By LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
LOS ANGELES — When it comes to winning any type of championship in athletics, and particularly in baseball, survival is the operative word.
No matter how dominant a team is, they reach a crossroads during the season where a ball club will either move forward with renewed vigor, level off or go backwards without ever recovering.
It is an area in sports that is rarely talked about but happens every year. An expert on the subject of surviving is Ben Sherwood, author of The Survivors Club. He spent years interviewing people who survived near death experiences. And he not only documented these remarkable stories in his book, but he sought to find out who beat the odds, who surrendered and why people bounced back while others gave up.
If this wasn’t enough, he allows you to discover your own Survivor IQ through a powerful internet-based test called the Survivor Profiler which was developed exclusively for readers of the book. It gives a customized report on your top survivor strengths.
What baseball coach wouldn’t want to know this information about all his players? After studying the personalities and patterns of people who overcome adversity, five main survivor types emerged:
• The fighter.
The second part of the Survivor Profile digs deeper into each person’s psychology and tells you your top Survivor Tools. There are 12 measured by the Profiler:
Sherwood granted an exclusive interview with Collegiate Baseball and explained how the information from his research plays a big part in sports and specifically baseball.
"Life and competitive sports present the same fundamental ups and downs," said Sherwood.
"The question I sought out in writing The Survivors Club was who are the most effective survivors and thrivers. The translation to sports is winners in life. What makes them so successful? Are they different from you and me? Are they built differently? Are their genetics different? Are their personalities different? And how can we get more of what those winners have in life’s toughest battles?
"The framework in the very beginning of The Survivors Club in my approach was to find out what the secrets were of the most successful winners in life’s toughest battles. And how can we learn from that?
"The battles I explore in the book include plane crashes, ferry disasters, car accidents, cancer, violent crime, a mountain lion attack on a woman which left her barely alive and the like. What I’ve learned over the last few years in interviewing hundreds of survivors and thrivers around the world is that the difference between a mountain lion attack, a 10-game losing streak or crushing injury is much smaller than it seems.
"That’s because the personal qualities required to overcome hurricanes and tornados or losing streaks and injuries are quite similar and require a very similar fundamental set of skills. My thesis is that survivors and thrivers, winners in life’s toughest battles, draw from the same tool kit. We call them different things in different environments.
"In the military, they call it situational awareness. In basketball, they call it ‘court awareness’ which is a sense of the game and play and what is happening on the court. In game four of the recent World Series between the Yankees and Phillies, I was struck by Johnny Damon’s steal of second in the top of the ninth for New York. Because the infield had shifted to the right with Mark Teixeira batting, nobody was covering third. As Damon approached second, he saw that third base was open. So he continued on to that base and made it safely. He stole two consecutive bases on the same play because of his situational awareness. He knew he could outrun the closest fielder to third base.
"The most effective survivors and thrivers are people who share this common tool kit. They have adaptability, resilience and tenacity. These are qualities of great teams time and time again in sports. You see these teams come back from being down from losing streaks, back from bad calls from umpires. They are the teams that have the ability to bounce back from adversity.
"So what I explored in The Survivors Club is what are the science and secrets of the teams, people and businesses who are able to bounce back the fastest."
Sherwood said in baseball, you can strikeout one inning and be the hero the next.
"The great players are the ones who get knocked down. Take a look at Alex Rodriguez. He had a miserable time of it through the first three games of the World Series and essentially up to game four through the first eight innings. Then in the ninth inning of that game, he had a key at bat to win the ball game.
"A concept from the survival literature is the ability in the midst of the crisis, whether that be crisis of confidence or crisis of all the noise in your head, that you aren’t doing well and supposed to be doing better. The ability to create ‘deliberate calm’ is essential in survivor literature.
"Deliberate calm is the concept taught to military pilots in fighter pilot school and survival school. Deliberate calm is the ability in the midst of terrible, terrible pressure, hostile environment and tremendous adversity to create the calmness to approach your task and problem you face with the type of calm that will allow you to handle it."
Sherwood said that he noticed how Joe Torre, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, handled a bad stretch during the season.
"The Dodgers were in a miserable slump during the second half of the season. There was a particular point where the Dodgers had lost a 9-game lead, and the Rockies were on the verge of catching up with them. Torre was asked what his approach was. He pointed out that the game of baseball at the major league level is a pressure cooker. There are high expectations of the best teams to win and perform.
"Coach Torres’ approach to get them out of this slump was to try to spread the notion of deliberate calm throughout the clubhouse. He didn’t use those precise terms, but that is what he was doing. It wouldn’t help his team if he ratcheted up the pressure by screaming at them.
"They were already under a tremendous amount. Instead, his job was to remind them of their strengths as a unit and to remind them of the things that they were particularly good at doing and encourage them to go out and string together hits instead of trying to hit home runs.
"Putting 4-5 hits in a row during an inning would lead to victory. Sure enough. After reminding the team about their strengths and that they needed to focus on that, the Dodgers went on to win the division. The concept of deliberate calm from the survivor literature is relevant. Under tremendous pressure, you need to calmly access the situation and focus on the strengths you have to deal with the particular challenge staring you in the face.
"One of the phrases in my book is ‘Eating an elephant one bite at a time.’ The concept is relevant to baseball teams. If you go out there and look at the fact that you are in the midst of a 9-game losing streak or blown a 4-game lead in your division, the entire challenge can be overwhelming. But if you just focus on each pitch, each at-bat and each inning and put together nine successful innings, eating an elephant one bite at a time leads you in the direction of more confidence. You get momentum in what you are doing. And instead of getting indigestion and giving up because an elephant is too big to eat in one bite, you start to make progress in achieving your goal."
Sherwood said another concept baseball coaches will find useful is "hugging the monster."
"The most successful survivors and thrivers don’t run from or avoid danger or fear. They wrestle with it and look it right in the eyes. The more familiar you are with your fears, and the dangers and threats out there, the more recognizable they become. And then they become more manageable when you deal with them."
More About Surviving: A special 2-part series on this subject appeared in the first two issues of 2010. You can order both copies by calling Collegiate Baseball’s subscription department at (520) 623-4530.
Call our subscription department at (520) 623-4530 weekdays from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mountain Time. A copy of this issue is available for $3 while a year’s subscription (14 issues) is $28.