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Wise Words in The Circle

I’ve been a pitcher since I was eight years old; I played through high school at the varsity level, through travel ball all the way to the 18U Gold level, and four years in college. Needless to say, I’ve struggled on the mound more than a few times. I’ve been approached by coaches in all different manners in an attempt to get me back “in the zone”. Looking back, I have a personal opinion as to what worked for me. However, now I am graduate student of Sport Psychology have a few other perspectives to add to my repertoire.

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I think that humor can work, especially in younger athletes. It allows them to breathe for a second without even realizing they are allowing their bodies to relax. With that said, I think you have to know your athletes first. For me, it definitely worked on occasion, but humor was also a prominent part of my disposition. Some players take this game so seriously that humor can come off as an insult. Instead of allowing them to take a load off, you can make them even more tense and anxiety ridden.

I was lucky enough to have the same travel coach for ten years of my playing experience. He knew me well as an athlete, and as a person. When I began to struggle on the mound his words from the dugout were always encouraging. JosephThis is the first piece of the puzzle that helped me “keep it together” when the wheels started to fall off. It helped to calm my thoughts of, “is he going to pull me?”.  If things didn’t improve from there he would come out to the mound. When he arrived he would simplify the situation for me. He wouldn’t mention the runners on base, or the two bombs I had just given up, or the tight score. He would tighten my focus into the things I could control like; trust your mechanics, keep the ball off the plate with two strikes, and keep your change up low in the zone. He would sometimes go the supportive route as well, saying things like, “I put you out here for a reason, and I’m leaving you in for a reason. I believe that you can handle this team and walk away successful. This is your battle and I’m going to let you fight it. Show me what you got.” Depending on the situation humor was used also, which worked at the right time and the right place.

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As a sport psychology student I look at my experiences as a pitcher through a new lens. I realized that the biggest reason I began to struggle was focus, self-confidence, and anxiety. Quality thoughts lead to quality actions; my thoughts weren’t always directed where they should have been. Tense muscles perform differently than loose muscles; when athletes experience anxiety, the physiology of their muscles change. They no longer perform the way they were trained under relaxed conditions. A sudden lack in self-confidence can be a producer of anxiety. With this knowledge, I know that there are three things a coach should do when approaching the mound. Coach the pitcher to relax, use deep breathing techniques. It is physiologically impossible for a body to effectively deep breathe and panic at the same time. Deep breathing will help to combat the effects of anxiety. To handle focus, give your pitcher cues to think about that she is in control of, like her mechanics. She can’t control weather the umpire calls a ball a strike or not, she can’t control whether the batter swings or not, and she can’t control the performance of her teammates when a ball is put into play. What she can control is the thoughts in her mind, and the actions of her body. Give her a few things to think about to keep her mind concentrated on the correct area. Self-Confidence is a larger issue than any coach can fully combat with a single trip to the mound. However, knowing that your pitcher has your support is immensely helpful.

Quote of the day:

“Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.”- Robert Frost 

Only Teach What You Trust

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image-1I remember going to softball camps as a kid. Every camp had new techniques and new ways of doing things. Most camps forced their way into your skills and changed how you did things. Countless times I entered a camp with one bunting technique and left at the end of the week with another. Now that I’m a pitching coach, and have been randomly coaching at different practices with multiple kids, I’ve been looking back on my experiences at these camps.

Walking into a practice where you aren’t the head coach, or even associated with the team; you begin to wonder where your boundaries lie. You know you’re there for a reason, and the coaching staff has asked you to help out because they admire your abilities. But, how much should you impose on their players? I found myself wondering; should I just fix the basics? Should I just teach them how to focus on the mound, and go over mental cues? Am I allowed to completely change their motion when they indeed have a pitching coach they’ve been working with?

images-55Here’s the conclusion I came to. My success in softball came form sticking to one coach, and one philosophy my entire career. I was lucky enough to have the same pitching coach from the age of 10 until I ended my career at 22. I did go to camps, and they did temporarily change my mechanics, but as soon I as I went back to a team practice, my coaches put me straight back to our way of doing things. However, with that said, I can only teach what I know and believe in.

Today I gave a pitching lesson to two young pitchers who were having trouble mastering the change-up. I was asked to help them because the change-up was one of my best pitches. The way I see it is; I won’t fix something that isn’t broken.  If they throw their curveball well, even if it’s not the way I would teach it, I’ll leave it alone. If they are struggling with different pitches, I’ll change them to the way I was taught. After all thats why I’m here.

My impromptu lessons tend to look like this. I have the pitcher go through all her pitches so I can see how she throws. I then begin to work on the pitch I was asked to help her with, or we work on the pitch I think needs the most attention. I have her throw it her way multiple times.images-56 I then do something unique. I ask the pitcher to teach me how they throw the pitch. They become the coach for a minute and show me the motion, snap, grip, and release of their pitch. After talking through the physical cues, most pitchers begin to throw more effectively. (Ahh secret sport psychology at its finest.) I then go over mental cues for them to recite before executing a pitch. If these two tactics and minor tweaks don’t improve their pitch, I break them down completely and teach them my mechanics.

I empathize with players who are constantly changing their mechanics due to working with multiple coaches; it can become very frustrating. However, as a coach, it’s my duty to teach athletes the methods I truly believe in.  Even if it may frustrate and confuse them for a moment. I have to hope that my mechanics will assist them in experiencing a break through. I now understand why my skills were analyzed and changed throughout my softball camp experiences. As coaches we need to cater to individuals players, as every athlete has different strengths, but we must enforce the methods that we know; and believe in the most.

Quote: 

“You haven’t taught until they have learned.” -John Wooden

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