Champions Get Better

The Lens Newsletter

Recently I ran across a great article, “Mike Trout’s Commitment to Relentless Self-Improvement,” by writer Buster Olney. Whether you’re a baseball fan or not – or even if you’ve never heard of Mike Trout, the superstar center fielder for the Los Angeles Angels – the article provides a great lesson for each of us working to raise champion athletes and people of our own today. That lesson, simply, is this: that champions get better.

Mike Trout isn't just another guy on the baseball field. He's widely regarded as the best all-around player in the game. Still in his late-20's, he’s already a seven-time all-star and two-time league MVP. Statistically, his numbers stand alongside the best players in the history of the game. This guy is really, really good. But here today, I don’t want you just to see how good he is. I really want you to see, despite all he’s accomplished, how badly he wants to get better.

That’s one important quality that separates the champion athlete from everyone else – not how good he is, but how badly he wants to get better. The champion, like Mike Trout, is committed to becoming his very best . He's focused on his journey, not someone else's. In today's world, this focus is uncommon. The average or mediocre athlete is usually focused less on becoming his very best and more on comparing himself to everyone else. If that was Mike Trout’s focus – on comparing himself to others – he’d probably think he had it made. There's no reason to improve when you're already the best. In reading the article, though, you get the sense that Mike Trout is neither average nor mediocre. His commitment to self-improvement is uniquely relentless. It's apparent that if he’s worried about comparisons at all, it’s only in comparing who he is with who he’s capable of becoming.

That’s one important quality that separates the champion athlete from everyone else – not how good he is, but how badly he wants to get better.

In reality, it’s unlikely that our kids will ever be seven-time Major League all-stars or two-time league MVPs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t become champions. Regardless of their physical ability or athletic skill, our children can possess what Mike Trout and every other champion athlete possesses – a genuine commitment to self-improvement. If your child's going to reach their full potential, they have to develop it. Here are three specific ways Mike Trout displays that commitment, and three ways we can help our kids do the same.

1. Choose Humility… Another Trout article references how he "often receives praise from people close to and around the game for how humble he is both on and off the field.” Developing that one character trait – humility – will go a long way toward helping your child get better, just like it has for Trout. Arrogance is the enemy of improvement, but humility is fuel for growth. While arrogance sabotages opportunities to get better, humility highlights them. Arrogance encourages entitlement; humility encourages ownership. Arrogance creates in us and in our kids a “know-it-all” attitude. Humility makes us less of a "know-it-all" and more of a “learn-it-all.” The bottom line is, the more we model humility in our own life and make cultivating it a priority in our children, too, the more we help our kids develop the mindset of a champion.

2. Attack Weaknesses… The ESPN article describes Mike Trout’s relentless commitment to addressing his weaknesses. Despite being one of the best hitters in baseball, as a young player Trout struggled at times hitting the high fastball. It was the one area where pitchers believed they could expose him. Where the average or mediocre athlete might've chosen to ignore his weaknesses in order to make himself feel better, Trout was strong and confident enough to look them in the eye and then work to improve. He addressed his weakness by studying, practicing, and adopting a new approach. The result? In each of the past five seasons, his swing and miss rate has steadily declined. His weaknesses, including hitting the high fastball, have continued to diminish. For Mike Trout, like any champion athlete, his desire to get better wouldn’t allow him to cover up those areas of weakness or struggle. Instead, he chose to expose them, face them head on, and find a new, better way moving forward.

3. Get Coached… When Trout arrived at spring training last season, an Angels coach approached him with ideas on how he could be more efficient defensively in center field. Already one of the best defensive players in the league, Trout could've easily dismissed the advice and justified that his way was good enough. Instead, his desire to improve helped him see that the coach was right. “Trout listened, took in all the information, and was all-in” on his coach's ideas, the article says. When you have a genuine desire to get better, you welcome coaching – you don’t resent it. Many young athletes and their parents see coaching as some unfair nitpicking or criticism, but champions see it for what it is – an opportunity to learn and grow. As a parent, how you see “getting coached” will probably go a long way in determining how your child sees is, too.

I hope you see clearly today the great example Mike Trout can be for each of us and the young athletes we’re developing. It’s obvious to everyone around him that, despite his talent and success, what he really wants is to improve. “If there is some part of his game where he can get better,” teammate Kole Calhoun said, “he will work to get better.” His willingness to choose humility, attack his weaknesses, and get coached all validate that fact. As a champion sports parent, you can help your child develop that willingness, too. As you do, you help him look more and more like Mike Trout, like a champion athlete committed to making his best even better.