“YIPs”

Written By Natasha Watley

Yips

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Every year I always look forward to attending the NFCA convention. From just simply reconnecting with old teammates, coaches and vendors to just being in that softball air. It’s an environment to get re-inspired, get new motivation, receive new ideas, hear old ideas with new verbiage and lastly just hearing something that you can completely relate to. Like every year, this year's convention did not disappoint on those aspects. This year I really enjoyed Eileen Canney's presentation on the yips “When Mind Matters”. I not only enjoyed the topic because it's hardly ever mentioned or talked about but mainly because so many others and I could relate. It was surprising to see how many people in the room had seen someone else suffer or had suffered themselves. Hearing Canney’s bravery in sharing her experience, made me really want to open up about my experience and hopefully shed light on something that's not given much light in our sport. Hopefully opening up conversation about the yips can make the experience easier for those who suffer from it in the future.

My Experience

Recently, I have suffered from an annoying case of the yips. The thing that's most frustrating about it, is I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment it started. My yips occurred when I was throwing. It felt like it went from making one bad throw, to throwing becoming the most difficult thing that I ever had to do. It had the snowball effect overnight and literally felt like I was trying to throw huge snowballs. Before my experience, I never really knew much about the yips. It’s one of those things that I never in a million years thought I would experience because throwing was second nature to me and with errors and mistakes I was patient with overcoming failure. Come to find out, the yips has so many layers and just simply being in denial about it, ignoring it and thinking it will go away on its own makes it worse.

When I started having a series of throwing errors, I cannot begin to tell you the countless hours I spent practicing trying to perfect my throws. I began to become obsessed with trying to fix my mechanical issues with my throw. I was in denial that it could be more than physical. As athletes we are taught to be mentally tough so, I figured if I stay tough and laugh it off, it would just go away. Finally, it took my Japanese coach saying that he thought I had a case of the yips for me to even actually acknowledge and accept that was what was going on. The Yips is very similar to being an addict in the way you have to actually admit to yourself that you have a problem, then from there you can begin to fix.

How do you know if you’re a yipper?

You know you have the yips when it affects your physical actions/reactions and feelings. You can feel clammy hands, tension, and fear. It’s a continuous feeling, not just a one-time thing. In Canney’s presentation, she talked about the physical reactions and anxiety you experience and feel. For example, she talked about her stomached dropping right before she had to throw overhand. For myself, in between pitches, my right arm and fingers would tingle and when I got the ball to throw, I could not grip the ball to go into a full arm circle. These physical reactions are different from the occasional error or mistake because it has triggered something psychologically, where an athlete hasn’t been able to move past. You have the yips when your mind and body go into a state of feeling like it’s in danger when you have to perform the task. It's so easy to dismiss that you have the yips, because you simply feel like they are physical mistakes. It’s important to recognize the difference of just an occasional mistake vs. the continuous feeling you get when you know that you’re going to have to perform task.

Misconceptions about the yips

The yips manifest itself physically (i.e. throwing errors), but it’s formed mentally and psychologically. A huge misconception, in which Canney touched on, is that the yips occur because of a physical issue, or perceived as something that can easily be fixed. When it's actually something neurological, where your brain associates your version of yips as a traumatic experience. So it's something that needs huge attention on and off the field to help you overcome.

What worked

After reaching extreme frustration after a practice in Japan, I think I reached my all time low. The minute I got home that night, I spent hours researching The Yips. I was so eager and desperate to talk to someone and I was willing to do anything to get over this experience. That's when I came across Dr. Tom Hanson. Dr. Hanson has a series of tapping exercises that helps you overcome the yips. After several Skype sessions with him while I was in Japan, where we spent the entire session tapping physically on different locations on your body while revisiting and going back to every bad episode of the yips you can remember. I literally noticed a difference the next day at practice after my first session. I still do have the occasional occurrence of making an error, but now when it happens I have the tools to help the anxiety and move on. Now when I do feel that anxiety in between pitches, I can immediately go to tapping to suppress that feeling.

You're not alone

For any softballers out there, you’re not alone if you’re experiencing the yips. I learned, it not only occurs in many other sports as well but in other professions ; dentists, surgeons and even singers experience yips. I didn’t experience the yips until I was 23 years into my career. Unfortunately, the more experience you have, it doesn’t keep you safe from the yips. Fortunately there are methods and people out there that can help. If you can locate sports psychologists in your area, I suggest you do so. The best part about the challenge of the yips is that it is curable and you can overcome it with several different methods. Stay strong and fight through it. Good Luck!

