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For all pitchers, pitchers' families & coaches.

by Amanda Scarborough

How to Get Mentally Tough in the Circle

mental game softball Feb 01, 2021

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….

 

PREPARATION GIVES MORE CONFIDENCE

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.

 

WHAT ABOUT CROWD NOISE?

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 WITHIN YOURSELF

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.

SITUATIONS CREATE FEELING – (this to me is the most important to understand)

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?

Why Fastpitch Pitching Leaves So Many In Awe…

mental game pitcher Jul 15, 2020

I love everything about fastpitch pitching. It’s an art – physically and mentally. A very small percentage of people in this world can say that they have taken a stab at it, and even fewer can say that they ended their career as a pitcher and made it through the whole way. There is a certain splendor in watching someone perform the action of underhand pitching, and actually doing it well.

Let me be the first to tell you – pitching is not easy because of how unique the motion is and how each part of your body does something on its own while it still contributes to one full, complete, pitching circle. Softball pitching leaves fans who aren’t around the sport jaw-dropped. Pitching is an act that so many people want to do, but very few last until the very end in the collegiate or professional ranks.

What makes pitching so beautiful is the motion, the dedication and the pressure...

The Motion

There is such a high percentage of parents, especially dads, who have thrown overhand and can teach their sons and daughters the general idea of how to throw a ball in an overhand motion. The percentage of those parents who have any idea on how to pitch underhand is minute, which causes it to have a certain mystique to those who watch. The motion of fastpitch pitching is intriguing.

When watching a fastpitch pitcher, there is truly so much more to it than meets the eye, especially when it comes to physical mechanics of pitching. It’s not easy to perform the action, and it’s even harder to actually excel at being a great pitcher. Because of all the moving parts through one pitch, all of them add to the allure.

There is so much that goes into creating 1 pitch:

  1. Explosiveness – you get ONE BIG PUSH every time you go to complete the act to get the absolute MOST energy from your body. One burst of energy, then you get a break, then another burst of energy. This explosiveness is NOT just a step or a lunge – it’s a giant glide off of the pitching rubber. 
  2. Balance / Smoothness – while you’re making that explosive push out, your head and eyes must stay still, you must stick your finish like a gymnast on a balance beam after exerting a ton of energy through your pitch.
  3. Rules – while you’re trying to be explosive, you have rules you have to worry about concerning your pitch being a “legal” pitch by the rulebook.
  4. Timing –there are many moving parts throughout an underhand pitch, and all have them have to be in the right place at the right time in order to throw a strike. Not only is timing critical for accuracy, the timing is critical in order to have speed and spin. Timing is everything. The muscle memory and repetition to create that timing is the most important because think about the full motion and how many different things are moving at once at a HIGH pace – elbows, calves, legs, finger tips, shoulders, core, wrist. Pitchers are asking their bodies to move at the fastest rate possible, but also be on time every single time in order to throw strikes. Because of that, timing takes repetition after repetition to master.

There is no other motion in sports quite like the underhand delivery, which leads people to be in awe of pitchers.

There are so many things that need to go right in every single pitch in order to have success in a single game, nevertheless in an entire career. The feel of knowing when a good pitch is coming out of your hand is a feeling that cannot be created with any other action in softball. It’s a feeling of success, effectiveness and control and a feeling only pitchers can understand.  To create that feeling over and over again through hard work and dedication is what it takes to create a beautiful, fluid motion that leaves ordinary people in admiration.

The Dedication (aka Sacrifice)

What adds to the attractiveness of a great pitcher is the fact that they are dedicated to their craft. Because of the things listed above about the motion of a pitcher, it takes repetition after repetition to form the correct habits and mechanics. There are so many small drills you can work on as a pitcher to make a complete motion beautiful. You can skip those drills, but being dedicated to those small drills day in and day out is what adds to the absolute beauty of a pitcher with a solid foundation and will add to her success in the long run.

It takes so much time and you must be willing to put in the extra work – more work than any other position player may put into their swing or fielding a ground ball. Are you will to sacrifice giving up some other things to become a GREAT pitcher? If you are willing to, I promise the sacrifice will seem worth it when you look back.

