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Mental Training - Dealing with Errors

By Gil Arzola

Head Softball Coach
Purdue North Central University (IN)

No matter how much we plan and practice, we will never achieve perfection. There will always be errors. And when that happens, we have to remember that it is not always the mistake that matters, but how we respond to it.

As a coach, I don’t expect my teams to play error-free the entire season. Experience has shown that if we average less than one error per game, we will be successful. That becomes our goal. But we recognize that we may fall short of our goals, and that means we will have to look for other ways to succeed.

Softball tips - dealing with errors is a big part of fastpitch softballFrom watching and coaching thousands of games, I have learned this: Our method of dealing with mistakes will have a direct influence on the outcome of the game.

How many times have you seen one error lead to a second and then a third? Do you call it bad luck? Karma? A change in momentum?

We believe that we create luck, karma, and momentum by the way we handle and control situations.

Whenever a player hangs her head over an error and keeps thinking about her “stupid mistake,” she sets herself up for another error. Or maybe the pitcher, upset over a mistake that should have been the third out, doesn’t focus on the next pitch and gives the next batter a fat pitch.

It is not always the player making the error who losses the game.

Teammates responding negatively to mistakes are just as often at fault. As coaches and players, we have to recognize that errors are part of the game. And we have to learn how to deal with them just as we have to learn how to field the ball.


Stress

All organized games are stressful to some degree. As the level of play increases, so does the stress. Now add the tension of “big games,” slumps, and the inevitable bad bounces, and it is easy to see why it’s important to teach our teams how to deal with stress and prevent the opponents from having any big innings against us. 

Think of all the time we spend learning how to physically play and how little time we spend understanding how to mentally play, when it’s often the mental part of the game that determines the winner.

We all talk about the competitor, the kid with “ice water” in her veins who plays best under pressure, and it is this quality that turns good players into great players.

You can overdo the toughness thing. What we should strive to do is not play better under pressure, but to play our normal game.

The game never changes, whether it’s the state championship or an inters quad game. The base paths don’t get longer, the pitcher stands the same distance away, and you still get just three strikes.

What changes is our perception of the game. A player should always maintain a cool, balanced approach and seek to play the game the same regardless of the situation.

It is difficult to practice pressure. We can’t bring in fans, another team, and umpires to every practice. But there are things we can do to help us perform in pressure situations.

We begin by always playing with the same intensity. As we said, we want our players to play normal, not better, under pressure. And the normal way to play is all-out all the time.

Whether it is practice or a big game, the level of aggressiveness should never change. As coaches, we should insist on running our drills at full speed and with the maximum effort.

If you allow your team to practice at half speed, they will simply be learning to play at half speed. There should be no such thing as “picking your game up” for big games. Since you always play the same, the big games should be no different than practice. The effort and concentration never changes.

While you can’t bring in fans, teams, or umpires to every practice, you can bring them to some practices. You can also invite parents, faculty, hire an ump for an intersquad game, wear uniforms, do the normal pre-game preparations--make everything as real as possible.

Maybe the most important thing you can do for your team is make them aware of the causes of pressure and how to deal with it. Let them know that mistakes will happen and that life and the game go on in spite of them.

What can you do as a team to prepare for pressure?

1) Make practice harder than any game. By simply hitting ground balls harder than your team is likely to see in a game, you can train your players not to panic when a hard shot is hit to them in a game. By putting pressure on them during drills and penalizing them for mistakes, you can create situations that will force your players to concentrate. Let them know what you are doing.

2) When you take batting practice, begin with a 0-2 count. If they take just one swing and miss, they are out of the cage. Create situations-a runner at third and one run behind. If you are practicing bunting, the player has to bunt the ball fair while the team watches. If she fails to bunt fair, she runs while her team watches. If the bunter lays down the ball correctly and the team mishandles the situation, the team will run while the bunter watches.

3) Confidence is simply a product of proper preparation. If you teach players what to do in any give situation, they will be less likely to feel pressure when it comes up in a game. Practice as many scenarios as you can come up with.

4) Although one mistake can lose a game, give your team room to fail. As much as possible, allow them to play through their mistakes. Don’t yank them out in the middle of an inning. Don’t make them play scared or worry that one mistake will cause them to be benched. Coaches should not allow themselves to be a source of stress. They shouldn’t shout a thousand instructions during a game. The game is the time to play. Practice is the time to instruct.

5) Coaches should never create stars. Creating a star creates a weakness since the opponent can often win the game by focusing on the star. No single person should be responsible for the success of the team. Coaches should be fair and consistent with everyone, let everyone know they have a role and that the team matters above everything else. Stars should become stars all by themselves.

What players can do to deal with stress

1) Find a word or phrase to say to yourself to help get focused--something that will remind you not to mentally replay mistakes; a word that will remind you that all you can do is see the situation and prepare for the next play.

2) Do something physical to help you mentally - pick up some dirt when you make an error and throw it away. The symbol is plain--you are throwing the error away.

3) See the way out. Don’t dwell on mistakes, accept the situation as it is. Did you walk the first batter? O.K., she’s now on first. How do you get out of the inning?

4) Truly support one another. If you throw the ball to first and the first baseman mishandles it, don’t get on her. The best thing you can do is help her refocus. Yell an encouraging word. Let her know you support and trust her.

5) Help yourself. If you are having trouble fielding the ball from your normal position, don’t complain. Simply adjust by backing up a step and giving yourself more room (and time) to handle the ball. Sure, you are giving the runner another step, but  if you handle the ball well, you will normally have plenty of time to throw.

6) Breathe through your nose--nervous people breath through their mouths.

7) Recognize that you are human and will have bad days.

8) Mistakes are lapses of concentration. Get into the habit of always practicing hard and concentrating, and it will carry over into the game.


 
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