Knowing Your "Why"
Updated: May 18, 2020
"Why?" is a fundamental question that is often overlooked. Sometimes athletes don't care to know or are afraid to ask why. Sometimes pride gets in the way of why because the "do this because I said so" mindset is still alive and well in coaching in some aspects. Sometimes athletes think questioning superiors is disrespectful. No matter the reason, occasionally why is left behind. "Why" was something I overlooked for a majority of my baseball career and I believe I wasn't the best player I could be because I wasn't concerned with why. By why, I mean the reasoning and logic behind all of our decisions, actions, plans, programming etc as athletes. Why am I doing this certain lift? Why am I throwing long toss on this day and not tomorrow? Why do I spend a whole week hitting 60 mph BP then expect to consistently hit 90 mph on Friday's? Why is my curveball backing up half of the time?
I can attribute my initial pursuit of wanting to know "why" from being a biology major in college. In the more advanced classes most of the classes revolved around independent research and asking yourself questions. Why is this the way it is? What would happen if...? Being respectfully skeptical. Let's experiment and test. Make modifications, retest. What were the results? Did it approve or disprove our initial hypothesis? A result that approved or disproved what we thought doesn't make it a success or failure, it just tells us fact. THIS is WHY or why not this certain thing happens and now you know.
This scientific and analytical way of thinking was something I eventually ended up taking with me onto the field. For the majority of my career I listened to instruction from whatever coaches I had and never asked "why." Most likely because I didn't know sh*t. But what I started to realize was, how can I apply this knowledge on my own if I don't know the "why?" If I don't know the reasoning and logic behind what I'm doing, how am I supposed to learn from it and make changes? Changing from a position player to a pitcher and specifically when I got to professional baseball, I made a conscious effort to know the reasoning behind everything I do and that guarantees me a few things:
-Accountability for my performance
-Belief/Conviction/Sense of Purpose
Knowing the "why" behind my work and performance leaves complete responsibility of the results on myself, and no one else. If you have no idea why you do what you do to prepare for competition, it is easy to place blame on someone else when you don't succeed. I know because I was there before, there were times in my career where I didn't understand why I did what I did and when I stunk, it wasn't my fault. It was someone else's fault, I made excuses because I was just doing someone told me what to do, so how could it be my fault? Understanding the rhyme and reason behind your training gives you the autonomy to know whether you're doing what is best for you, you're not doing something just because someone told you to. When that happens and I succeed, I know why. When I fail, I know why and I can make changes. There is no guesswork, it's on you. You win because of what you CHOOSE to do or you fail because of what you CHOOSE to do.
Secondly, an understanding behind our actions gives me total belief and conviction in what I am doing to succeed as an athlete. Completely understanding and believing in my throwing, lifting, running, nutrition, sleep, etc makes me want to do them to the best of my ability because I personally believe it is the best way of doing things. For a personal example, early in college I would walk into the weight room, not know why I'm doing any of these exercises and have the "this is bs" mindset. Due to that mindset, I didn't believe in what I was doing and sure as hell didn't complete all of those lifts with conviction. Now, I lift knowing why I do every exercise and specifically how it can help me so it's a lot harder to skip or dog those exercises. The difference is you're faced with a decision- do I want to get better or not? When you don't know why you do what you do, it's easier to skip and half-ass things because you don't even know why it helps or hurts you in the first place. If you know and understand why you do what you do and how it can benefit you, you are actively choosing not to do something you know can help you, which is way harder to do. There's also a certain relief that comes from autonomy in your work. If I succeed or fail, it was because of what I chose to do. It is your career. If I fail and look back in ten years, I will be at peace with knowing I believed in what I did and it was my choice, not someone else's.
The main point of this piece was to illustrate how asking why has given me a sense of purpose and knowledge behind my training and how that has motivated me to become a harder worker. No longer am I wondering why this/why that/what if. Baseball has evolved to the point where there is little guesswork if you're willing to look. There is data, quantitatively (tech) or qualitatively (coaching), to tell you the "why" behind your every move-or close to it. Ask questions. Ask why. Be skeptical (respectfully!). Know your purpose. Know your why.