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Prepare for pressure situations during practice

By Gloria Solomon, Andrea Becker

The concept of mental toughness refers to the optimal mind-set for competition. Players who are mentally tough thrive on the pressure associated with playing competitive softball. To prepare for these pressure situations, a player must practice under stress. Many of the mentaphysical drills are designed to mimic pressure situations and to allow players to master these conditions. For example, if a runner is on second base and a line drive is hit to the outfield, the fielder must quickly field the ball and make a throw on the runner who is advancing toward home plate. In this type of situation, the outfielder may get overly excited and rush her actions, or she may begin to worry about what her coaches and teammates will think if she doesn’t make the play. Instead of waiting until game day to experience this type of situation, a player should experience it in practice when the environment is nonthreatening and she can take the risk without the fear of making a mistake. By encountering these situations in practice, players will be more ready and more comfortable coping with pressure when it arises during games.

Being prepared for pressure situations—in other words, being mentally tough—requires a player to adopt many of the attitudes and behaviors previously mentioned in this chapter. An enormous contributor to mental toughness is positive self-beliefs. Sustaining positive beliefs in the face of errors as well as successes will help a player maintain a winning attitude throughout the game. This increases the chances that she will give 100 percent effort for seven innings (or more if necessary). When encountering errors or mistakes, a player must focus on what she can control and rid her mind of what she cannot control. For example, when a batter strikes out looking, she may return to the dugout frustrated and upset over the umpire’s call. She may express this frustration through negative behaviors such as throwing equipment or ignoring teammate support. Although she may believe this shows that she really cares, the actual result of this behavior is a negative impact on the attitude of her teammates. If she chooses to focus on the outcome of this situation, which is uncontrollable, it will be detrimental to her and the team’s future performance. See figure 2.4 for an exercise designed to help softball players assess the controllable and uncontrollable aspects of competition.

To be adequately prepared, a player must enter the game knowing what can be controlled and what is outside of her immediate control. This will allow her to focus her attention and energy on factors that she has the power to change, thereby emphasizing the process and not the outcome. Directing attention to what a player can control, coupled with a competitive mind-set during the game, will help players enjoy the journey as well as the destination. Players need to remember that softball is a game. Satisfaction is not solely determined by wins and losses but rather by the feeling players get when they know that they were ready to compete and played the game well.

This is an excerpt from Focused for Fastpitch.

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