Yesterday, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Baltimore Orioles to become the American League champions and move on to play in the 2014 World Series. The Royals path to this accomplishment was no easy task. For 29 years, the Royals teams have been playing in the shadow of the 1985 Kansas City World Series champions. And, the franchise owned the unfortunate honor of having the longest streak of the four major sports leagues in North America of not reaching the playoffs. This changed two weeks ago when the Royals clinched a
Wild Card berth in the playoffs for the first time since 1985. Since they clinched their spot in the playoffs, the Royals have been on an incredible streak. They beat the Oakland A’s in extra innings in the Wild Card game, after trailing 7-3 in the 8th inning. They moved on to win three straight games against the Los Angeles Angels, the team with the best record in the American League this season to win the Divisional Playoff series. And yesterday, they swept the Baltimore Orioles four games to none to win the American League. So currently, they stand 8-0 in post season play this fall.
Why and how have they done this? There are all kinds of opinions on the internet about the manager, the coaching philosophy and the players. The Royals have arguably the best bullpen in baseball and are one of the best defensive teams as well. They have had excellent starting pitching, timely hitting and have been stealing bases in a frenzy. As I have watched the team on their path to success, I have listened closely to the comments made by Manager Ned Yost and the players about how they have been winning so many extra inning games and gaining momentum and excitement not only in Kansas City, but around the country. As the former sport psychologist for the team, I have watched many of these players mature and grow as ballplayers and as teammates throughout this process. Each game a different player or players came to the forefront and provided the game winning hit or pitching performance. After each game, during their interviews all of the players continually stated one common theme, “They were playing for their teammates, the organization and the fans”. Each player pushed the attention away from themselves and talked about how important it was to win for their teammates. One thing I noticed in all of the games was that they did not appear uptight, stressed or tense. They all seemed relaxed and their confidence grew with each successive win. In sharp contrast, the tension mounted and increased on their opponents in each successive game. As the Royals players confidence grew, they became more relaxed and focused on what they were doing and most importantly were having more and more FUN doing it.
The classic definition of team is of “a group of individuals coming together to achieve a goal.” What I have noticed about the Royals is that this is what they are about. On most post season teams there always seems to be one big star, one player who rises to the occasion and puts the team on his/her back to help them win a championship. On this Royals team there have been different stars every night and you can see as they have continued to win, that they have become more relaxed and focused on the task in front of them. As each player is interviewed, they are asked about their individual performance and their first response is always about their teammates or “brothers” in battle. They want to succeed for their teammates and staff and fans.Their focus is on what’s in front of them, how can they perform to their best ability. This team has learned from their individual and collective failures along the way to become an extremely confident group with tremendous preparation and focus, with a positive/realistic attitude.
I think a great lesson that can be learned from the success of the Royals this post season for young athletes is that they have no fear. To an individual player, they all appear ready for each game and what may happen. They have played four extra inning games and have only had one game they won by more than two runs. For years on this newsletter, I have talked about the keys to success: Preparation, Focus, Attitude and Confidence. They Royals have been a great example of how when all these come together individually, they will feed on each other and result in the team indeed becoming just that, a TEAM. To me, they truly demonstrate what a winner really is. In the end it is One game at a time, One inning at a time, One at bat at a time, One pitch at a time.
As always, your thoughts….