Let’s talk about four different strategies to play your best when under pressure, in a big game, or in front of softball scouts. Especially for players who want to get recruited to play college softball, having excellent mental training skills for softball is important.
For more on how to play well when a scout is watching, check out the video below.
So number one, breathe. This is the simplest tool in every softball player’s mental toolbox. When feeling stressed, anxious or nervous on the field, get in the habit of taking a few deep breaths to slow your heart rate down.
The best breathing style for this is a “belly breath,” in which the stomach moves out and in, kind of like the way a baby breathes, rather than a shoulder breath, which is more up and down. Breathing from the belly, as they do in yoga and meditation, tends to be a little more calming. A really good deep belly breath with a long, slow exhale can just slow yourself down and give you a chance to refocus on your task at hand.
When you feel the pressure, the first thing to do on the softball field is BREATHE.
#2. Interact With Your Teammates
Number two, try to get absorbed into the game and interact with your teammates and have fun.
Yes, that seems like really silly, dumb advice, but really when you’re in the dugout and you’re staring through the fence at a softball scout, or staring at the scoreboard or otherwise ruminating on the situation, it takes you away from everything that you’re supposed to do. Don’t let you mind be taken by the stressors that show up on the softball field. Instead, distract yourself in a good way.
Turn your attention back to your teammates and just start a conversation. Make a joke, just be yourself and get absorbed into the dugout atmosphere. Allow yourself to get absorbed into the normal interactions that make fastpitch fun.
#3. Dance With Who Brung You (stay within yourself)
Number three, there’s a catch phrase, a saying called dance with who brung you. This just means that when you show up to the dance, don’t start looking around for a better dance partner. Dance with the person that you brought to the dance.
What this means in a softball sense is that you don’t have to be…extra. You don’t have to try harder or somehow become faster, stronger or throw harder. Just be yourself. If your skills were enough to get you into the starting lineup or a championship game, or to attract scouts to come watch you, then they’ll be enough in those situations, too.
Just be yourself and stay within yourself.
What you came to the game with is going to be good enough. That’s why scouts came there to watch you. So don’t try harder. Just be your normal self. See the ball, hit the ball, execute your pitch, take your deep breath and field that ground ball and make the throw.
Just be yourself.
#4. Focus on the Smallest Possible Task
You can’t tell yourself: I’ve got to go three for four today where I’ve got to hit two doubles today or I’ve got to throw a shut out today. You can’t do that. You pitch a great game by going one pitch at a time. You have a great game at the plate by going one at-bat at a time. One pitch, then another pitch, then another pitch until you’ve thrown a hundred great pitches and finished that shutout.
You’ve got to condense your game down to the smallest possible task. So if you’re a pitcher, it’s one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, one hitter at a time. If you’re a hitter, it’s one at-bat a time. Don’t try to go 3-for-4 all at once. And as a fielder, it’s the same thing. Just lock in, take your deep breath, do your prep step and watch for that batted ball to leave the bat.
Now, this is not easy — this is something everyone struggles with in everyday life, and especially in sports. “Staying present” and focused on the smallest task right now is a hard thing to do, and takes practice. But, when you improve at this, it makes it much easier to perform at your best and not worry about good or bad outcomes in the past or the future. You can just react and do what you’ve trained your body to do on the softball field.