Is Your Mental Game Holding You Back?
How mental toughness training can get you hitting and fielding in the clutch
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 as you can be and go as far as possible in this sport, 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 thereof – will make or break your quest to become a champion.
Ever strike out 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? 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
- 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 video-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 up 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.
Concentration is the key to your playing excellence.
- Leave your goals and expectations for the game at home.
- Keep your focus in the NOW, on what you’re doing, one pitch at a time.
- Focus on what YOU are doing and not on your thoughts about others.
- Whenever your focus drifts away from these, quickly bring yourself back.
- Be prepared to “reset” as many times as you drift.
- Don’t work on your mistakes during the game.
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 would happen 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. 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 on 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!
As a Sports Performance Consultant, Dr. Alan Goldberg works with ball players at every level, teaching them mental toughness. He specializes in helping athletes bust out of slumps and overcome throwing, hitting, or fielding problems. He is the author of Using Your Head To Play Championship Softball and the audio mental toughness program, Softball With The Competitive Edge.
I ordered your softball CD's to help my 14-year-old who has excellent skills, but has problems playing freely because of her mind. I have been searching for quite sometime to find someway to help her and nothing has worked. I'm very happy to say that this may finally be the answer!
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Our daughter is a pitcher and would get easily intimidated by certain batters.. Instead of throwing the way she knew how, she'd lose her confidence. She just pitched our team to a first place finish and I've never seen her so focused. Thank you for a wonderfully practical book!
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My daughter is a pitcher and would get easily intimidated by certain batters. Instead of throwing the way she knew how, she'd lose her confidence. She read your book and just pitched our team to a first place finish. I've never seen her so focused. Thank you!
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