You’re inside the circle, both feet are on the rubber, it’s a 3-2 count with bases loaded, tie ball game and the clean up hitter is up to bat. What’s going on in your head? Do you hear the opposing team in the dugout? Do you hear your own thoughts more than the loud voices in the stands? Is your mind clear? The more important question that helps you feel good about answer these questions is, how did you prepare for this moment? You’ve got to slow the game down….
To me, it all comes down to preparation for the big moments. Preparation breeds confidence. The more prepared you are, the more confident you can feel to handle any situation that comes your way in a game. Preparation gives you tools to handle adversity or tense situations. Practice competitive, tense situations at practice during the week. By putting players under pressure at practice to perform, they are going to be more used to the feeling when it comes game time. If you have players who never practice pressure situations, then most of them are going to get tense and fail when it comes down to it. Give the loser a consequence. OR give the winner a reward. It doesn’t have to be anything major. But, they need to learn what it feels like to be put under pressure and learn both – what it feels like to succeed and what it feels like to fail. To appreciate both, you have to learn both.
In order to be successful in a tense, important situation, the one thing that has to happen, is that you have to be confident.
With confidence, you are SURE of which pitch to throw to get that clean up hitter out. With confidence, the game slows down. When the game slows down in your mind you have better chances of breathing. If you’re not breathing, there’s no way to get oxygen into your body. That oxygen is going to be another form of fuel so that your body uses so it can perform to its highest potential. Instead of giving focus to being nervous, give focus to remembering to breathe and slowing your breath down. When your breath slows down, the game slows down.
I’ve gotten asked, “How do you drown out crowd noise?” Those players who slow the game down do not often hear crowd noise. They are so focused on the task at hand and living presently in every single moment and every single breath, that outside forces do not affect them as much. You are able to truly give focus and belief in yourself by preparing before game time comes. If you are not as prepared, you are going to be the player who gives outside forces more attention and focus, and be the one who hears the crowd or dugout trying to rattle you.
PRACTICE IDEA: Have a pitcher and a catcher out on the field with a better up, with the rest of the team in the dugout yelling at them for an entire at bat. This is going to help the pitcher focus, this is going to help the batter focus. PRACTICE noise. Practice working through adversity so that you are a little bit more prepared for it, or at least FEEL more prepared for it, when it comes down to a significant in-game moment.
Stay in your own thoughts. Remember to have positive self talk. Don’t talk yourself out of the positive talk that should be going on in your head. Be confident and so focused that nothing else matters other than the catcher who is in front of you behind the plate. Be so focused you don’t even see the batter standing in the batter’s box – she doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is what YOU do. Remember you are in control. Remember if you put the ball where you’re suppose to, and you are 100% behind the pitch with confidence before you throw it, you will have success.
In this critical moment in a game, instead of letting thoughts run through your head about what might happen if you don’t succeed (i.e. she gets a hit off of you, you throw a ball, you a hit a batter), only let positive FEELINGS run through your mind before the pitch. Yep, FEELINGS. What do I mean by this? Everything we go through in life creates a certain feeling (a reaction) when it is happening (happy, sad, mad, nervous, etc), even sports. There is an instant feeling of excitement or happiness created after you throw a strike (if you’re a former player, you know exactly what I mean!). There is an instant feel of madness or sadness after you walk someone or give up a hit. Whether you know it or not, those feelings are being created….
Before you throw the pitch, let a situation run through your head where you see yourself having success in an event that happened in the past. (This could be the pitch you threw before that was for a strike on a corner; it could be a game winning strike out a year ago; maybe even you had been in a tough situation earlier in that game and you got out of it). When you think about that moment, your brain automatically connects with the feeling that was created in that moment to give you more positive energy and positive feel for the task you have at hand. When you see yourself having success, your body feels like it wants to create that same positive feeling again. (Warning: it can happen for the negative situations too….so when you think about not wanting to walk someone, your brain thinks about those negative feelings and doesn’t want to feel it again, which makes you way more tense). So, draw from past experience to create positive feelings in your head that you will feel throughout your entire body, so that you are entering the most important pitch in the game feeling nothing but positive energy towards what is about to happen. Have belief in yourself and confidence in your skills and preparation.
Being mentally tough in the circle is a huge thing to work on as a pitcher. The more tense situations you are put in, the more experience you get with it, and the better you will be able to handle adversity when it comes along. The best advice I can give is to be the most prepared person on the field; you gain confidence from that preparation. Also, start paying attention to your feelings and being able to draw on past experiences and what they felt like. Be in touch with your body and what you are feeling. Know how to talk about them, articulate them, and recreate those positive feelings!
What are other ways that you have found that help to be mentally tough in the circle?