Softball Players and Peak Performance


As a sports performance consultant, Dr. G works with players at every level, helping them overcome performance fears and slumps and play to their potential. He has spoken at softball conferences around the country and has been an ASA clinician. He has written on the subject of slump busting, peak performance and mental toughness for Women's Fast Pitch World and is the author of  "Using Your Head To Play Championship Softball," "Hitting & Fielding in the Clutch," and his latest audio mental toughness training program, Softball With the Competitive Edge.

 Is Your Mental Game Holding You Back?

What's it take to become the best softball player you can be? Well, you know all about the physical practice and good coaching, about learning and working on the proper fundamentals at the plate and in the field. There is no substitute for solid mechanics and consistent practice! Let's not forget eating right and getting enough rest. After all, rest is an important part of your training. Also, let's not forget your physical conditioning. You have to be in great shape to play good ball. And last, but certainly not least, don't forget your mental game! Mental game? That's right, your MENTAL GAME!  If you want to get as good and go as far as possible, then you have to learn to develop mental toughness. You can't become a champion without a good head on your shoulders and the right tools in your mental toughness toolbox! 

I always get a kick out of hearing athletes, coaches and parents saying, "Wait just a minute! My daughter doesn't have any mental health problems. Why does she need "mental training?" Mental toughness training is one of the most critical dimensions of your overall training as a softball player. It is the one dimension that affects every other aspect of your game. Your mental skills or lack there-of, will make or break your quest to become a champion.

Ever strike out with the bases loaded or runners on, in a clutch part of the game just because you were trying too hard to get a hit? Have you ever gotten caught in the nasty clutches of a hitting or fielding slump? Ever choke before or been too psyched-out or intimidated to play at your best? Or maybe you've been on a team that always seems to lose games to weaker opponents. How about not being able to hit a certain pitcher even though you know she's just not that good?

Each of these examples clearly highlights the importance of the mental part of your game. You can't reach your softball dreams without learning to develop mental toughness. That is, you have to learn how to: stay calm under pressure; bounce back quickly from errors and bad at-bats; concentrate on what's important and block out everything else; use failures as a source of motivation and positive feedback; believe in yourself; stay motivated to work towards your goals; avoid psych-outs and intimidation; and mentally prepare for those big games. These are just some of the mental skills needed to play good softball.

A few years back I received a call from a very talented 13 year-old pitcher who was having some uncharacteristic control problems. Her mother had heard that I have a Skype consultation service to help athletes bust slumps and overcome performance difficulties. This 13 year old was so good that she could hold her own against college hitters. She had poise and control on the mound along with good speed. Unfortunately, according to her mother, she hadn't been herself for six months since she had been hit by a ball coming back upo the middle. It seemed that she couldn't throw strikes to batters if she thought they were good hitters. Anyone who she thought was a weak hitter, she could easily pitch to and dominate.

What did this pitcher need to learn mentally that could help her resolve this problem? Simple! She needed to learn how to better control her focus of concentration.

The key to playing championship softball is learning how to maintain the right focus before and during performance. The main reason that softball players get into hitting, fielding or throwing slumps is because their concentration is off! They are focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time! Show me a game where you've gone "0-fer," a time you've choked, gotten psyched-out or intimidated and I'll guarantee you that before and during your bad plays and empty at-bats, you were focusing on everything except the right things! Before getting "beaned", when she threw with confidence like her "old self," this pitcher had two major things that she focused on when she was on the mound. In her pre-pitch ritual she concentrated on maintaining a feeling of looseness in her throwing arm and keeping her eyes focused on her target in the catcher's mitt. She knew that when her arm got tight, she'd lose both her speed and accuracy, so maintaining a focus of the sensations in her right arm always seemed to keep her on track. However, since getting hit, her pre-pitch concentration was no longer on either of these two important "focal points." Instead, she was concentrating on how strong she imagined the batter was or what if she got hit again.

Proper concentration is your key to softball excellence. Learn to control your focus and you have the foundation skill of mental toughness. Control your concentration and suddenly you'll be able to effectively master the pressure of big game competition. Want the secret to good concentration? Keep your mind in the "now" of the performance. Ball players who mentally "time travel" into the future and/or back to the past during performance always run into performance problems. That's one of the mental mistakes that this pitcher was consistently making. On the mound she was in the past, thinking about the accident or in the future worrying that it might happen again. Her faulty focus in the past or future distracted her from remaining in the "now" where all of her best softball is played.

In our sessions I taught her how to get her focus back where it belonged. In addition she was able to learn several techniques to control her nervousness on the mound and to integrate these into her pre-pitch ritual. Finally I taught her how to calm her nervous system down and put the accident in the past where it belonged. In a short amount of time this pitcher was back on the mound throwing like her old self again, regardless of who was up at the plate.

Be smart! Train completely! Work on your mental game and it will pay off big dividends for you on the field and up at the plate!