By: Megan Brown, Ph.D. - Assistant Coach, Boston College
Provided by: NFCA
Pitchers have a tough job.
It is the only job where you can literally get fired on national television, be required to hand off the keys to the new employee all while being required to do so with a positive and supportive attitude. It is a tough job, but still your job as a pitcher.
The reason most aren't feeling too sorry for the old pitchers is that they also get a ton of glory for what they do when they do it well. Pitching is without a doubt a roller coaster ride. When you are throwing well, you are beloved and trusted; when it goes bad, you get fired.
The good news is you usually get rehired in a game or two, so no permanent damage done. But what I have found with younger pitchers today is that many of them have not learned how to get out of a bad situation in any way other than being taken out of the game. This month, I wanted to share three things pitchers can do to end an offensive rally.
The first is to use all of the emotions of a game to fuel their fight, not their feelings. Emotions are curious things. They help us truly enjoy all there is in life.
From joy to tears, to tears of joy, they provide the true spice of life. As athletes, we are told to control our emotions, and a poker face is always appreciated. But who doesn't love a high-energy rally? I mean, let's just be honest, they are pretty awesome.
Well, they are awesome if you are on the right end of one. But what if you are not? How as coaches do we help our pitchers use emotions for our betterment, as opposed to our demise?
To this end, I propose helping our pitchers learn how to channel emotions into their fight. When emotions are high and teams are playing well, players will fight for anything. They will dive into a fence to catch a ball to save the game, or throw their third-best pitch because it is the one needed, and enjoy the roar from their teammates and fans. They view each pitch as a mini battle to be won, and each pitch only exists to fuel their success.
But what about when you are on the other end of this? When you are getting smoked on a daily basis? Emotions are still high, but running you in a different direction.
You don't dive into the fence for the ball, because you never ran hard enough to get close to it, or you shake off the pitch for a strikeout and throw your best pitch that gets hit up the middle. Each pitch isn't a battle to be won, but yet another chance to fail.
These seem like drastic differences, but as coaches we have all seen these before in our teams and our pitchers. The key is to help players use emotions to fight, not feel. When they are feeling happy it is easy to fight, but it is also easy to get distracted and careless.
When emotions are on the negative side, it is easy to become overwhelmed by all that is happening. But when emotions are used to fight and channeled appropriately, big things can happen.
I always tell my players it is absolutely impossible to try too hard and be too aggressive. However, it is entirely possible to have misplaced aggression.
For instance, pitchers can throw as aggressive as they want, if it is channeled and clear. They get into trouble when they become generally aggressive toward the south end of the ballpark instead of aggressive with their hand and their finish. Emotions are this way as well.
You can enjoy all of the emotions if you channel them. You can be excited and let this fuel the fight. When things go bad, you can channel them to help you fight.
Emotions typically produce the fight or flight response, especially negative emotions. As coaches, we must teach our pitchers to use their emotions to clarify their thoughts and focus their aggression. When they do this, it doesn't matter if the game is going good or bad, they are able to channel their emotions and by never get too high or too low, but always attack and fight.
The second thing a pitcher must do plays off the first. They must separate each pitch as its own entity. Pitchers get in trouble with rallies when they try to get out of bases loaded and no one out with one pitch. While I know you can turn a triple play, and I am all for this, the reality is this is a rare case, and most of the time rallies are stopped one out at a time. To do this, pitchers have to remember that they always have an out at the plate.
If you strike out the hitter three times, you can get out of bases loaded without a run. While this is also a rare case, it keeps the focus on the correct area of the game. Get the hitter.
Attack the hitter, but you must do this one pitch at a time. Pitchers in pressure situations tend to group pitches or pitch too quickly to truly be clear and confident in each pitch. As coaches, we can help them with this by calling pitches a bit slower or by sending the catcher to the mound to remind them to throw one pitch at a time. This will keep them clear and confident in each pitch, because even though the situation might be out of their control, they can at least feel in control of the pitch they are throwing.
The last piece involves learning how to stop the proverbial bleeding. From a medical standpoint, one stops bleeding by applying constant and sometimes increasing pressure. The same is true in softball.
If you want to stop the bleeding of a rally, you must apply pressure to the offensive team. Pitchers do this by channeling their emotions, separating their pitches, and attacking the hitter. Defensively, this is done by making clean plays and getting the outs as they present themselves.
Pitchers get into trouble when they start to pitch hitters carefully during rallies. The same attack mindset that got this hitter out last time will work again, even during a rally. You must meet the attack with a clear attack. Many times, pitchers do the opposite and become careful and release all pressure from the other team, allowing the bleeding to continue.
Obviously, the best way to prevent a rally is to never let one get started in the first place. But since we all know this is an impossibility in our sport, properly preparing for the situation will not only help end it quickly, but prevent them as much as possible.