I was fortunate to attended both Mary Nutter Softball Classics in Cathedral City in February 2018. What an awesome event, with many great teams. To see so many NCAA teams in one place was a treat. This is where I noticed the softball game disposition of some teams.
Watching the teams as they proceeded through the games was interesting. There were times when the team that was behind by more than 4 runs in a game, looked like they felt they had no chance of coming back, and just wanted to get through to the last out. The opposition on the other hand, stood tall, and displayed their confidence as they were going to finish the off, and chalk up another win before the regular season begins.
I could almost see the sense of defeat in the team that was behind in the score. I believe that this sense of defeat is something that can prevent them from becoming a successful team regardless if they win or lose on the scoreboard. What I am talking about is the inner fight to perform every inning without giving up. It is almost a self fulfilling prophecy when a team feels that they will not succeed against such a strong team, so of course they will not. What they do not seem to be aware of, is the fact that successful teams are vulnerable to upsets the same way that less experienced teams are capable of winning when they are not expected to.
Softball Game Disposition
Successful teams have an expectation of winning. That can be a good thing, unless the team does not think their opponents are a threat. This is when they expect to win so they play with less effort than they would if they were playing against a team that they are not expected to be successful against. This is where the less experienced team comes in. Put the lack of effort by the supposed to win team, and the focus on the process of the not supposed to win team, and playing hard until the last out together and you have the potential for upset. If there is not an upset, there is a feeling of accomplishment that a good game with good effort was played.
At the end of the day, players need to leave the field knowing that they played well and did what they could to succeed regardless of the score on the board. By staying focused on improving every game and taking advantage of games to improve, the team will not be all about the score, but all about the performance.
Ways that coaches can foster a culture of individual and team performance success
Have high, positive performance expectations of everyone
If the team thinks that the coach has high expectations, it will create better performance because they know it means something to the coach. If the coach does not have high expectations, performance during competition and games will reflect those expectations. This does not mean however that the coach is expecting them to win. The expectations should be related to the relative abilities of the team and their execution of skills in relation to those abilities. Create those expectations during practice as much as during games to build consistency on the field.
Ensure early success in each player
It is not uncommon for coaches to create drills that are going to challenge players at a high level. An example is driving hard ground balls at the players that make them move quickly to the left or right because if they can field those balls, they will be able to field the ones that they are going to encounter during a game. What the coach is actually doing is decreasing confidence in their abilities to play the game at the level that the game is at. We need to give players opportunities to succeed regardless of how basic the skills are. These are the performance accomplishments that we can control in building self confidence in their execution. I am not saying that we need to roll the ball to them so that they field perfectly every time. I am saying that if you are going to run a drill that is above the expected performance level for their developmental phase, let them know that the purpose is to challenge them and that they may not field every ball but the will likely field many of them because of their skills and that will be awesome.
Offer positive feedback
By providing positive feedback, your team will feel more like you believe in them as softball players, and they will carry that onto the field during games and practices. If you can use positive specific feedback about their skills during practices, you will enable your team to see and feel what they are doing right and how they can improve skills as you guide them through the drills.
Maintain a positive environment before games
How the players feel before a game will determine the confidence that they take into the game. It is very difficult to be ready to go psychologically and unprepared at the same time. This is not the time to remind them how they missed balls and struck out in the previous game, or how they had difficulty with some tactics during the last practice. Refrain from using Psyching up tactics as they may end up psyching your team out instead. Everyone should have developed their own pre game routine that enhances their ideal performance state which will put them in the right mindset for competition. Encourage them to talk to you if for some reason they are having difficulty reaching that state prior to the warm up.
Be a good role model
If you have confidence in yourself and your team, your athletes will feed on that. I know from experience that the consistency of my mood and how I felt about the upcoming competition had an affect on the way the team felt every time. If I came to the field upset about something, they knew it because it affected how I related to them and the way I carried myself. If I arrived ready to go with a plan, they were ready and believed that we as a team were going to perform well. And we did.
Make accurate causal attributions
In order to assist our players in attributing performance success and failure to the correct causes, we need to teach them. By allowing the team to blame poor performance on umpires or because the other team is too good, we are allowing them to give away control of their performance outcome. By separating performance outcome from winning and losing, players can work more on what they can control rather than things that they had no control over during the game. After a perceived failure, encourage players to evaluate their effort, game decisions and how difficult the skill execution was in relation to the required execution rather than their abilities as a player. Have them reflect on their performance in a journal so that they can use it as a tool for improvement. After a successful performance, referring to ability and great effort is a great way to build confidence and continued motivation.