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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?

10 Questions to Ask When Trying Out for a Team

August is the month of tryouts across the country! Girls are changing teams, coaches are looking for new players, and there is a lot of migrating.
 
It's important as a parent and as a player to think of some questions to ask the coach of the team who you are trying out for. Just as much as your daughter may be trying out for a team, that team should also be trying out for your daughter. It's not a one way street.
 
Being on a team is like being in a relationship, and the goals of the team must align with the goals you have for yourself as a player and for your daughter.
 
You represent a team just as much as the team represents you.
 
What does the team believe in?
Are the coaches fully committed to the team?
Are they fully committed to upholding standards/values?
How do they coach?
Have you watched this team play?
 
There is so much moving around/quitting teams that occurs during the actual season, and maybe some of this could be limited if you asked the right questions BEFORE you committed to playing on a team.
 
A parent and a player have every right to ask coaches of the team questions before committing to the team. In fact, it's not out of the question to do some research before ever trying out for a team.
 
Don't rely on what OTHERS are saying about a certain team. The best way for you to see if a team is a good fit is to go out and watch the team play/interact yourself. You can pick up on certain energies and coaching tactics by going out and watching a team play in a tournament.
 
It takes some extra effort and legwork, but it's important that this process is THOROUGH, as you don't want to waste a year on a team that is not a good fit. Every year is critical in development - mentally and physically - and every year is critical to use wisely to take steps toward playing at the next level!
 
Here are some questions I always suggest asking! 
 
1) How many girls do you plan on carrying?
More girls = less playing time. Always. There might be the 2-3 KEY players who are undoubtedly going to play every single inning of every single game, but the rest leaves room for rotation and sharing of innings.
 
2) Which tournaments are you planning on playing in in the fall, summer (and spring)?
This especially plays a big part once the girls get to high school and start thinking about the college recruiting process. There are so many college exposure tournaments and round robins that are played in the fall and in the summer, and it's important the your team is going to some, if not all, of these tournaments in order to give your daughter the maximum exposure to college coaches' eyes so she can play at the next level.
 
Also, the best teams from across the nation are at these tournaments, which is what draws in the college coaches to begin with.
 
They want to see the best playing the best.
 
So not only is your daughter performing in front of college coaches, but also competing against the best talent from around the country - which makes her BETTER.
 
Another awesome part about playing in more competitive tournaments is that even if a college coach doesn't know about your daughter or your team, they might show up to a game to specifically watch a team you are playing or a player on a team you are playing. Then, indirectly, they could see your daughter, even though that wasn't the main point that brought them to the game. Playing better teams in more competitive tournaments gives many more chances to be seen by a college, even if your team is not the marquee team.
 
There is no better way to prepare her for what she is about to go up against when she takes her game to the next level.
 
3) How many girls do you have returning to your team?
 
4) What kind of college contacts do you and your coaching staff have?
Does this coach have many contacts from across the nation and various schools or are they limited to regional contacts?
 
What school does YOUR daughter want to play college at and does the team you're trying out with have access to communicate with that college coach and a relationship already formed? You can also look to not just one coach, but the entire coaching staff and see the collection of college contacts that they have acquired over the years. The more college coaches they know, the better, and also the more diverse group of college coaches the staff knows as a whole, the better.
 
Under this same umbrella, there will be younger, newer coaches just getting into the game who may not have the collection of college contacts like the veteran teams. We all have to start somewhere with our networking right? If this is the case, ask how this new coach plans on getting to know college coaches! Ask how much time the coach plans on dedicating to getting his/her name out in the college coach community in order to meet as many college staffs as possible.
 
5) Have you watched this team play? What kind of energy do they have?
The best way to understand the feel and energy of a team is to actually show up at one of their games and watch them play.
 
Watch the energy of the girls on the field and in the dugout and watch the way the girls/coaches interact with each other in between games and most importantly DURING the game. You want to pay attention to the atmosphere that is created there within that organization and get a feel for if you feel like your daughter would flourish or take steps back if she played for them.
 
Is it serious, focused business? Are players talking to their parents in the stands? Are uniforms tucked in? Are girls hustling to their positions? Are players throwing their equipment in the dugout? Are players engaged in the game in the dugout?
 
What a team looks like when no one is watching should reflect your priorities/values as a family and as an individual player.
 
Every player is different. Every coaching staff is different. And instead of asking other parents or players, go watch for yourself. That's genuinely the best way to determine if that organization fits with the needs of your daughter and puts her on the right path to succeed.
 
6) Parent involvement in the organization, more hands on or stand back?
Are you one of those parents that likes to take initiative at the practices and be very involved in the stands in the game? Every team's rules are different for the involvement of their parents.
 
Make sure you know what you WANT for your involvement to be and what is accepted on that team, so that there are no speed bumps along the way.
 
7) How do you see my daughter fitting into your system? How will she be utilized?
THIS IS THE BIGGEST ONE! Especially for players who are athletes and can play multiple positions and can showcase their talents in different ways. For example... A catcher who is also a great short stop. A second baseman who also is a great centerfielder. A pitcher who is also a great third baseman.
 
Another topic under this same question is if a pitcher will be allowed to hit. A pitcher who hits makes for an IDEAL candidate for a college coach to want to recruit because it's like getting a 2 for 1 special. However, you will come across select team coaches who discourage their pitchers from hitting and do not put them in the lineup. If you are just as passionate about hitting as you are about pitching, it's vital you go to a team that is going to allow you to do both.
 
To prevent problems from occurring, go ahead and clear the air and understand what the coach's philosophy is on his/her pitchers hitting and pitching at the same time. Some coaches won't budge. Some coaches have wiggle room. And some coaches are all for hitting pitches. You see it vary with travel ball coaches as well as college coaches!
 
8) Philosophy on playing time v philosophy on winning? Winning Championships v Individual player development?
 
9) If your daughter is a pitcher, who calls the pitches?
 
Pitch calling is critical and is a tool that needs to be practiced just like throwing a rise or a drop ball. Pitch calling can either help or hurt a pitcher in a game. As a pitching instructor, I personally think it's important that a pitcher is able to shake off pitches during the game if she doesn't feel 100% comfortable in throwing the pitch.
 
It's more important  to be 100% behind the pitch and WANT to throw it, than just going through the motions and looking at the signal that is dropped down and rolling through it. I want a pitcher to be involved in the game, and what better way to tell me that they are thinking about the situation and how they feel than to shake off a pitch?
 
With pitch calling, if the coach is calling pitches from in the dugout, I think it's important for the pitcher/catcher battery and the coach calling pitches to have a relationship and to be able to communicate in between innings about different situations and what worked well/didn't work well. The pitch caller, if called from within the dugout, must be approachable and give out the energy that everyone is working together as a team and it's not a dictatorship.
 
10) In the event of a disagreement or something occurring that's not ideal, how does this team suggest handling it? Scheduling a player - coach meeting? A phone call? A player-coach-parent meeting? 
Talk about this at the beginning, so there is a path to be followed if something goes wrong and doesn't feel right. Open lines of communication and a set proactive plan are always important.

In conclusion....

Communication wins.
 
Make sure you go to a team fully informed; you have every right to do so. It's your money and more importantly your daughter's future that is at stake. There are always different goals of going to a new team, so make sure you identify what those goals are to make sure that the team's goals align with the goals of your daughter's and your family's.
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