This time, every year, the little kid in me starts to resurface. March marks the start of spring training for Major League Baseball…as well as the countdown to the season opener in early April.

Raised right outside of New York City, I was a BIG New York Yankees fan. I grew up during an exciting era for the Yankees, a time when the New York Bombers played Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, Tom Tresh, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, Whitey Ford and on and on. Each game was a thrill.

Between playing baseball, watching baseball, meeting my buddies for our Strat-o-matic baseball league, and collecting, trading and gambling baseball cards (to the incredible dismay and ongoing infuriation of the nuns at St. Anthony’s elementary school), I was in heaven from March to October.

“OK Victor, nice trip down Memory Lane but what on earth does this have to do with family caregiving?” Well, on the surface not much, but just below it, quite a bit. Let me explain…

As a nine year old in 1961, I couldn’t wait to see my baseball hero Mickey Mantle get up to bat. I believed no pitcher could beat him, whether they threw a fastball, curveball, knuckleball or even the well-concealed spitball. No way, no how was Mickey leaving the plate without a hit.

The truth is, even the best Hall-of-Fame hitters only get a hit 1 out of 3 times at bat – that’s a 33% success rate. You may assume I spent a lot of time feeling let down by my idol. Heck no! If Mickey didn’t get a hit this time, I knew there was always next time.

I remember television announcers talking about how most hitters could hit a fastball even though some pitches clocked in at 100 MPH. They said that a prepared hitter knew it was coming and welcomed the challenge.

The curveball was a different story, however, and they felt this was a pitch that separated ”the good” from “the great.” The curve may not boast the same speed as a fastball, but from the time it left the pitcher’s hand, its path was unpredictable, with the goal of leaving the batter off balance and instilling a sense of uncertainty about what was to come.

It seemed that the great hitters did their preparation, took each pitch one at a time, and were not preoccupied with the “what-ifs.” They possessed an innate sense of confidence because they knew they HAD been able to get the job done in the past and therefore COULD do it again in the future. And, here is where I see the similarity between becoming a great baseball hitter and being a family caregiver…

Like baseball hitters, family caregivers don’t always know what’s going to be thrown at them, but they need to be prepared for anything. Some days all you see are caregiving fastballs, straight, to the point and at blinding speed. You’re lined up to shuttle your loved one to a couple of doctor appointments, all while cramming for an unavoidable work deadline and a child’s school conference. Crazy as it sounds, those fastball days are the “easy ones,” since they typically entail some sort of anticipation and plan.

But sometimes, those fastball days sneak in a curveball and with it comes a good dose of unpredictability and uncertainty. When this is the case, I’ve detailed a few coaching tips to help you be better prepared for whatever pitch is winged your way…

Understand Your Position

It all starts with knowing and accepting that you cannot control what pitch will be thrown. All you can do is try your best under your present circumstances. That’s it. Start there.

Prepare the Best You Can

Be confident. Whether you’re a ball player, an employee, a parent, spouse, friend or family caregiver, draw from the skills you already have to address what’s happening in the here and now. There’s no spring training for family caregiving, but skills you’ve already cultivated like time management, effective communication, multitasking, and delegating and knowing when to take charge and make decisions all combine to ensure you have terrific skills for this challenge.

Have a Game Plan

It is important to have an overall game plan, especially to ensure you don’t get worn down. This includes researching and understanding the condition your loved one is coping with and exploring beyond what you’re told in a doctor’s office. It is also very important to identify teammates you can call on as supplemental support to provide much-needed relief and feedback during the good and not so good times.

Embrace a Game-Ready Mindset

If you want to be game-ready, first focus on being kind to yourself!
Successful ball players and successful family caregivers don’t make a habit of ripping themselves apart when they’re not completely satisfied with their performance. Instead, they evaluate an outcome without judgment, they respect the fact that they were prepared and gave their best, and know that there will be other times they can and will do better. They appreciate their role and contribution – every time.

In my opinion, there is nothing more essential to your well-being than self-respect and compassion. Yes, be honest with yourself, but please also be fair to yourself and practice authentic self-compassion daily!

To me, family caregivers are true Hall-of-Famers. A hit-rate of 33% simply won’t do and there’s no off-season to recharge and reset. Family caregivers have their heads in the game all day, every day. And, because of this – and much, much more – remember that to your loved one YOU are their Most Valuable Player!

Help yourself. Help others.