Monday, May 25, 2015

Softball is all in the Mind

Whether you are playing softball, football, or any other youth sport; your mind is the key component to helping you achieve success or failure.

My daughter had 2 strikes and no balls while she was up to bat in one of our last tournaments.  It was an intense game and the team needed the hit to help put us ahead in the game.  The coach called timeout and called for her to have a chat with him down third base line.  She probably thought he would give her instruction on how to swing, or let her know what pitch was about to be thrown.  When I asked her at the end of the game what was discussed she stated with a smile, “Coach said, I am the best at hitting with 2 strikes on me.”  I asked if that was all he said, and she said no.  “Coach said, now go do what you know you are going to do.”  With those words, my daughter hit a double and we scored putting the team ahead in the game.

So the next game I paid closer attention to how our coach talked with the girls.  We had a player who had been struggling at the plate.  She hadn’t put a ball in play in over 6 games.  Again, the team needed a hit and the girl knew that we needed a hit.  I could hear parents yelling at her, “We need this hit” like the player didn’t know the importance of the moment.  Again, I saw our coach call timeout and go up to her.  His words exactly were, “There is nobody better hitting at this moment.”

Now most would say he was just being positive.  However, I believe there was a lot more to the context of that statement.  First, he said there is nobody better.  Second he didn’t use the word “batting”.  He used the word “hitting”.  I knew he was on to something.

Our coach was helping the girls use positive self-talk to help them perform how they wanted their body to perform.  Our coach was teaching the girls positive self-talk.

So is your glass half-empty or half-full?  It’s an age-old question about positive thinking and can even affect your health.  Optimism and pessimism doesn’t just affect your daughter’s softball performance, but can affect many areas of your health and well-being.  It is a key part of effective stress management.

Now positive thinking doesn’t mean that you stick your head in the sand and ignore the gravity of the situation.  It just means that you approach the moment in a positive and productive way.  Believe the best will happen!  Positive thinking starts with self-talk.  It is an endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head.  These thoughts can be positive or negative.

Here are some softball suggested positive self-talk strategies:

  • I am going to hit the ball to this location on the field.
  • I am a hitter.
  • I am a great (insert position) and can't wait to make this play.
  • I choose to hit the ball today.
  • I am confident in my abilities.
  • I love facing great players so I can show just how good I am.
  • I belong on the field.
  • I am going to (insert what you will do) before each play whether you are pitching, fielding, or hitting.

The girls began to perform how they told their body to perform.  However, the team has taken the positive self-talk a step further.  The team has also implemented Effective Imagery as well.  The two go hand in hand when competing especially in softball.

It can be a challenge to get your body to act the way you want it to act. Communicating your mind to your muscles can be extremely challenging. Trying too hard can be debilitating. You must be aggressive, but it is easy to lose balance and control. You must be strategic, but also keep it simple so you can maintain an effective focus on what's important now. You must be mechanically sound without thinking about mechanics while performing, even after a mistake. 

Imagery is creating or re-creating an experience in the mind using as many senses as possible. It starts with visualizing and adds in how it feels, and sometimes also how it smells, tastes, and sounds. Imagery is seeing things as they will actually look to you, or like watching the scene on a movie screen in front of you. The image can be huge and colorful, or small and black and white. There is no wrong way to do imagery -- a daydream is imagery -- but you have to experiment to figure out what works best for you. For most elite performers, first-person panoramic imagery in regular time (not fast forward or slow motion) works best.

With practice, you can improve vividness, control, staying power, and the ability to FEEL the experience happening (rather than just thinking about it). Effective imagery practice changes your internal state, rehearses, and/or communicates from mind to muscle what to do. Experiment with the style, timing, and specific content of your imagery use. 

Here are some EXTRAordinary Quotes of professionals who use imagery:

Annika Sorenstam, "I close my eyes and see the shot. I look at the ball and see the type of shot I have in my mind. I see it fly and I see it land. It’s a way of seeing the result before you do it. I visualize the end result."

Nolan Ryan, "I lie down, close my eyes, relax my body, and prepare myself for the game. I go through the entire lineup of the other team, one batter at a time. I visualize exactly how I am going to pitch to each hitter and I see and feel myself throwing exactly the pitches that I want to throw.'" 

 Reggie Jackson, "I visualize a line drive up the middle."

Terry Orlick, "The developing athletes who make the fastest progress and those who ultimately become their best make extensive use of mental imagery. They use it daily as a means of directing what will happen in training, and as a way of pre-experiencing their best competition performances."

Lou Holtz, "We did what I called a relaxation period.  We got the athletes to lie down in a dark room, stretch out on the floor and we got them to think about all the positive things in their life and how lucky they were.  Then, we went through certain segments of the game where they could imagine themselves having success.  I did this for probably 30 years and had very good success with it."

The Texas Travelers softball organization understands that softball has a life-span.  They are charged with preparing the girls for elite competition, but also know that 10U through 18U softball is not the end of the line for these girls.  The Travelers are preparing their girls to be ready to step on the field of their High School Varsity teams, playing at the Collegiate Level; but more importantly, the Texas Travelers are preparing their softball girls for the game of life and all of the curves that will be thrown at them.  The select softball organization truly cares about the well-being of the girls and wants nothing but the best for them so they can be strong, confident leaders in their communities.

For more information on the Texas Travelers, their players, games or any other news visit The Texas Travelers News Network or contact Coach Kyle Bennett at 972.679.7702.

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