A pitcher pays more attention to detail than any other player every time you go out to pitch, as pitching is the most intricate position to try to master.

It’s that attention to detail and dedication to practicing that creates body awareness, feel and smoothness in a pitcher’s muscles.  Yes you may be dedicated, but a pitcher’s motion is always a work in progress.

Mentally, it can take a toll on a pitcher to put in the work and always having to correct or tweak a little something here and there. For as many things that are going correctly in your motion, there is always something to work on, always something you can be doing better or getting stronger at. The devotedness to practice for a pitcher should be relentless. With devotedness comes perseverance, all the while you are learning the greatest lessons about yourself.

When you look back, you realize the sweat, fatigue, pain and sacrifices were all worth it.

The Pressure

The pressure a pitcher goes through in a game is extraordinary. Think of how a playing field is called a “diamond.” Who is in the middle of that “diamond”?  The pitcher.  Remember, a real diamond is made from high pressure and temperatures. So, seeing as how a pitcher’s position is right in the middle of a diamond, the pressure will be high… 

A pitcher is battle tested so many times throughout a season. If you have never been on a pitching mound or in a pitching circle when the bases are loaded and the game is on the line, you have no idea what thoughts go through a pitcher’s mind and the intense pressure that an be felt at that point. All eyes are on you and you play a tremendous part in what the outcome of the game will be. From the stands, you may think you know, but it’s one of those things one must experience in order to get the full effect.

In the middle of the pitching circle there is no hiding. Everyone watching THINKS they know when you are doing well or when you are doing bad. Sometimes they are right with their assumption, other times they are completely wrong. BUT, as pitcher, you have the most chances out of anybody on the field for others to see your results.You can look at it as the most chances for opportunity to show the world what you’ve got, or you can look at it as the most chances to mess up – the choice is yours. In a game, a hitter may get anywhere between 0-10 swings in 4 at bats. A pitcher is throwing 100+ pitches in a 7 inning game. Your skills are put on display for everyone to see every time you release the ball.

The pressure is a huge part of what makes pitching even more beautiful to watch and take in.

Pressure adds adrenaline and fuel to the fire. Do you use this to get motivated, or do you let it get the best of you?? At the end of the day, if you can handle the pressure and learn to take the bad results like you take the good results, stay consistent with your emotions and be able to handle the pressure one pitch at a time, the sky is the limit for where a pitcher’s abilities can go. You learn to FEEL the pressure, embrace it, but not let it take over your emotions. The pressure will ALWAYS be there, it will never go away. But what makes a pitcher even more amazing, is when they handle the pressure and are able to move on to the next pitch, next inning and next game with a fresh, clear way of approaching it. The best pitchers will change their mindset of thinking of pressure as something negative, and start thinking of pressure as an opportunity.

Pitching. Ugh, I love coaching it, I love still getting a chance to do it. I just think that everything about pitching is beautiful. It’s one of the hardest things to do in sports, which is why the victory of having success when you pitch is one of the biggest highs of the world. It’s the hard that makes it great. There’s a beauty to being in control and having the ball in your hand. You feel the seams under your finger tips and you may even feel your palms sweat a little while you hold the ball. This feeling is OUR feeling – the pitchers in the world who want to take not only the ball in their hand, but they want to take the GAME in their hand and lead their team. This is what it takes to be a great pitcher, are you ready?

Not everyone can pitch. It’s mysterious, it’s difficult, it’s a never-ending project.  When you pitch, you get to be in your own world, like tunnel vision. No one else knows what is going on in your head and your inner thoughts. When you pitch, you can actually become a different person; it’s almost like a yearly Halloween costume. It is your chance to enter a different place and become a different person. If you have never pitched before, it’s hard to even remotely understand what I am talking about, for being a pitcher is its own special breed.

If you can dedicate your time to trying to perfect your mechanics, while persevering through the pressure, then THAT will get you through until the end.

‼ If it’s in you, never give up on being a pitcher. Finishing your career as a pitcher is an accomplishment in itself; it’s like entering into a exclusive sorority. Compared to the mass numbers, very few will be there with you, but if you make it, you share an exceptional bond that very few will ever know.

 

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