I have seen many coaches wanting to get their team fired up for a playoff game or to get ready for the championship tournament bring out every trick in the book to feel like they might help the team to a win with words. What many do not realize is that often the players are already pumped up or emotionally aroused as they arrive to the field. The most successful coaches however are more likely to assist and allow the athletes during softball pre game talk to bring their energy level to an optimal one that works for them. Some are over aroused and are actually at risk of being too psyched, also known as being psyched out rather than psyched up. Therefore, a pep talk before the game can do more damage than good if not done carefully. A useful pre-game meeting will have the team reflect on good performances where they executed the fundamentals well. To focus on turning a double play when the team’s defensive percentage is 60% will put the focus on something that they hope to do rather than something with more certainty which they can do, that will get the outs that are needed.
Something else that I hear often is a focus on winning. I was conducting a mental training session with a young team and was asked by a parent if I was going to talk about winning and the winning attitude. I let her know that success is derived from working on the process. Without a good fielding percentage and getting the fundamentals right, you will not win. Not against the teams that do anyway. We need to learn to relate winning to working hard on the process or more of a performance outcome rather than a winning outcome.
We hear coaches and parents tell their players to work hard. But what does that really mean? The mental, physical and technical/tactical skill focus is less effective when its content focuses on the importance of winning the event rather than offering confidence building through the process statements. We do not want to increase player pre-contest anxiety levels by talking about the teams record against the opposition or how hard this win is going to be.
Athletes of all ages and skill levels are often under great pressure to perform well and win. Their need for approval and desire to meet the expectations of others is often linked to their self worth which contributes to a sense of pressure to perform successfully. Not surprisingly, anxiety, or feelings of threat or worry, are generated from the possibility of performance failure.
We also forget sometimes how success and the expectation of continuing that success can cause anxiety. When a team loses to a team that they have dominated coaches will often blame the loss on a lack of focus or preparedness. This might be true to a degree, however what we can do as coaches is to build their confidence and remind them to focus on fundamentals in this situation. Often a team or players on the team will be afraid to lose rather than doing what they always did to succeed. The fear of failure will cause the errors that “shouldn’t happen” as we say.
Social disapproval or rejection is a fear that results in failure or the belief that the player did not perform up to expectations of those around them. Most athletes value some individual opinions or approval more than others and the more the team succeeds or fails, the more pressure can increase. The fear of disappointing those people can cause stress if the player does not have tools to focus on the task at hand and their performance. When a pre-game meeting talks about winning and getting to that next level, the expectations are set even if that was not the intention. Discussing game goals and maintaining focus on the task at hand as they prepare to keep up their good work and simply play to their potential will take the pressure off.
What happens after the game will determine the weight that the players put on your pre-game discussion. If you say all I want for you is that you play to your potential and do what you know how to while having fun, and then after the game where there were errors or maybe errors that do not normally happen and you get upset with them, your pre-game credibility will be lost immediately and will not be taken seriously next time. What we do from the beginning of the season to the end at every corner counts towards our athletes belief and how they buy into your program.
Softball Pre Game Talk Planning
- light exercise
- If the team seems to be tense during a game, send them to the fence for a jog or a run.
- make sure you tell them the purpose and that it is not for punishment
- avoid using the relax commands
- especially if you have not worked on how to relax
- teach them how to notice their arousal levels and relax on their own
- develop pre game routines
- the ideal performance state to find their zone
- try the routines early in the season and refine as the main competitions approach
- simulate games in practice
- use as many simulations as you can
- talk to the team about what they want to simulate
- individualize mental strategies
- start at the beginning of the season
- refine as the main competition approaches
- have high but realistic expectations
- realistic is the key
- stress occurs when expectations are higher than abilities
- keep errors in perspective
- learn transitions from errors
- keep track of fielding percentages etc.
- avoid discussing the teams record
- as well as the opposition
- performance goals rather than outcome goals
- respond with empathy, support, and optimism to injuries
- do not play athletes who are injured
- do not force back early
- minimize self focusing
- this is a team game with individual aspects
- group discussions
- acknowledge possible sources of stress and anxiety
- sources may be different for everyone