The game of softball is full of ups and downs.
There are times when players feel great and on top of the world, and times when they feel the lowest of lows. This is when the mental part of the game comes into play. The crazy part about softball is that if you fail 7-out-of-10 times, you are considered an amazing hitter. Having a strong mental approach is extremely important to succeed.
The biggest mental test I ever had actually happened to me my senior year of college.
I was the only senior pitcher on our team and I wanted to prove to my team and myself that I could handle high pressure situations. I also wanted my senior year to be the best and to go out on a high note.
Our team had just begun Pre-Season, and we were heading to Athens GA, to play the No. 5 team in the country, The University of Georgia. I had a conversation with our head coach the day before we played and she said I was going to get the ball in the first game. Once she told me that, I was all over the place in my head. I wanted to prove to everyone that our team could hang with them, and that I was the right person to be in the circle throwing.
I probably got about an hour of sleep the night before because I was so nervous and anxious. Once I started warming up for the game, the nerves kicked in. I was extremely nervous and I wasn’t confident in myself. When the game started I was completely in my head. Let’s just say, the first inning definitely showed all of this. First pitch of the game, homerun. Second batter walked. Third batter hit a home run. Fourth batter hit a homerun. And then just like that, I was pulled out of the game. I didn’t even get an out.
I remember sitting in the dugout thinking “How did this happen? I am THE senior pitcher on this team. I let my whole team down. How could I do that?”
As I watched the rest of the game, I tried to cheer my teammates on, but I felt like I let them down because I had a bad outing. I have never been harder on myself than how I was after that game.
I spoke to my catcher the next day who said, “J, it is just a game. One performance doesn’t define you as a person. You are an amazing pitcher. Next time you go out there relax, HAVE FUN, and know that you are doing the best you can. Your team supports you 100%.”
Her words really stuck with me and the next two weeks during practice I was able to relax more. During spring break, our team was heading down to Gainesville Florida to play the No. 1 Team in the country, The University of Florida. Before the game, my coaches pulled me aside and said that I was getting the ball again. They said they believed in me 100% and just wanted me to do the best that I could.
My mindset for this game was completely different than the game against Georgia. I told myself that I just wanted to have fun and enjoy every second of pitching. I only had about three more months left to play college softball, and I wanted to soak in every moment. Win or lose, I knew that I had put the work in.
In this game, things were night and day different from the Georgia game. I threw a three hitter, and our team only lost 1-0, which happened to be in the bottom of the 7th inning. That game is the best game that I ever pitched in my whole life.
Regardless of the score, I was so proud of myself and my team that we hung with the best team in the country. It showed me that I deserved to be on the mound, and how important having a strong mental game was.
The Georgia game and Florida game were two weeks apart. In those two weeks I didn’t become a whole new pitcher and change my pitching style. However, I did change my mental approach.
Softball is supposed to be fun; that is why we play. Yes, there will be failures, but it is how you bounce back when things don’t go your way. You can’t dwell on an at-bat that you had from the first inning and let that carry with you into the next inning. You need to have a short memory, and focus on the next pitch and next play. If things aren’t going your way, cheer on your teammates and focus on the things that you can control.
Preparing mentally is just as important – if not more – than any other part of your game. At the end of the day, you only have a certain amount of time to play the game of softball, it is important to enjoy every second you can!