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Imagine you’re standing on first base. You flex your fingers around the grip of your bat, adjust your stance, and wait for the pitch. The pitcher winds up and throws the ball, but your concentration falters. You swing. You miss. This process repeats twice and now you fear your next game. Your concentration continues to falter as your fear weighs heavily on your capability to perform under pressure.

How can you dig yourself out of this rut? Practice makes perfect, right? But no matter how many times you hit the ball perfectly during practice, when game day rolls around you find yourself swinging and missing.

Sports psychologists will be the first to tell you that while practicing your skills repeatedly and often will improve your performance, you must tackle the real root of the problem: the psychological barriers that hold you back from peak performance.

Stand Confidently

Standing slouched over and self-conscious on the field send the wrong message to the other team. It also does no good for your own self-image. By adopting strong body language, we trick our minds into feeling more powerful, competent, and in control.

Strong and effective body language can also seriously help to tilt the game in our favor. Standing tall, strong, and confidently makes you appear more experienced and formidable, which may psych your opponent out. Additionally, proper posture will help you control and focus your breath, as it allows more air into the lungs.

Be Mindful

More often than not, when we face slumps in softball, or any sport for that matter, it’s because we are not concentrating on the current situation. To perform, we must rid ourselves of fears, concerns, or stressors that pull our minds away from the game. Easier said than done, right? But it’s not as difficult as you might think.

When you’re at practice, be mindful of how your muscles feel before and after doing a task well. Analyze what may be barring you from a great pitch or hit. Remember that feeling. Then before a game, your pitch, or your turn at bat, focus on your muscles and how they’re feeling. Are they loose or tight? Many players notice decreased bat speed when their muscles are tense. Paying attention to the way your muscles feel when pitching or hitting will help you recreate such a feeling during a game.

Forget Muscle Memory

When training, many softball players will pitch or hit one consistent type of throw. Think about it. How can you be prepared for a game situation, when the hits and pitches of others can’t be guessed ahead of time, when you’re only practicing your skills from one set direction?

Effective training relies on randomness. Make sure that you are just as unprepared for a pitch or hit as you would be in a game. This will help to train your brain to react, and therefore you’ll be better suited to face curveballs, so to speak.

Although adhering to a regular practice schedule can seriously improve your game, understanding and placing value in the mental aspect of softball makes all the difference. Exceptional athletes understand that a good game relies on strategy and mindset more than physical prowess.

If you aren’t being mindful during practice or a game, you’re unlikely to perform to the best of your ability. Check in with your mind, your body, and establish routines that get you in the zone. Before you know it, you’ll be out of your slump and a player to be feared!