The winter training season is often filled with drills. Practicing the correct movement patterns to develop solid muscle memory. As we build up our form we become confident in our readiness for game play in time for the Spring season. However, are we really ready to play? Although the physical reps have been taken, what have we done to prepare ourselves as a team in a mental capacity? When stepping onto the field to face a team that is quick and strong, what have we done to know how we respond to pressure?
Being athletic is only one piece of Game Speed Defense. Is your team a squad that can play ball at the unpredictable fluctuating speed of the game? Are you a reactive team or are you a proactive team? Does game time feel as though your feet are on the ground or more as though you are free falling? If your team, as a whole, can answer these questions affirmatively, then you are a team that can move at the speed of the game. On the other hand, if your team has a more passive attitude, then your eventual opponents will possess more mental toughness than you.
There is always room to grow and to be coached. However in order to know how far your team can develop, you first need to recognize the areas where your team is lacking. As a team, ask yourselves how you respond to pressure. Is pressure something that you ignore all preseason in practice until bases are loaded in the bottom of the seventh of the championship game? If so, understand that your brain is a muscle too and that mental toughness needs to be practiced in order for the mind to respond under pressure in a game.
I am a fastpitch softball trainer by trade. Training young ball players is a rewarding job. The pay off is knowing that I can be a part of a player’s gain of confidence through something as fun as hitting a ball. People say I can get very technical, breaking down quick movements like a swing into many tiny pieces so that players can develop a holistic understanding of their swing. In doing so, great swings make me happy as well as solid throws straight to the chest. However mechanics are just a piece of the game in itself. The physical components need to be there so that players know how to move on the field. After that, we need to develop the same confidence in our movements under pressure situations. The game is 7 innings of a pressure situation and some innings are more intense than others. Therefore we need to learn how to welcome pressure in games and also during practice. Feeling pressure is the moment when this game really becomes something beyond fun. Something worth practicing all off-season for, 7 innings filled with surprise.
Sometimes I sit and think about it for a second. All of my friends and colleagues that have played professional softball, understand that it was our job to welcome surprise every night that we went to work. Imagine going to a job everyday not knowing what was going to happen. For us, you could strike out or go 3 for 3. You could fall asleep on defense and let the ball play you, or you could make a diving leap to take away a base hit. You could win or you could lose. Some people don’t like being in unpredictable situations. Yet to be paid professionally to face the unpredictable at work everyday, you my as well learn to welcome the unknowing.
To become more comfortable with playing under pressure, it all starts in practice. In practice we need to move at the speed of the game and make sure we are putting our players in pressure situations once they have the physical foundation to respond. There are drills, like the Continuous Rundown Drill or the Star Throwing Dill, that put the defense under pressure to throw out runners. I often notice that my players can perform mechanically, but once I put runners on base or start a stopwatch, everything falls apart. The throws become wild and we forget to communicate as teammates. Suddenly, my defense is chasing runners around the bases with throws instead of throwing them out. I could get upset when this happens, however I know that there is no need. When this breakdown happens, I am more intrigued by the change in the small mechanics of the game. It is not like sudden grandiose occurrences are happening, like players tripping over their cleats or throws are sailing over the backstop. There are just subtle shifts happening like low overthrows from not getting into a postured throwing position. Or pulling our head out and not seeing the ball before strike three. Basically, pressure makes the basic mechanics of the game go out the window. If we look at it this way, it is possible that we can learn to manage pressure. All we are doing is the same catch and throw routine, we are just doing it quickly versus rushed. Runners on base can distract us from our basic fielding and throwing movements, in which overthrows occur. So I’m telling you, don’t let it. If you anticipate the speed of the runners on base before the pitcher goes into her wind up, they will no longer be a distraction but something that you have already thought about and planned for.
Welcome the pressure and just let it fly. Turn pressure into something that excites you. The game is not meant to be controlled as we never know where the ball is going to be hit. Therefore, anticipate the ball and react to it. Just be ready and move to it at the very first opportunity that you can. Rely on teammates to be your second pair of eyes when you need to know where to make a throw when your eyes are focused on fielding the ball.
Pressure can be something that gets in your way of executing a play if you let it. On the other hand, it is also the same ingredient for a taste of success that you could have never anticipated.
|Lisa Iancin: Lisa Iancin “LI” competed professionally in the (NPF) for 5 seasons, gathering a national championship in 2004 with the New York/New Jersey Juggernaut and in 2006 with the New England Riptide. In 2005, Iancin was named the NPF Defensive Player of the Year. Among her college accolades at Cal are First Team AII-Pac 10 and back-to-back appearances at the Women's College World Series in 1999 and 2000. Internationally, Iancin played for Team Bussolengo, Italy in 2001. Iancin was the Assistant General Manager of the Tennessee Diamonds for the 2010 (NPF) season. To find out more about LI go to LISoftballAcademy.com|
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