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Confidence makes a real difference in athletes

August 11, 2013
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Many sports are known as games of inches.

Fair or foul … swish or brick … birdie or par ... many times, the difference is just a fraction of an inch.

Scouts and fans are obsessed with the height and weight of prospective stars, trying to put a physical spin on a player’s ability to succeed.

As it turns out, you can put away all the rulers. Success all comes down to half a foot.

Six inches. That’s it.

That’s about the distance between a human being’s left ear and the right ear.

Training regimens make players bigger, stronger and faster. Trainers and nutritionists are hired to keep athletes healthy and eating correctly for the best possible chance at success.

Even with all that preparation, it comes down to the six inches between the ears.

Do you have the confidence to perform well in pressure situations?

It comes down to who flinched and who persevered in a split second.

Confidence is an elusive commodity in sports.

Every athlete has confidence in his or her ability, and lives to defend that honor.

But confidence is fickle. It gets lost easily during batting slumps, losing streaks and even column writing.

Yet the teams with the most confidence usually win championships, or at least play for them. Confidence is contagious.

An example of confidence comes packaged in the form of Hagerstown Suns second baseman Tony Renda.

He stands 5-foot-10 (if he’s on a hill) and weighs 170 pounds (if drenched), but Renda personifies the reason the Suns have been successful this season.

“It’s thought process. … When you get into that mindset, it settles you down and doesn’t let you try to do too much.” Renda said recently after leading the Suns to another victory.

Despite his dimensions, his mindset makes Renda a pretty imposing figure. He’s a tough out and is part of the personality of a baseball team that has very little power but all of the savvy it needs to be one of the best clubs in the South Atlantic League.

It is a quiet confidence that comes from being certain of his task and executing it the majority of the time.

The ability to channel into that confidence makes all the difference in the world.

When confidence is around, it’s the best teammate. When it leaves, that world becomes a lonely place.

Right now, it’s rather lonely in Washington, where paramedics are on call to find a pulse on the Nationals.

The Nats are basically the same team that led the majors in wins in 2012, yet they can’t crack .500 this season. It was World Series or Bust this season, and right now the Nats are broken down on I-270.

The air of confidence is missing. Batters are feeling for the ball instead of swinging at pitches. Pitchers look like they are aiming for spots instead of trusting their ability.

If proof is needed, watch the swings the Nats take with runners in scoring position, or the pitches after something goes wrong.

The ebb and flow of confidence makes or breaks athletes.

Take LeBron James, for example. He missed a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Undaunted, after a teammate got the rebound and fed James, he had the confidence to shoot it again, helping the Miami Heat to their second straight NBA championship.

Or take baseball closers like Drew Storen, Brad Lidge and Mitch Williams, who look to rediscover it after their air of invincibility is wiped out in the postseason. They’re often never the same again.

Is confidence in question when star players turn to performance-enhancing drugs? Is that because they don’t believe they are as good as they think?

In these days of drug-induced success, there are still a few who have the ability to overcome adversity and succeed with self-belief in ability.

Confidence is the difference between Chris Davis, 2012 version, and this year’s “Crush” Davis phenomenon in Baltimore.

It was the impenetrable shield of the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders of old, and the former Tiger Woods.

It’s the essence that lifted Renda to heights this season. It’s the baby-face glow that has put players like Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Matt Harvey and even Bryce Harper on our radar. It is a major factor in the dominance of Miguel Cabrera.

They all have found their ways to measure up.

Winners never need a yardstick when they stand tall.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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