Playing Fastpitch with Fear

If you have played fast-pitch long enough(or have a daughter that does) you should realize that softball is largely a game of failures.

While the ULTIMATE goal, may be perfection – a game with absolutely no errors, where no batter strikes out or gets thrown out, where pitchers don’t walk a single batter, or ever have a ball hit out of the park on a ball they left hanging a little too high over the heart of the plate…this goal of perfection, is an unrealistic one. Perfect games are nearly unheard of at any level of play. If they were, softball wouldn’t be much of a competitive game. 

Games are won and lost because of small failures throughout the 7 innings of play. Coaches and players work hard to train to avoid these errors, but they also work hard and train to force errors from their opponents.All this training and time and coaching and lessons and working, doesn’t mean the small things still aren’t going to happen on game day.

Suffice it to say, that any game where you can succeed less than 50% of the time and still be considered as one of the best hitters in the sport…is a game of failure. 

Unfortunately, many coaches today capitalize on these moments of failure (of which they are money) to instill fear in their players. Many may think instilling fear is a form of motivation, but it is actually counter productive and a lazy attempt to try to FORCE players to be their best

We hear so many players, at all levels of play – say things like “I am afraid to make a mistake,” “I will get yelled at if I drop a ball,” “If I don’t hit the ball I will be forced to run laps.” “If I miss my spots, I am going to get yelled at.” “I don’t want to go to practice today because we are going to get yelled at and told how terrible we were.” “I cant talk to my coach because he/she will get mad or sit me out.”

We hear players who feel a heavy sense of intimidation from their coaches, who feel it necessary to be ‘perfect’ in order to keep their position, stay on the team, get playing time. And perfection, from humans, especially children, is absolutely a ridiculous bar to be held to. Kids who become so nervous, or feel like every game or practice is a tryout, where their security is always in question, that they begin to associate these feelings of stress with the game they love.

We hear from players who seem to worry so much about the one little mistake…the one passed ball, the one at bat, the one pitch they missed their spot, the one ball that got lost in the sun and dropped and scored a run, the strikeout, the base running error, the loss of a game – that they are literally stymied into not performing at their best.

And we cannot tell you how many times we hear about coaches yelling at their players, or have over heard coaches talking/yelling (or what they consider ‘coaching’) to their TEAM as if they are talking to a group of meaningless pack mules.

To date, we have NEVER seen player humiliation, or yelling and screaming, work in the favor of the game of softball. If you have ever played a team where the coach was a total a$$ to his players (which we all have) then you probably sat back in your seat and relaxed, because the coach essentially just gave your team the game by beating up the girls he/she is supposed to be empowering.

Here’s the thing. Girls need to feel good to play wellAnd girls that are trained to play well, know when they screw up (without being reminded). They don’t need to have it shoved down their throats. Trust us, they are beating themselves up on the inside more than anyone knows. 

This doesn’t mean they need to be babied, or not held accountable for their actions. This doesn’t mean that coaches need to overlook mistakes. (in fact they need to take note so they know what to work on more in practice) This is no way means coaches cannot be disappointed in their team’s performance, or unhappy with a result, or even frustrated. (Every team has ‘those’ games) It also doesn’t mean that there should be NO consequences. But ultimately, it means that the coaches need to take on a leadership role that will work to better, empower, and encourage their players rather than downgrade, humiliate,

But coaches DO need to keep in the forefront of their minds, that softball is a game of failure.

Softball is a game where succeeding 40% of the time…is considered ideal. This means that these girls will likely miss the mark in softball quite a bit.

The problem that we often see, is that many coaches use fear to intimidate their players, perhaps in the hopes of getting the best out of them. Unfortunately, the real result of fear based coaching is a group of girls who are constantly holding back out of fear of making a mistake, a team that tries to cast blame upon their teammates to avoid ‘getting in trouble,’ a team of players whose joy of playing ball is being ripped away because the constant focus is on the mistakes. 

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Fastpitch players who are continuously reminded of their failures, remain ultra focused on them, which put quite simply tends to only cause more of the same. Empowering players, doesn’t come from intimidation, but from praise. 

Remember – what we focus on, is what becomes our reality. And this is especially true when dealing with young girls. When we focus on success, and the small successes, and remove fear from the equation between coaches and players, we EMPOWER, ENABLE, ENHANCE and ENCOURAGE the best from our players in an environment that feels safe. 

Positive coaching that results in successful teams, comes from creating an atmosphere of appreciation, a culture of respect that works both ways, and leadership that isn’t undermined by intimidation or FEAR based tactics. 

Remember, that which we focus on in life (and on the softball field) is exactly what we will get more of.

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