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Staying Focused in Front of College Coaches and Screaming Fans

Today we have another wonderful guest post from former player Jillian Schonberg. Jill is going to share some important wisdom from her years of being a high level pitcher and give you some tips for how to pitch in high pressure situations. Enjoy!

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The physical demands of pitching are great and we spend a lot of time and energy preparing our bodies to meet that demand.  But what about our minds?

The “mental” part of pitching is huge and can take you in or out of a game.  Every time you are in the eight foot circle you are  faced with screaming fans, derogatory cheers from the opposing team, angry parents, cameras, radar guns and probably the most intimating of all, the judgmental eyes of college coaches if you’re at that recruiting stage. Mastering your mind while on the mound is probably the hardest part of the game. While pitching does involve some natural talent, anyone can technically learn how to pitch. However, not everyone can learn how to tune out the shouting fans, and obnoxious cheers; and not everyone can learn to keep their cool in front of college coaches.

 In this blog, I will talk about how I dealt with all of these pressures. The goal is to do whatever you can to stay relaxed but focused.  And since everyone has a different personality these little techniques may not work for you.  But perhaps it will get young pitchers to start thinking about what might work for them.

How to Pitch in front of Screaming Opponents

Personally, I loved  hearing the screams and rude cheers from the players and fans of ther other team. I was fortunate to be able to throw hard from a very young age, so I had a long time to get used to it. In time, I came to understand that the loud and obnoxious cheers and chants come when the opposing side feels intimidated and overwhelmed by me.   It’s a last resort to try and mess with my head. I take it as a cue that I’m doing my job well, so I smile, laugh to myself and keep doing what I’m doing.

How to Pitch in front of College Coaches or Other “Eyes”

Truth be told, when you are good at something, and people notice, it’s empowering. I was fueled by others, especially coaches,  watching me and saying “wow.”  Somehow I just got stronger under watchful eyes.  I would stand on the pitchers mound and say to myself, “watch me… look what I can do.” However, I know that not everyone reacts this way and  many pitchers can have a major  battle with nerves in such situations. If that’s the case, I have a few suggestions.

  • If you followed the Women’s College World Series, you might have heard discussions about how important it is to think about “nothing” while you are on the pitching rubber. It may sound too simple or  odd but I found it to be completely true. When I was pitching, I never over-thought anything. I would think about what I was going to have for dinner…or what homework I would decide not to do later that night. Anything to keep my mind at ease. Overthinking a pitch, the count or  your motion can quickly make a tough situation worse.  Analyzing your mechanics is for practice and lessons. You practice so you DON’T have to think about that stuff when it’s game time.  When  something negative happens (bad pitch, error, home run)  or stressful thoughts begin to grow, just “change the channel” in your head. Think of nothing. The University of Alabama team liked using the term “Flush IT.” You have to learn to turn the page and move onto the present moment.
  • Listen to your favorite music before the game: it pumps you up! Ever watch the Olympics? The athletes who are about to perform high-pressure solo events, like gymnastics, figure skating, etc., are always off to the side with their headphones on. Softball is a team sport of course, but sometimes pitching can feel like a solo performance, especially if you’re nervous. So plan a few minutes of relaxation before the game and recall that relaxed feeling during the game.
  • Sing a song in your head: it can be any song. It may take your mind off of the things that are stressing you out.
  • Think of something funny: I did this a lot, and I always made myself laugh. Granted, people might think you’re weird for randomly laughing to yourself on the mound, but at least you’re relaxing!
  • Take a time out.  If you are feeling stressed, call time. Get your fielders into the circle and tell them you just need a break for a minute. I bet they cheer you up with a pep talk.

Again, these are just a few techniques that have worked for me.  I urge any pitchers reading this to find their own methods.  You WILL most certainly find yourself under pressure and watchful eyes.  It’s a given if you choose to stand in the eight foot circle.   But if you can keep your mind clear, don’t dramatize the situation and always find the joy that makes you play this sport,  you’ll do just fine.

About the author

Jill

Jillian Stephens is a former top ranked east coast NCAA pitching recruit. She graduated from New Rochelle High School and Villanova University. She played gold level softball with several teams including the Virginia Shamrocks and the Morris County Belles prior to college, and continued to play Division 1 softball at Villanova. She was a student in physical therapy at Harcum College in Pennsylvania, and is familiar with injuries, rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning. She also instructs in Phil Schonberg's pitching clinics and gives many private lessons in the Philadelphia area.

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