Avoiding The Big Inning Written By John Michael Kelly
“The Big Inning:” It’s every coach’s dream on offense, and every coach’s nightmare on defense! The big inning can and will change momentum of the game and more often than not decides the outcome of most games. This article will focus on the defensive perspective and what you can do as a coach to prevent or, at the very least, minimize the damage of a big (or “potentially big”) inning.
As I write about and teach often dramatic shifts in team momentum are usually started by what may look like a harmless single event on the field. This single “trigger event” followed by another like event and yet another and before you know it…BAM, the big inning is rearing its ugly head and your team is reeling!
Whether due to a pitching or defensive mistake, or even the ”luck of the green” when balls drop just beyond your fielders’ reach or find their way to the chalk, these “trigger events” can quickly deflate any team and turn the collective mindset from “I can” to “I can’t.”
While nearby in the other dugout, almost by some magical transference of energy, the game momentum has changed uniforms and your opponent’s collective energy gets visibly and audibly louder and infinitely more confident. Yes, there are absolutely two sides of the big inning coin.
So how can you as coach keep your defense and pitcher rolling in the early or late innings when the sinister forces of the game seem intent on inflicting damage to your team’s hopes of coming away with a “W?” Here are a couple of scenarios and ways you can short circuit the big inning:
1. I preach to my pitchers every inning to get ahead in the count and hyper-focus on getting that first out of each inning (since statistically 60+% of all lead-off hitters that reach base score). This strategy is CRUCIAL when trying to protect a lead. Nothing is more deflating to a team and coach to see their pitcher walking people or pitching consistently behind in the count with a lead late in the game. When a pitcher loses control it is often due to one of three things: fatigue, fear or lack of focus.
–Fatigue is obvious and as a coach don’t hesitate to go out to the circle for a visit to give your pitcher a breather, or to replace her. Ever pitcher has a clock ticking on her effectiveness. Get tuned in to it. And never leave her out there to fry when she is physically and/or emotionally done!
–Fear is often the cause when a pitcher enters an unfamiliar and uncomfortable game situation; maybe in a big game, maybe late in the game, or because she is worried about your showing or voicing your disapproval with her. I have always found that going out for a visit to take a little pressure off her by saying something funny, reassuring her of your support and allowing her to get back into a better pitching rhythm can be a very effective way to improve her performance.
–A lack of focus is often the culprit for a big first inning as the pitcher can be wild, putting her defense asleep. Focus is always a choice and I have little patience when a pitcher doesn’t begin to lock in mentally during her pre-game warm-ups. Some athletes are more easily distracted than others so monitor your pitchers’ warm-up intensity and stay involved in her focus before and throughout the game. Keep your catcher attuned as well as she can be a great asset in helping your pitcher keep her focus up, particularly during the biggest moments of the game.
2. On defense the big inning often starts as the result of an error on a seemingly harmless grounder or fly ball (if not by a walk). But it is at this moment that you often hold the key as to how bad the inning will get. I have unfortunately seen far too many coaches start ripping into their kids after a couple of errors and you can just see all the players’ energy just vanish; heads down and predictably worse results then follow. Don’t let that be you. As a coach it is vitally important to distinguish between physical and mental errors by your defense. Physical errors happen and can be corrected in practice. Mental errors are a little less forgivable but, nonetheless, every player who ever played the game makes them at one time or another.
Your job is to keep the mistakes in perspective by focusing on your players’ effort, and not be solely focused on their results or outcome on the field. If your players are afraid of making mistakes because you will blow up at them you can be assured they will make more mistakes. I have always coached with the mindset that mistakes will happen but that our success will be defined by how we RESPOND to those mistakes and failures. As the team leader you must set the tone and be okay with mistakes. No, you may not like them but harsh words, tones or body language showing disapproval will tank your girls emotionally and likely make it harder for you to keep their respect for you.
In short the big inning is a complex animal that will take a few more of these articles to fully convey the myriad mental strategies available to you as coach. In younger athletes confidence is a very fragile thing that, as coach, you wield an enormous amount of power to mold, nurture or destroy. The big inning is usually always a reflection of your team’s, your players’ and your own mindset and emotional state. To minimize the damage you need to wear the multiple hats of coach, cheerleader, psychologist, mentor and friend to get the most from your players and keep their collective emotional state even keeled.
Invariably my teams more often than not exceed expectations and play more closely to their potential on a more consistent basis because I work hard to keep my athletes’ emotional tanks full by encouragement and the understanding that mistakes and failure are a necessary part of the game. Once you can get your athletes to buy into the mindset that mistakes and failure are but opportunities and challenges to get better there will be less big innings on defense and more of them when you are swinging it!
Thanks for reading!
John Michael Kelly: John Michael Kelly, America’s Sports Confidence Coach, is known for skyrocketing the self-confidence and game performance levels for thousands of youth athletes and teams from coast to coast by reducing the stress and increasing the joy for playing the game! John also coaches travel softball with the 18u and 18 Gold teams for The Next Level (“TNL”) organization in sunny San Diego. You can follow John at SoftballSmarts.com and Facebook.com/SoftballSmarts.
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