You could tell that he had been up most of the night fighting his own demons in his head. He reached for the coffee - grabbing it out of my hand before saying a word - and took a sip. After savoring the first feeling of the day’s caffeine pulsating through his veins, he spoke his first words of the morning, “What’s up K-dub? Where are we going?”
We walked through the doors onto Chestnut Street and made a left in the direction of the Arch. My initial plan was to take a walk around the park and see where it took us. With caffeine powering us onward, we began our journey.
Finding Stillness On the Diamond and In Life
The conversation started by me asking him how he was feeling. I didn’t ask him how he was. That would have provided me a completely different answer that I wasn’t interested in at that moment. I wanted to know how he was feeling because at our core, when we are asked how we are feeling it touches upon different experiences in our mind, allowing us to emit more genuine and personal responses.
Just as I suspected, he said he was feeling like sh*t. He hadn’t slept at all that night. His mind was racing, and the only way he could wash his anxieties away was by drinking himself to sleep. It was the classic experience that far too many professional athletes find themselves in. He had tried every mechanical tweak he could during the past two weeks, but he wasn’t getting any results. He was doubting his ability. He felt he was on a short leash with the team and feared he was going to be sent back down to the minor leagues if he didn't start producing.
By this time we had made our way onto the pathway toward the Arch. It was a magnificent view. The sun had begun to ascend into the clear blue summer sky, and its rays produced a soothing glow out over the Mississippi River.
I asked him WHY he was playing in the first place. It’s a question I had wanted to ask him for a while, but I felt that I needed to ask that question in person so I could look into his eyes and see his body language to make certain he wasn’t trying to tell me something I wanted to hear.
I needed the truth. So I asked him WHY.
He started to slow his pace and didn’t say a word for ten or twelve steps. All you could hear was the churning of the wheels of the passing steamboat. His silence told me a lot, but I loved every second of it.
The way we can influence and impact others in a positive manner is to ask questions - let’s begin here. But even more important is the fact that if we ask a better question, we can change someone’s life. As a leader/mentor/coach, for all of this to work, you have to value the power of silence. You don’t need to fill dead air with sound. Creating calmness and clarity happens when you allow the person you’re trying to help his or her own space. Embrace the silence. It’s both powerful and therapeutic. Just being in someone’s company is sometimes all that person needs. God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Eventually, he began to speak. “I don’t know Kev. No one has ever asked me that before and I’ve never thought about it. Usually, people just ask me about my mechanics or what my thoughts are on a certain pitcher, etc. That’s deep man. I have to think about it. Is that bad?”
My purpose for taking him on this walk was to hopefully begin to provide stillness in his life. Some call is Zen. Others call it meditation. However you look at it, we all need reflection and self-awareness in our lives. Those moments where we can step back and look at the situation through a third party lens. It’s paying attention to the little things that become big things, whether they are good or bad. Ultimately, we are playing the singular game, both in baseball and in life.
This game will humble you quickly, especially at the highest level, better known as Major League Baseball. During our walk I could sense he was so exhausted from fighting against the game and fighting against himself. There comes a point in everyone’s life when you are just sick and tired of being sick and tired.
As we continued to walk, I could see the tension begin to release from his shoulders. His pace slowed to a rhythmic stroll. His voice even dropped to a soft but reflective tone.
In response I said, “No it’s not bad. You’re certainly not the only one who has wondered WHY they are doing what they are doing for a living. It’s natural. You just haven’t reached this point in your life until now. It’s not something you should be ashamed of. But listen. How cool is this? Here is a wonderful opportunity for you to start spending more time on your WHY so that the HOW becomes easier.”
The look on his face was priceless. He was having trouble comprehending how the lowest point in his life could also be the most exciting time in his life. And equally as confusing, was the concept that finding his WHY could eventually help his batting average.
As we snaked through downtown St. Louis, we continued our conversation for almost two hours digging deep down into the person, and never once talking about hitting. We touched on his WHY, his purpose, anxieties, strengths, weaknesses, fears, etc. It was a deep dive into the person, an exercise he had never done before. There was raw emotion. There was confession. There were tears. There was enlightenment.
He admitted that for the first time in his life he had been humbled and he didn’t know how to handle it. He was searching for things outside of his control. He was trying to fix external things and neglecting the only thing that was truly in turmoil - his internal demons.
All It Takes Is 5 Minutes To Change Someone’s Life
I’m a big believer that all it takes is 5 minutes to change someone’s life. For those who have told me they don’t have 5 minutes to spare, I call BS. If anything is important to you, then you’ll make time for it.
There are a lot of 5 minutes in the day. And our job as mentors, leaders and coaches is to take full advantage of those 5-minute conversations with your employees and players. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
To lead is to inspire. And for us to inspire, we need to dig deep and find out WHY players do what they do. It not only will make them more productive but will enhance your team, organization or business because they are coming to work with a purpose. There isn’t a better employee or player out there than the one with a deep sense of purpose and WHY.
As we navigated through the streets of downtown, the more he talked, the more I listened. He started to understand WHY he was playing in the first place, the most powerful answer he could ever uncover. As he was talking out loud about things that were trapped down deep inside of him, he began to see how he got to this low point in the first place. It was all making sense to him. All I was doing was sipping my coffee and listening to him discover it all by himself.
Since that day in St. Louis many years ago, I have taken many walks with players giving them the separation they need. It’s been fun listening as they talk about their feelings, ideas, families, reflections, etc and seeing that the more they dig at their WHY, the better they do on the field. Some will question if this REALLY works. My response to them is to TRY IT. It’s become such a valuable resource for some of the players, they now they call me asking if I want to take a walk.
It’s certainly not for everyone. But overall, today’s player needs less mechanics, launch angles, and exit velo, and more conversations about WHY they are doing what they are doing. They need to make time to find purpose in their daily lives, which in turn, will create more self-awareness.
I’ll never turn down a walk. It changes too many lives. The best part about it all? No one knows about our walks. Well until now...
PS - If you’re wondering how the player has done since our walk, he’s still playing on your TV in 2017. He’s been an All-Star twice and has signed a long-term contract that has taken care of his family for many generations to come. Most importantly, he is a dear friend whose walks will be cherished long after his playing days come to an end.
For more than a decade, Kevin Wilson has been one of the most respected hitting coaches in the game. He works behind the scenes as a private hitting consultant to some of the bes
He is the author of the Amazon #1 Best Seller The #GoodBatting Book and co-hosts a popular podcast, KWB Radio, that showcases unique conversations with the pros. If you want Kevin to speak at your next event or if you want take advantage of his popular 2-day KWB Experience for players and coaches, contact Kevin today!
Follow Kevin on twitter @KWBaseball and visit his website KWBaseball.com