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Where Do We Go From Here?

Written By Natasha Watley

 

Where Do We Go From Here

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This article, I am going to literally step from outside the (batter's) box and talk about the future of our sport. With the recent vote to have softball in the Olympics not go our way, it was extremely devastating and the biggest heart break I have felt to date. Giving thought as to what should happen next seems impossible because it seems like a long shot for softball to ever be re-admitted. Which may be the case, but softball can still sustain survival as a relevant sport, but it will take a lot of work. Nationally, softball does have some good relevance, but definitely there is room for growth. Obviously, internationally is where we hurt the most and being considered a worldly sport is our main issue. With that said, we shouldn't stop on the home front, we should keep striving and doing our part, right here in THE US of A!

Support at the Grassroots

No matter what age or level you are in the softball community, you can always give back to the grassroots level. Whether you're a high school, collegiate, post collegiate athlete or even parent of a softballer, you can always give back. Giving back to a local league or even the league that you or your daughter grew up in, is a great option. Supporting local leagues in low-income communities by volunteering to coach a team. Always think about paying it forward to someone behind you, there is so much knowledge to be shared about our sport.

Support the College Level

Right now, collegiate softball, by far is our most successful and competitive level in the game. Of course, there is room for improvement. The reason why college level is so successful is because there is a great support from colleges to provide coaches and athletes with the necessary and beyond (i.e. equipment, facilities, etc). Support your local college softball program, go to a game and buy a ticket! When college softball is on, WATCH!! We have to keep those ratings up!

Back the Pro League!

Our Pro-league, National Professional Fastpitch (NPF), has the potential to be “the dream” for young girls, just like the MLB is the dream for most young boys. We have a long way to go until our pro-league is a household name, but our softball community should be pulling behind it so that it can become a success. It may seem that the pro-league is not competitive because there are few teams but that is so far from the truth. There is so much talent in the league that could be considered underground talent. If you're local or in the area, buy a ticket and support! The pro-league in my opinion is our last level to make our sport sustain and stay relevant! Support!!!

If we all do our part, there's no telling how far our sport will go in the years to come. It's been fun seeing the game grow just within the last 10 years. So it definitely makes me excited and hopeful on what we can do in the future!

Lets do this!

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Speed Kills!

Written By Natasha Watley

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Speed Kills

 

Speed kills!!! I know this firsthand being a Shortstop and having to throw out someone who gets down the line in less than 2.9 seconds. Now throw into the mix someone who is technically getting a head start in the batters box to get down the line and they may hit it hard, soft, or even may bunt. Yes, I'm talking about slappers! Lucky me, I get to partake in this activity offensively, so I'm not too mad. There is no better feeling than putting a ball in play, putting some pressure on the defense and beating it out. This truly is my rush and it never gets old. Slapping has been a part of my game for about 18 years, and truly is an aspect that continues to keep me in love with the game.

Slapping has definitely evolved over the years . Whereas before you could pretty much get away with solely being a slapperlbunter, in other words just a short gamer with no power so to speak. Nowadays with better pitching, defense and game all around, to survive, it's required to be a triple threat. Being able to use different types of slaps (hard, soft, chop), swinging away, bunting as reliable tools in your arsenal is the best recipe for a successful triple threat.

Slapping is definitely a skill that has taken years for me to piece together (I'm still learning!). Slapping has been my bread and butter so to speak and has been my forte throughout the majority of my career. Before attending UCLA, I was primarily just a soft slapper that put the ball on the ground and occasionally mixed in some bunts. I didn't even have a power/hard slap!

By, the end of my career, it was necessary to not only reinvent myself but necessary to open up my game by adding a power game. By the end of my career in college, I was standing in and swinging away for power regularly. In my senior year I had 10 home runs vs. 1 home run as a freshman! Even then, I didn't really do anything with power off my slap. By the time I reached the National team, that's when I started developing a hard slap. Now, in Japan, because of their quickness & strengths defensively I swing away at a higher percentage vs. slapping. I have definitely reached a point in my career where now I'm comfortable hitting, slapping or bunting, in any given situation . I can say this now at the young ripe age of 31 ! (Sarcasm) So point being, it has taken time to develop all my tools, to effectiveness & comfort ability.

