Finally, fall baseball & softball is underway at Colleges and Universities across the country and its time to start training for the spring. And with that preparation, comes anxiety of desiring to perform will in front of your coaches and peers. Very few sports allow for anxiety to be more apparent than baseball, especially pitching. It is one of the few sports where the starter has a win and loss record, where the attention is so much on them, and where the ability to deal with stress is so vital from effort to effort [also known as pitch to pitch].
Because of the amount of pressure pitchers put on themselves [especially young ones], anxiety will naturally arise in the fall training program in pitchers more than it will any other position on you team. Having said this, let’s look at how we can solve anxiety in pitchers early in the fall so they can deliver in the spring.
Observing Over Judging
When your anxiety is high, so is the chance that you are judging your performance rather than observing it. Let me explain: When you judge something, the majority of the time you are criticizing your performance, rather than making an observation of your performance. When you are observing, you are paying attention to what is or is not working, and allowing yourself to make effective observations and solutions to your issues.
So, begin to look at your performance not from a critical standpoint, but from a safe place that allows you to observe your performance, rather than judge it. Just because you are anxious and the results are not what you want them to be, it does not mean that you are a terrible pitcher. It does not mean that you are always going to be a terrible pitcher. It means that you are judging your performance in a negative fashion. Observe what you are doing, and make adjustments accordingly. Until you get the thought in your head that you are not always going to be the way you are, then you will not be able to relieve yourself of your anxiety.
There is a big difference between breathing and effective breathing. If you are anxious during a game, more than likely your breathing is shallow, with inhalations beginning in the upper part of your lungs and exhalations being either very minimal or extremely aggressive. So if you have very shallow breaths and with very strong exhalations, how can you get through 9 innings of baseball or 7 innings of softball where you are going to have to do that routine over 115 times? Well, the answer is that you really can’t do this and expect to be successful.
So, how can you breathe effectively during your performance in a way that decreases your anxiety? First, your breath should start through your nose and as the air enters your body, you should be filling your stomach up with that air, allowing your ribs to expand and the deepest breath possible to take place. A good way to learn this is to lay flat on your stomach with your hands at your side. As you breath in from your nose, allow the air in your stomach to lift you off the ground. If you don’t feel a rise in your body position, focus on filling that stomach up as much as possible and feel the lift that it gives your mid-section. If that happens, then you know you are doing it right.
Second, breathe out through your mouth in a controlled, relaxing manner. This exhalation should allow the muscles in your upper body and lower back to relax and put you in the proper physical and emotional place to attack the strike zone. This maybe uncomfortable to learn at first since so many pitchers are into doing a very aggressive exhalation. So, this is something that you can practice continually, just by doing it while walking around in your daily life.
Once you have taken a good relaxing breath, now you are ready to give yourself a check and be ready to attach the strike zone properly.
Use a Check
The utilization of a check in your routine to relieve your anxiety can not be stressed enough. This is how you should use a check in your routine:
Once you have taken your exhalation, your best bet is to give yourself and check and determine if you are both mentally and physically ready to pitch. If you are not focused, if you are not relaxed, if your self-talk is negative in nature – THEN STEP OFF THE RUBBER and refocus. Why would you ever do anything that is not at your max ability? If you get to the point where you are ready to go into your throwing motion and you are thinking, “I’m still tight. I’m feel like shit. I’m not ready to throw this, but I’m just gonna do it anyway,” then why on earth would you throw it?
Remember that you usually have 20 seconds to gather yourself, take your breath, and get ready to attack the strike zone. If you need more time, take more time. If you are ready, then pitch the ball. But don’t feel like you need to be ‘tough’ and throw the ball when you are not ready. Pitch when you are ready to have the most success and feel ‘ready’ both mentally and physically.
Positive Self Talk
Lastly, something that you can be doing throughout the pitching process is moving your self-talk from negative to positive. If your anxiety is high, then there is a good chance that you are saying things to yourself that would be considered negative [again, judging rather than observing]. Especially if you have been experiencing anxiety for over 2 weeks. That negative talk has created a new groove in your mental frame work that now feels comfortable and safe.
Your job as a pitcher is to get back to the groove of saying positive things to yourself based on the past work, building up your confidence from things that you have done successfully before. THIS IS NOT ‘hyping yourself up’ based on something that you cannot do or have not done. This is talking to yourself in a way that is positive and reassuring in the work that you have done previously. "I know how to do this, I have done this in practice, I got this."
These are all skills that you can practice both on and off the field. By observing rather than judging, breathing and checking your body and mind, and communicating with yourself in a positive manner, not only will you see your anxiety decrease, but your performance will begin to be what you have prepared and desired it to be.
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