April 12, 2019
Note: This is a guest post from Lacy Wood, Associate Head Coach of Harvard University. In an effort to help high school student-athletes with their continued on-field development, over the coming months, we’re going to be featuring thoughts on the mental and physical game of softball from some of our friends in the college coaching ranks.
When doubt creeps in…then what?
Player after player, sentence after sentence, it was clear: doubt was the sleeping giant that had awakened in almost every single one of our player’s heads. As coaches we spent hours discussing this team, the question of peak performance and what is holding back a roster filled with returners that have more experience and athletic skills that opposing coaches would only dream of. Returners that just last season accomplished one of their biggest goals as a team. Why were they struggling to perform come game time? Maybe they aren’t having fun? Maybe we need to do more skill sessions?
Instead we asked them. We sent out a survey asking them what is working well, what isn’t working well, but most importantly, we asked them, what are you telling yourself? What voice are you listening to in your head?
As a program we talk about the little voice and the big voice, the positive voice in your head and the negative voice in your head. (It’s amazing how people are willing to talk to themselves when they would never dare speak like that to a teammate). As the surveys came back, they nearly knocked us off our chairs. These student-athletes, these women who are at the pinnacle of college academics and athletics are filled with the monster of doubt. Fear; calling into question the truth of; lacking confidence in; uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making. No wonder when it came to game time they are struggling to do the basics – but as a coach, how do you attack this?
We decided to name the monster, face it head on.
First, we asked them to go back to their journals (for the past two years, we have introduced journaling/scripting under guidance of a sports psychologist) and rewrite the tape that is playing in their head and write a new dialogue with themselves. Some had to rewrite it a few times before they settled on one solid message. Now it is up to them to fight the fight and control the message that is being played in their head.
Second, we set up practices that forced them to attack everything: hitting, fielding, pitching, baserunning – there is never a moment we are not attacking. We forced fearlessness in practice. The monster changed, the monster is not in their heads, the monster is the team and when you see a group of young women willing to attack everything head on, it’s beautiful – and if you are the other team, quite scary.
Will we lose another game this year, will we strike out again, will we give up a big hit? Yes – but the response will never be doubt again. The response will be to ATTACK.