Picture this: in the first game of a tournament, you throw four straight balls to walk the first batter. Try to imagine your mental state. Most girls start feeling frustrated or begin doubting their abilities. They start thinking things like, “I hope I don’t walk the next batter” or “How am I going to get out of this inning?” There is usually a noticeable change in body language. That body language might show frustration, anger, or loss of confidence. Once the hitters can read that negative body language, the pitcher is at a huge disadvantage that can be hard to recover from. Thus, a downward spiral in performance begins.
Now picture this: you throw one ball, and then the hitter swings at three bad pitches. She strikes out. Your confidence soars. Your body language screams, “victory!” You attack the hitters with your best stuff for the rest of the game and carry your successes over into the next game.
Here’s the thing: you personally did the same exact thing in both scenarios (threw four straight balls) but those things generated wildly different results. My point is this: your perception of what you do is often just as important as what you actually do. The aplomb with which you handle yourself in game situations, your tempo in games and your interpretation of your own performance greatly affects your success as a pitcher. So here are some areas I want you to work to develop since this is just as important (if not more so) than the physical work you are doing.
Mound presence: Have you ever watched someone pitch and thought, “Wow! That girl is a complete badass!” I have been fortunate enough to work with some kind, well-mannered, dominant pitchers over the years. Most people who did not know these girls off of the field thought that they must be really mean. This perplexed me until a pattern emerged. Though these girls were sweet in their daily lives, they became relentless and unapologetic the second they stepped onto the field. This is a good thing! Developing a consistent and intimidating mound presence is one of the cornerstones of a successful pitching career. Unfortunately, most girls act timid in the circle. Some girls even act as if they are afraid! The crazy thing is that these girls are often very talented but can’t get consistent success because their mental game isn’t up to par. If this sounds like you, do this: start having someone film you in practice situations and game situations. Play it back and read your own body language. What are you saying with the way that you carry yourself? If you have certain gestures that are no longer serving you or making you look weak (i.e. foot stomping, eye rolling, nervously running your hands through your hair), then I would suggest the following: make it so that every time that you do the negative gesture you have to put a dollar in a jar or add another chore to your list. Train yourself away from these negative body movements. Once they are gone, start replacing them with positive things: a deep breath before you take your signs, or an intimidating look at the batter. As you do that, watch how your more positive mound presence affects your performance.
Game Tempo: Okay, so many of you guys move way too fast in between pitches. Softball needs to learn a little from baseball here about pacing. When we aren’t throwing our very best, we tend to speed up in between pitches and therefore allow the other team’s momentum to continue. If you just walked a batter, or someone just took a pitch you threw into the next stratosphere, slow down your tempo in between pitches. Make it hard for them to keep their successful rhythm. Throw at your best pace. This is where developing a good routine in between pitches is crucial.
Routine: Pretty much all of the successful pitchers whom you see in the College World Series have very consistent routines that they utilize in between pitches. They generally get the ball back from the catcher, walk to the back of the circle (at this time I suggest mentally releasing anything you didn’t like about the previous pitch), take a deep breath, step onto the rubber, take their signs and deliver. The key here is to BE CONSISTENT. You need to develop a pattern that you will be able to use so that a bystander would not be able to tell if you were winning by ten runs or losing by ten runs. I am also a big fan of creating a consistent routine BEFORE games to help get you into a good mindset. A good example might be: lunch with your team, personal visualization or meditation, physical warm-up, faux inning, handshakes with your teammates, then first inning. This is going to vary greatly from player to player, so you have to know what works for you. I used to do really well if I would just listen to some music in isolation right before the game, throw bullpen and then get right in there. Play with some routines and stick with the one that works.
Finally, I had an athlete come to me the other day telling me that her accuracy in games had been terrible but when we did spots, she hit them with ease. Sometimes as pitchers, we convince ourselves that we are not good strictly because we made a small error. Start trying to convince yourself of the opposite!!! Convincing yourself that you are throwing well even if you aren’t can actually go a very long way towards improving your performance. It does so because once your confidence and mound presence are noteworthy to the hitter, you begin to have an upper hand even before you throw the pitch. If this is an area where you struggle, work on it even more and continue to build upon your successes.
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