Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spring Training

It’s the beginning of baseball season, which means, especially here in the Valley of the Sun, Spring Training. From what I can find online, it looks like fifteen different teams all play their Spring Training games in the Phoenix area, so it’s a busy baseball time for us. It’s a good time to take the family to some fun games where they don’t have quite so much on the line, and just have a good family outing. Tickets are usually cheaper than they will be during the regular season, and the weather is much more agreeable. It’s a great time for practicing, and for watching people practice.

There are so many good allegories in there, I don’t even know where to begin.

Everything we do in life requires training to be done well. From learning to walk to complex equations, we begin with not knowing how, to learning the basics, to adding onto what we have learned, to practice, practice, practice. It always comes down to practice. Even if you nail it the first time, you still have to keep doing it to make that first time stick. You have to do things over and over again until what was unknown becomes natural. Practice does not always make perfect, no matter what motivational posters might have you believe, but practice is necessary to most forms of improvement, which includes any possibility of getting anywhere close to perfection.

You can’t just practice in the privacy of your own closet either. There are external factors that cannot be simulated. Unless you’re doing something “for real” - under the conditions to which they apply, including all of the random variables that usually go along with that - you’re not getting the full experience, and your practice is incomplete. This is why you’re major sports programs all have pre-seasons and pre-season games that are open to the public. They are practicing with all of the additional factors in place, as close as possible to what they will be on game night.

Most major sporting activities actually began as methods of practicing for other real-world activities, usually involving hunting or fighting. If I remember my history correctly, baseball is actually one of the few exceptions to this theory, but the idea is still sound. Practicing for sports and practicing for “real life” aren’t all that different. In fact, the same root principles apply no matter the reason for practice. Repetitive activity that focuses on the basics first leading up to as close to the real activity as can be accomplished under practice circumstances, all in preparation for doing it live.

You also want to get in as much practice as you can get while you have time to practice. That is one of the big reasons why we have so many Spring Training facilities here in the Phoenix area: practice here doesn’t get canceled due to weather. Aside from the extreme heat during the summer, our weather is usually pretty mild, and we don’t get much in the way of storms outside of monsoon season, so teams like the Cubs, or the White Sox, or the Giants - all of whom might have to face a variety of unpredictable weather at this time of year in their respective homes - can get a full season of practice in and not have to worry about starting their regular season behind the curve.

We usually have mild seasons in our lives as well. They may not be as regular or as predictable, but it’s even more important to take advantage of them because you don’t know how long they will last or when the next one will roll around. When the storms are blowing, it can sometimes seem like the next mild season will never come around (it usually will, just like it always has before, though it can sure be hard to tell), but if you have taken full advantage of the previous mild seasons you can be prepared. Get your practice in while you can so that you are ready when it’s game time. Use the time of good weather to get ready for the bad.

Whatever you’re practicing for, though, the best lesson to take from Spring Training is this: Have fun! People play baseball because they love baseball, hard work and all. Yes professional ball players make a good living too, but you can bet they didn’t even start down that road without loving the game first. Practice can be hard work, and practicing for a highly competitive professional sport can certainly be harder work than anything I am used to doing, but it rarely seems like work if you enjoy what you are doing. Life is meant to be lived. We could argue about the details until the sun burns out, but surely we can agree on that much, at least. Life is meant to be lived, and living is so much better when you’re having fun. Get the most out of everything you do, and everything you do will lead to a good life, even when it’s hard work. Have fun.

Practice the skills you need to lead a good life. Practice as often as you can, and under as realistic circumstances as you can manage as often as you can manage it (after you get the basics down, of course). Take advantage of the good times in your life in order to prepare for the struggles. We play games because they teach us things we need to know in life. We play games to have fun. There is no “but” in there because I think having fun is one of the most important things we need to learn about life. Work at making it work, but have fun with it and it won’t seem like so much work.

Baseball season is under way and the Spring Training games are going strong. If you have the opportunity, go join the crowd and root, root, root for the team of your choice. They have quite a few more options than peanuts and Cracker Jack these days, but fun is always on the menu. Live your life, enjoy your life, and always learn from what you’re doing. That’s part of your training.

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