Ways to Implement the Mental Game at Practice
It is undeniable that all coaches would agree how important the mental side of the game is. I find that there is often a disconnect between the mental game and what we do at practice. Coaches preach the importance of it but don’t really bridge the gap between the two as effectively as possible. Over the course the next few weeks I am going to try to give coaches ideas and ways to work on players routines at practice, create adversity, and having players respond rather than react to failure.
Twenty-One: One of my favorite games to play with a defense is 21. It is so simple yet creates pressure and inevitably failure will occur. We are requiring our defense to make 21 outs in a row. Every play matters, players know that all eyes are on them and their teammates are expecting them to make the play. We don’t ask they make the spectacular SportsCenter grabs, just play excellent routine defense. The thing about it is players will inevitably makes errors, which is actually what we want them to do. Face the adversity. This is a coachable moment. Players have the chance to practice their routine to flush the past and get themselves locked into the next play. We want our players to play for the present.
What I would do as a coach is have that player check his focal point, get a big deep breath, and then have a solid defensive pitch thought. Because what I am going to do is hit the next groundball or fly ball to that player. The players know this is what I am going to do. It is not a secret but I will not hit it until I can see the player follow their adversity routine and have a clear vision for the present. They can’t have poor body language, be pouting, or be upset. Once I am satisfied that they have worked it out of their system then the ball will be hit to them. It is a huge confidence booster for them to see the mental game at work and make the next play. They get to feel the adversity, understand they are able to respond to it, and play their best on the next pitch.
It often time seems “the game knows” who is upset. The player who just struck-out goes to play defense, still upset they K’d with runners in scoring position. They seem to be a magnet for plays to come their way the next inning. If they are not ready and focused on the present we are not giving ourselves the best opportunity to perform our best. I use this analogy with players in the field. Imagine the pitcher has a huge present in their glove, with bright colorful wrapping, a big bow on it, and they are about to throw a strike to the catcher. This means we need to play this pitch, it is a reminder that the current pitch is the present, and our presence is required for success in it.
The 21 drill forces players to respond to adversity in a controlled environment and practice ways overcome it. It is also a team builder as players make errors their teammates get to pick them up. It encourages the type of environment you want to create in your program. Having the 1-Pitch Warrior Mentality is something that must continually be worked on and mental toughness is not a one and done type of thing. We must foster it give our players chances to work on the skill as well as all the other fundamentals and techniques we want to teach them too. Stay tuned for next weeks 1PW Blog for another way to practice becoming a 1-Pitch Warrior at practice.