Much of anxiety in softball is generated by player perception and a feeling of lack of control. For example, how she feels about her skills, and how she feels about what the coach thinks of her skills, can create a perception related to expectations. Peer pressure can also contribute to anxiety, especially during the young teen years where players are more sensitive about their interactions with others.
Many softball players feel that the game is a part of their identity. This can make them more susceptible to anxiety because their skills and abilities might be directly related to their self worth. This is not something that appears randomly. It is something that grows from the first day on the field. The feedback that she receives from those around her has great potential to impact the level of softball anxiety she might feel as she progresses through the sport. This does not say that all is lost if a new player on the team has anxiety at the older ages. It mean though that more work might be involved in helping to alleviate that anxiety.
This is not only something experienced during high level softball. I have seen recreational players at all ages suffer from amazing levels of softball anxiety that actually hinder their performance. For high level players, there is an advanced level of game skills and abilities that are to be expected. These players are often but not always given skills to deal with these psychological barriers. These include psychological skills as well as a number of physical tools. With recreational players, many coaches and parents do not believe that they need these skills because they are “only” playing for fun. I can tell you that “just for fun” players that I have worked with over the years, have benefited from some of the same skills as elite teams. These tools not only improve their performance but also their enjoyment of the game.
Mastery VS Outcome Performance
A mastery focus is where the players focus on their own progress with the skills of the game. Having players rate their success based on a comparison to their skills yesterday or the day before, is a good way to move their motivation to internal from external motivation. When players work on mastering their skills instead of getting trophies, it can help to take the negative ego out of their process.
If we as coaches and supporters can promote mastery of skills rather than having the players attempt to outperform others on the team, we can help to mitigate some of the anxiety. We have many drills that promote competition, which can be healthy. It is when we judge the value of a player based on their performance that self esteem can be effected which then contributes to anxiety.
Focusing entirely on outcome performance goals and expectations creates external motivation in the form of praise and acceptance from coaching staff, team mates, family and friends. This can lead to what is known as an ego climate which takes away from enjoying softball if the player is not one of the best players. We want players to feel like they are progressing and that they are a valued part of the team regardless of how their skills compare to others.
A focus on mastery will help to minimize the fear of failure if coaches are able to minimize their own ego during practices and competition. By emphasizing effort, persistence and personal improvement while focusing on the process, if coaches are able to be patient, they would be amazed at the success that will occur at the end of the season. Yes, it is definitely more work because we need to keep good records and help players to keep records for their own comparisons. This is why planning is so important as a coach so that the team has a direction with specific attainable goals, that are related to the skills of each player as well as the team.
Control and Softball Anxiety
There are many factors of the game that the players have no control over. The things that we do not have control over can create the most anxiety. Things such as:
- Calls by the umpires
- The opposition
These are just a few things that can cause stress during competition. This does not include practice time and team events. By knowing what we, even as coaches do and do not have control over, we can plan for the things that we do have control over. Things such as:
- Mental Training
- Performance Improvement
Check out the article on control for some activities that will help the players to determine what they do and do not have control over.
The Mastery Spin-off
By creating a mastery environment, we can help the players to feel good about their progress and in turn believe in themselves and take pride in their abilities. Individual and team pride can be part of what will bring them to the field early and keep them focused during games and practices.
Most coaches have found themselves using many tactics, and sometimes even demanding that athletes put out more effort while on the field. With a mastery focus, players eventually begin to believe that effort is what will bring success. This combined with internal motivation will create the self direction that is so important to lasting success in the game.
A negative spin off to focusing on outcome performance goals and rewards, can be an eventual departure from the game. Hanging up their cleats, players can not handle the anxiety and are no longer having fun participating in their chosen sport. With a move towards self direction and a feeling of control over their future path, players can feel less softball anxiety and enjoy the game which means staying in softball longer and enjoying more success.