Softball players dedicate a good chunk of time and effort improving softball skills. However, many also have regular, everyday habits that may be holding back their performance. Simple adjustments to these areas can help improve performance, and overall health, without any additional time in the batting cages or in training on the field.
Here are 5 areas where small changes can make a big difference …
This one is pretty common sense, but often overlooked or ignored. Basically, if you play in pants, practice in pants. If you play in shorts, practice in shorts. If you wear compressions shorts for games, wear them for practice. If you plan to play with sunglasses, practice with them on. If you plan on using batting gloves in the game, use them in practice. The last thing you want is to feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with your game gear on game day. Practice in game-like gear as often as possible so you can feel comfortable and relaxed for optimal performance in competition.
Sleep is essential for recovering after a demanding softball day, optimizing brain function, and maintaining ideal performance weight. Most agree that sleep matters but did you know that the hours before midnight are far more valuable for rejuvenation than those after midnight? If you tend to sleep late, simply going to sleep earlier, even if you sleep the same number of hours, could make a great positive difference in your daily mood, energy levels, and well being.Your body does quite a bit of maintenance during sleep. Skimping on regenerative activity by not sleeping enough causes both your physical and mental performance to suffer. Lack of sleep also makes you more likely to get sick because you're not giving your body enough time to repair damaged tissues.
In addition, many types of emotional development and thought processing occurs during the sleep state for most people. Not giving yourself enough sleep harms you in an emotional way as well as a physical one, neither of which supports your optimal performance on the field.
Proper hydration is important for everyone, but even more so for athletes because of the physical and mental demands of training and performance. Numerous studies show that even low levels of dehydration impairs performance. Dehydration causes reduced aerobic endurance, increased body temperature, increased heart rate, and reliance on carbohydrate as a fuel source. You may not think about it, but reliance on carbohydrates only as fuel is not ideal, especially if you didn ‘t properly fuel yourself before training or competition. Even if you consumed carbs before training, carbs don ‘t stay in your body as carbs for very long. If your body is reliant only on carbs for fuel and won ‘t use body fat for energy, once your carb source is gone, your energy tanks and your body will not have fuel to power your performance, physically or mentally! Obviously, this is not something you want happening.
Even just a loss of 2% bodyweight causes an increase in perceived effort and is claimed to reduce your performance by I 0-20%. A fluid loss exceeding 3-5% of your bodyweight, not only reduces aerobic exercise performance noticeably, but impairs reaction time, judgement, concentration, and decision making, all of which are vital in softball.
Bottom line, make sure you're drinking enough water before during and after training or competition. Don't wait until you're thirsty because it your feel thirsty, you're already partially dehydrated.
Hydrate well so you don't feel thirsty. Also, sports drinks such as Powerade and Gatorade vs just water are preferred during prolonged activity (i.e. 2+ hours).
Even players who don't struggle with weight may be able to better fuel themselves with better food choices. Eating more whole foods and less fast/processed foods really does make a difference in energy levels, health, and well being.
While fast food may be convenient during a hectic softball season, it does not nourish or fuel your body like real foods do. Processed foods are harder for your body to digest, sapping energy you could be using for performance. Plus processed foods typically provide less nutritional value per calorie, giving you less bang for your buck so to speak. As you can imagine, consuming useless or empty calories can quickly lead to weight issues for some. It also makes your body work harder than it needs to by burning energy to digest food that gives back very little nourishment. On top of that you need to eat more to get the nutrients you need which taxes your digestive system even more. I think you can agree, it's probably better not to have all that going on while training or performing!
That said, I don't recommend limiting calories for young softball players. Instead, choose more nutrient dense foods which provide as much nutritional value as possible vs consuming empty calories that do little to no nutritional good for your body. This means eating more real food (things that used to be alive at some point) and minimizing foods that come out of a package or a box.
Sugar is another culprit related to processed food. Not only does sugar hamper your performance by reducing mental sharpness, zapping your energy after the short initial high, and making it difficult for your body to bum fat as fuel; it's also linked to many major diseases we see in American society today such as Alzheimer's and cancer. Unfortunately, sugar, or some form of it, is found in practically all processed foods! Just another reason to minimize consumption of food that comes in a package or box.
Make time to relax, unwind, refresh, and rejuvenate. You may not get an opportunity each and every day, but make it a point to unwind every now and then, especially if you begin feeling overwhelmed. This doesn't need to take a lot of time, nor does it have to be complicated. There are many small things your can do to quickly “recharge your batteries.”
– Connect with an uplifting friend, even if it's just for 10 minutes.
– Treat yourself to a nice bath instead of just a quick shower.
– Put some music on and dance to a few of your favorite songs.
– Jot down your worries in a journal and put them aside for another day.
– Take 10 deep, slow breaths.
– Take a few minutes to declutter and jot down the awesome things in your life or day, big or small. Space or room. A clear space can help you feel better.
– List your blessings. Take a few minutes
Whatever you choose, simply find something to break up the pace or activities of your day-to-day grind so you can reset and refresh your mind, body, and spirit.
As an athlete, you demand a lot of your body. Take good care of yourself so you can perform at your highest level. Choose one or two of the areas mentioned in this article and make some small adjustments. You might be surprised at just how much it helps.
Stacie started playing fastpitch softball at the age of 9 and Founded All About Fastpitch in 2004. Stacie also served as the Chief Marketing Officer at Softball Performance. She currently blogs about Fastpitch softball at StacieMahoe.com. Her perspectives on the game as a former player, current coach, and current softball parent provide unique insights on various softball issues. Visit her website at StacieMahoe.com
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