I will devote the majority of my columns to slapping/short game/triple threat. In this article I will be listing my top 10 tips of slapping/being a triple threat, which are always evolving. So please keep in mind, that the order they are written in, aren't set in stone in order of importance nor are some of the aspects of slapping that are not listed not viewed as unimportant. Just my top tips if you asked me today. So, over the next couple of months, I will use these tips in my up coming articles.

10 tips for Slapping/Triple Threat

10. Reading the defense/defenders

9. Using field conditions to your advantage

8. Know what your doing before the pitch is thrown (i.e. slapping vs. hitting away or bunting)

7. Keep batting stance consistent

6. Utilize your strengths (if good bunter, find ways to set that up in At Bats)

5. Stay closed

4. Perfect one tool at a time (when learning/starting out)

3. Maximize batters box

2. K.I.S.S (Keep it stupid simple) Ball in play .. .ON THE GROUND

1. Timing is everything

I encourage all young slappers to be patient in their rate of perfecting every aspect there is to being a successful triple threat. It takes time to develop, so perfecting a single skill at a time is highly recommended. Happy Slapping & Good Luck!

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Taking Advantage: Cheat Sheet

Written By Natasha Watley

Taking Advantage- Cheat Sheet

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As a slapper, it's a must to take advantage of every little thing we possibly can to get on base. Usually we are the “table setters,” so we want to make sure we are the ducks on the pond when our clean up hitters come up. Whether it's getting a clean hit, miss hit, walk, or putting pressure on the D, getting on base is the ultimate goal. So doing your homework before you step in the box from pitch to pitch is going to be vital for us to be successful. Paying close attention to the field conditions & our opponent, we can ensure that we are taking full advantage.

Although every softball field is the same in terms of the distance between bases and pitching mound, all fields conditions differ from one to the next. In addition to field conditions, always know your opponent and take what they give you.

Below is a cheat sheet of some examples of things to look for and then the suggestions to do in that particular situation.

Field Conditions/Weather conditions

Hard Ground- Dirt that is almost as hard as asphalt. At some point we have all played on a ” concrete” field. As a slapper take full advantage of being able to pound the ball in the ground to get a high hop, or just hit the ball hard on the ground. On these fields, they are usually known to be fast & have bad hops,so defenders have to be extra aggressive in order to get us out! Hit top of ball.

Just rained- when a field is wet and muddy, it's absolute hell for a defender. So putting the ball on the ground could never be stressed enough. You most likely won't get the high hops as you would on a hard ground, so trying to place the ball to make defenders have to charge and move laterally. The ball is wet, and defenders have to over focus on getting a good grip and making a good throw.

Dusty field- may be hard to get out of the box and get going on a dusty field. Almost similar to running on sand on the beach. So there would be a disadvantage in trying to beat something out on the ground, so may be best to think about getting it through the infield. Using a hard/power slap could be beneficial in this situation.

Soft dirt- the dirt will tend to be a slow infield when the dirt is soft. So the ball will tend to die, so in this situation think about laying down a bunt, or trying to get the ball through the infield with a hard/power slap.

Turf- tends to have true hops, so you can pretty much do anything on turf. Use the ground, power slap, or even bunt.

Spots that are hard- If you have a chance to practice on the field before hand to check to see if there are certain hard spots on the field. For example, the area around home plate is hard, would be ideal for chopping the ball in the ground to get high bounces.

Reading defense pitch to pitch

Defenders arms- While your opponent is warming up between innings, do your homework on their arms! If the 3rd baseman is throwing rockets and the SS is just lobbing it over, take note! Even though the SS is lobbing the ball in warm ups, doesn't necessarily mean that she has a weak arm. There's only one way to find out by challenging her. Sometimes as slappers we have to challenge our opponent.

Defense strength & weakness– (bad fielding pitcher,good fielding pitcher) This is self explanatory.

Defense shifts- (infielders shallow, infielders deep, slapper shift)- In simple terms, if they are shallow hit it hard, if they are deep put the ball in play on the ground and try to make defenders charge.

Pitcher tendencies- See what the pitchers go to pitch is and sit on it. For example if she primarily throws inside then think about bunting.

Right hand pitcher vs left handed pitcher- A Left-Handed pitcher is always at a disadvantage to throw us out at first. Whether you hit it to the right, left & in front they have to turn around to throw to to First base. Ideally if you have a lefty field you want to hit to the SS side because that takes them away from first-base.

Remember to do your homework before you even step in the box and you'll already be one step ahead.

Good Luck and Happy Slapping!

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