For sports fans, this is the best time of year. Sporting events for five major American sports leagues (MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, MLS) happened this week. For the MLS and MLB, the month of October is a pressure-filled time of year: the playoffs. The time in a sports season where the lights are the brightest and each play is magnified.
A time when select players emerge to the top, while others come up just short. San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner did more than just emerge. He shot up to the pinnacle of the sports world with his World Series MVP performance.
The heroic story was plastered all over sports media today. The pitcher defied logic in the MLB modern era to win two World Series games and earn a five inning save in Game 7. He also seemingly ignored typical human anatomy by performing at his highest level in the critical Game 7 on only two days of rest. The Giants pitcher finished with an ERA of 0.43 in the series. To put it simply, he won the Giants three games in the World Series.
Hence why he is now known as Mr. MVP Bumgarner.
Any semi-sports fan can tell you he has talent from the stat line alone. But, I care more about how he took that talent to a new level in a time when pressure was the highest.
I won’t lie and say I watched every pitch Bumgarner threw. Let alone, I didn’t even watch a whole game. I’m not the biggest baseball fan. But, the moments I did see told me everything I needed to know.
His performance reminded me so much of something I’ve heard often before: “aware of the significance, absorbed in the substance.” That’s the mentality athletes need to perform in these high pressure situations. His unwavering concentration gave him complete control of the high significance situation. While, his substance was some of the best pitching baseball has ever seen. A performance that appeared easy and fluid yet precise and skillful.
His demeanor on the mound reflected an athlete in the “flow state.” A sign to the Royals, his opposition, that they had no chance. The “flow state” is a technical term for what most people would call being “in the zone.” I like to see it as talent enhanced with concentration meeting opportunity.
Bumgarner personified concentration. He threw a strike out and his body language looked like nothing happened. He threw a ball just outside and he looked the same. Nothing was throwing him. He had a calmness about him. It stuck out because few would expect him to be so composed in that situation.
Bumgarner delivered for his team. Even with the eyes of expectation on him at the brightest stage, he performed his best. He handed out a free lesson in performing in high pressure situations. It’s a great reminder that big occasions call out for more than talent alone.
Everyone has talent at that stage. It is more about concentration. The concentration to one play or pitch at a time.
It is a challenge to maintain this high concentration in big games. It is easy to become distracted by the prize laying ahead we want so badly. But, we can overcome this.
We will concentrate on the little moments, and trust that they will lead us to the prize we want.
“Aware of the significance, absorbed in the substance”