What do you think is the most important part of being a mentally strong female softball player? (I’m going to skim the surface of a topic that people write entire books on…but it’s still helpful nonetheless…)
In my mind, one of the most important parts of being a mentally strong female softball player is the environment she is surrounded by. There are a lot of pieces that add to this environment. It comes from outside forces around the player: teammates, coaches, and parents. ALL of these outside forces can play into the mentality of a player. Some might call some of these “excuses” and things that players need to get over. But to me, these are real issues that need to be addressed and can affect the mentality of a player. Each one of these could be their own topic, but I wanted to just cover the basics first, then get into more detail some other time. Here are questions to ask about each of the following that can effect a player’s mental game:
Do you get along with your teammates? Is there drama on the team? Do you feel like your teammates have your back? Do your teammates have as much passion towards softball as you? When you don’t feel like your teammates have your back (especially as a pitcher in the field), you start to over think, overthrow, overswing and try to be too perfect. When you pitch on a field where you know players are going to make plays behind you, you can pitch your game and feel more confident to throw strikes. When you’re worried about the defense making errors behind you, it can be a tough thing to work through, but it’s actually a really good experience and one that almost all pitchers go through at one point or another. Teammates affect what is going on in the mind of a player – for better or for worse.
Are your coaches yellers? Do they embarrass you? Do you feel like your coaches believe in your talent? How do they tell you they believe in you? Do they help you set goals to achieve? Do you know their expectations for you? (short term and long term) Do they explain to you your role on the team? Yelling adds pressure. There are very few players who actually respond to coaches who yell. There ARE some players who respond to this, but the majority do not. The majority will shut down. Especially the coaches who yell across the field to a player and let them know what they did wrong. If I played for a coach like this, I would be terrified to make a mistake. Being scared to make a mistake is NOT a fun way to play sports (especially when you play a sport that revolves around failing: i.e. a .300 batting average is good). When you’re scared to make a mistake in front of your coaches, you can’t possibly be mentally strong.
How often do your parents tell you they believe in you? (Your kids want to hear it often and FEEL it, no matter what their results are) Do they talk more about results or about how you felt during the game? (All players are well aware of their results after a game, whether they went 3 for 3 or 0 for 4, it’s not necessary to remind them. Ask them about the process they went through in getting those results). Are your parents yelling out mechanics to you during the game? (Game does not equal practice). As parents, you are the biggest influence they have. Don’t talk to them about mechanical/coaching things more than you talk to them about believing in them and supporting them no matter what. I PROMISE they do and will remember the belief you had in them more than they remember the outcome of any game. Trust me on this one…
So here’s the thing…becoming mentally strong doesn’t happen overnight. You work on your mental game just like you work on a curve ball or hitting an outside pitch. This is an important realization for all of the parties involved, especially parents. A lot of times adults think that just by simply saying to a player, “You need to get mentally stronger” that that is going to help. False. That’s not going to help. You’re not giving her any tools. You’re not giving her any true support.
One piece of advice: Start with positive self talk, regardless of what is going on around you in your environment. In the game, are you telling yourself what NOT to do? Or are you telling yourself what you ARE going to do? Example: Don’t swing at a ball above your hands. (that’s telling yourself what NOT to do). Example: Swing at a strike. (that’s telling yourself what TO do). It’s been proven that the brain does not hear the word “not” in the first example. Start by practicing positive self talk at practice! Just like you practice other things a practice, be conscious of the thoughts that are going through your head. Let me tell you though – it’s easier for a player to have positive self talk when she is in a positive environment with positive outside forces. All a player wants is someone to believe in her. When a player as 3 different sets of people believing in her (coaches, teammates and parents) it takes pressure off, allowing a player to feel more relaxed, thus being more mentally strong. Create a habit of positive self talk and recognize the different in your game and how much more fun the game is to play when you’re out of your own head.
With all this being discussed about a positive environment, and as much as I think that outside forces an effect a player, I am not for sheltering a player from working through problems and working through adversity around her. I also do not endorse quitting teams in the middle of a season (I know there are exceptions) or being a team hopper because you can’t seem to find that “perfect” environment. There are always exceptions to every rule…
Which of these, in your experience, can have the biggest impact on a player? Leave me a comment and let me know!