San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Duffy has good advice: Don’t look up. Not to the stands and not to the big name athletes who arrived ahead of you.
When Duffy was called up from the minors he was a self-described nobody. Well, Matt Duffy was somebody to his friends, family, and minor league teammates, but he was not a household name. The household name guys - Pirate Pence, BustaMove Posey, Brandon Crawford (who doesn’t have a nickname in our household) - apparently told Duffy upon his arrival in the Giants’ clubhouse: “Don’t look up.”
Now, Duffy is sharing his “welcome to the majors” story in the Players Tribune, which was printed, emailed, and passed around the coaches’ lounge at the middle school where I work. The essence of his message: you belong.
No need to prove yourself, man, that’s done. You’re here, you’ve arrived. Just be you. You belong.
Duffy’s story of the Giants’ gold-hearted team atmosphere strikes me as believable. Come-from-behind, fan-torturing World Series titles are won in large part because team members find strength in each other. These teams win in pressure situations. Why? When things get sketchy, when games get close, team members trust each other. They believe that the guy at bat is going to do what he’s capable of doing – get on base, hit a homerun, or advance a runner. No need to prove yourself, man, that’s done. You’re here, you’ve arrived. Just be you. You belong.
That kind of support makes it possible for pro rookies, sixth-graders, or first-year college students to play confidently. And that confidence makes it all the more likely they will succeed.
The first time I rode in Oregon’s Cascade Classic Stage Race (probably the most-elite, most-competitive professional women’s bike race in the U.S.), I called my coach in tears at the start of stage one.
“I don’t belong here,” I cried. I rattled off the names of the iconic women in the race. There were Olympic cyclists and champions from all over the world. I had taken 98thth place out of 99 riders in the flat, super-short, highly-technical prologue the night before.
I was looking up. I felt I had to prove to the people watching that Paralympic cyclists – especially those with two functional legs – belonged in a professional women’s race. Even though I won virtually all of my races earlier in the year and earned all of the upgrade points required to enter the Cascade Classic, I was terrified that I wasn’t strong or gutsy enough to compete with the likes of Clara Hughes (multi-time Olympic medalist in speed skating and cycling for Canada). Looking up is a perfect recipe for locking up and panicking.
As soon as the race started, I wasn’t looking up anymore. I was just riding my bike, following wheels, skirting around slower riders one-by-one every time the road pitched up. On the final day of the race, I rode the final two kilometers with an elite group of women cyclists. That was when Clara Hughes rolled up next to me.
Don’t be in awe, you can’t be a competitor and a fan.
Duffy’s second piece of advice would have been good right about then: Don’t be in awe, you can’t be a competitor and a fan. Our momentary exchange went like this:
Clara: “You’re doing really great!”
Me: “Thanks, this is…..oh my god, you’re awesome! Wow!”
That tiny lapse in concentration was all the opening she needed. Clara pushed me off the wheel I was following. Out of the draft, I watched the lead group slowly pull away and finish the race without me.