I was talking to a coworker today about their playoffs on the weekend. “How did it go?” I asked. “Well…. not as good as we had hoped. We were doing well, then we had one bad inning” she said “With 2 out?” I asked …. “yes” was her response shrugging her shoulders. I cannot tell you how many times this happens at all levels of ball. We saw it at least 6 times during the NCAA season. I like to refer to it as the two out softball curse.
I believe the curse is a mental one. The fear of missing the play makes the most sure and “easy” play into a complicated and difficult one that can determine the outcome of a game. Games are lost with 2 outs and an easy play to be made.
This is where the doing ordinary things under extra ordinary circumstances comes into play. It’s not the easy play that is extraordinary. It is the importance and significance of the out that creates the heightened emotions. Think about all of the things that could happen if you miss the play.
Possible Results of The Two Out Softball Curse
- the runner is safe
- a run scores
- the next batter gets a good hit
- everyone looks at you
- your coach gets upset
- your parents or fans get upset
- you could lose the game
- you might not advance in the tournament
- you could get substituted out
- …. you feel terrible
Wow. That is a huge consequence for missing that seemingly simple play. And the truth is that you (the one who missed the play) will likely bring on a lot more punishment to yourself than anyone else can. Ouch!
Now what if you make the play? What could happen?
- the runner is out
- everyone cheers the play
- on to the next inning
- no more runs score
- you could win the game
- you could advance in the tournament
- everyone gives you high fives and smiles on the way into the dugout
- …. you feel GREAT ..
Those are 2 very big differences in the potential outcome of the again “seemingly simple” play. Now… how do you ensure that you get to experience the second one more than the first consequence.
This is where mental training is critical. Being able to control your emotions and energy level during those moments will allow you to act “ordinarily”. To make the play like you have done many times before. Practicing visualization and relaxation techniques will give you instant access to calming tools. Even if you were to just take a breath before the ball is pitched and look around, knowing what you are going to do with the ball while everyone is yelling if it comes to you.
Coaches can also have an enormous influence on the outcome of this play. It is critical I believe that during important games we as coaches do not heighten our players anxiety levels and excitement by putting extra pressure on them with the importance of the game. It is a known and proven fact that, as the anxiety level increases, the skill levels decrease. This is true for any well trained and skilled athlete, and especially true for young and inexperienced athletes.
It is important for them to know that we are supporting them 100% in their efforts and will high five them regardless of the outcome at the end of the day. That’s what we are there to do. Build confidence and empower their abilities as athletes and as individuals on our team. With that who can lose? right?