In the aftermath of the NCAA tournament and while we wait for the NBA Playoffs to heat up, I found great advice from a hated rival of my beloved Milwaukee Brewers, former St. Louis Cardinal manager, Tony LaRussa. As the Cardinals made an incredible run to qualify for the playoffs on the last day of the 2011 season and eliminate the Brewers before winning the World Series, La Russa’s team battled back time and time again. In his recently released One Last Strike, La Russa’s plan for teaching his players to perform in high pressure situations is not only applicable to basketball, but also provides wisdom for living a life of faith.
BASKETBALL – Lessons from handling pressure in baseball.
Since the Brewers came to town when I was seven years old, I’ve been waiting for a World Series victory. The two best opportunities were thwarted by the St. Louis Cardinals. I detest the Cardinals, and in 2011 there was no love in our house for their manager, Tony La Russa – but there was respect, because even a basketball guy like me can appreciate the method to his madness. The Cardinals always seemed to come up big in pressure situations! And as I watched the drama of the NCAA tournament wondering why some teams and some players thrive under pressure, I found myself drawn to La Russa’s book for some wisdom (click for Tony’s Introduction and for my Book Notes).
La Russa’s recipe for performing under pressure:
1. Feel the pressure – frequent practice in pressure situations develops the proper response by identifying your emotional tendencies.
2. Prepare – perfect your mechanics and know your opponent.
3. Focus on the process, not the result – control your mind and trust your preparation.
Basketball players can apply the same recipe for dealing with the inevitable pressure situations that come with the game!
LIFE – How do you handle the pressure?
Love him or hate him, Tony La Russa knows how to coach. He’s had a few personal bumps along the way, but there’s wisdom in this quote – “Just because you’re down to your last strike, you’re not out yet. You can always do more. You’ll have more at-bats to take.” I need that reminder, don’t you? We’re going to have setbacks in a variety of life situations. If you focus only on the success or failure, you can’t grow. Learning through those pressure moments, both the successes and the failures, helps you prepare. And if you stay focused on the process by handling and adjusting to your emotions, you’ll learn to handle the pressure. You can find more great ideas for growing through and handling life’s pressure from John Maxwell.
FAITH – Pay attention to the process because the result is secure.
The good news for believers in Christ is that we don’t have to stress over what happens when we die. Jesus has already handled the pressure of sin and death. When you simply believe this truth and accept God’s grace, you can focus on the process of God transforming you to be more like Him. It may be painful. It may be frustrating. It may be stressful, but you don’t go through it alone. As you focus on that process, you’ll find a companion who walks beside you. All of those challenges, stressors, and disappointments become clear examples of God using the processes of life to bring you to the final, assured result – eternal life with Him. Paul reminds the Phillipians (Phil 1:6):
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Tony La Russa’s advice for handling pressure moments in baseball by embracing the pressure and focusing on the process is also a healthy way for Christians to handle the pressures of life!