Physical talent doesn’t always translate onto the field, especially the softball mound. Softball pitchers must possess the ability not just to hit the corners and follow through on every pitch but also to always be mentally prepared. (Find out: Are You Mentally Tough?)
The importance of mental preparation
An aerial view of any playing field symbolically depicts the pitcher as the center of the action. Before every pitch, a pitcher must quickly evaluate the situation, formulate an attack plan and communicate it to the other players. This type of leadership can be stressful for a young player. Often, when a game takes a turn for the worse, pitchers internalize the blame.
Being mentally prepared ideally allows pitchers to have a high level of mental and emotional toughness. Coaches can develop this in their pitchers by working on growing their confidence. We as coaches tend to devote all our energy to the physical aspects of the game. That’s important. But with our pitchers in particular, we also need to spend time on the mental side. (Learn How to Coach Confidence Not Cockiness.)
How to develop a pitcher’s confidence
Provide ongoing feedback
This doesn’t have to be only positive. No pitcher is perfect and as a coach it’s your job to teach. Formulate your feedback as either well-deserved praise or constructive criticism. Just always avoid negative tones. (Review these 3 Tips on Providing Feedback to Your Players.)
Allow her to call pitches
By doing this, you demonstrate trust and belief in her physical and mental capabilities on the mound. Once she gains experience and proves herself, reward her with additional innings.
Nurture a pitcher/catcher relationship
Successful pitcher/catcher relationships are seamless and productive. The two trust each other’s instincts and decisions. To develop this type of bond, allow your pitcher and catcher to work in collaboration, calling pitches during practice and games. Off the field, have them communicate their preferences in certain game situations. Once your team has a considerable lead, allow your players to call their own shots. (See Developing Trust Between Pitcher and Catcher.)
Periodically perform video post-game analysis
A pitcher needs to understand that a batter’s ability is directly correlated with her position in the lineup and in the batter’s box. She must simultaneously acknowledge the impact of potential base runners. As you review a video, pause it and analyze certain scenarios. Ask things like, “What would you throw this girl? She is batting third and is hugging the plate a bit. Bases are empty.” Ask and field as many questions as necessary until you sense your pitcher understands why she needs to think quickly and intelligently.
Be a great coach
A successful fast-pitch softball ace is only as good as the person coaching her. Your pitcher looks up to, respects and wants to impress you—sometimes just as much as she wants to do well in every game. If you enable her to develop in an encouraging environment (with an equal focus on technique and psychology), you increase her chances of thriving and in turn, boost your own chance of winning.
For more help in developing a pitcher, I highly recommend Alan Goldberg’s book, Using Your Head To Play Championship Softball. This a great read for coaches and their pitchers, providing insight from a scientific perspective.