ONE Softball knows that failure, or struggle of any kind, can be a springboard to improvement, and how players (and coaches, parents…all of us!) rebound from failures is an important piece of improving at anything.
In this article, top pitcher and coach Cindy Bristow, owner of Softball Excellence, shows a great approach to measuring success that is sure to make players and teams better, and make coaching easier.
Losing stinks! And often that losing happens during the most important softball event of the year, and sometimes of our lives. Make sure you understand the 5 lessons that losing can teach you as you get ready for another softball season.
While we all love to win, winning blinds us to our real selves. Winning only tells us that on that particular day we were better than whomever we played. And while we all work hard to win, winning is a tricky thing. It tends to hide any weaknesses we have since we overlook them and simply notice that “we won”.
But losing is a whole different ball game. Whenever we lose we tend to get really emotional about the loss and even personalize it. Our players will tend to “get BIG” in their comments following a loss, particularly a loss in a big game or season-ending tournament. “Getting BIG” means if you ask a player how they did, they’ll say something like “we were horrible”, “we stunk”, “I was terrible”, statements that are far more emotional than factual. While it might be true that they didn’t play their best, it’s seldom true that their entire performance was awful, horrible or terrible.
To help your players, and maybe even yourself, rebound from a tough loss and find the real lessons within the misery, we need to help our players get smaller through a series of questions. Let’s say that your team just came back from the nationals and went 1-4. They think they stunk and that they’re all “horrible”. So here’s some questions we can ask our players that might just help them see the whole thing a lot more clearly, and a lot less emotionally:
Me: How’d you do at nationals?
Me: What was horrible?
Me: You mean you did horrible every single game?
Player: No – some games were good
Me: Did you do anything good?
Player: My control was good
Me: In every game?
Player: Well it was good in 3 of the games
Me: So only 1 game wasn’t very good?
Player: Yea, I guess so. (Now we’re starting to narrow things down!!)
Me: So in that one game did they hit you the whole game?
Me: Did they hit you middle to late in the game?
Me: Great! That simply means that they adjusted better than you did. Whenever you face good hitters and you get them out, they try to figure out how to beat you the next time up. It sounds like they did. You pitched them the same way all 3 times up and they figured it out and beat you on your patterns, not necessarily your pitches. That means you need to work harder this fall to change up your patterns with the pitches you have so that batters get different combinations of your pitches each at bat.
This conversation helped the player, who in this case was a pitcher, narrow down her focus to realize that she really did play pretty well except for the last half of one game. That’s a whole lot different than thinking she was horrible in all 5 games!
What happens when players lose is that they run smack into something called STRUGGLE. Struggle is a very tricky thing as it can either break, or make you – it’s all up to you!
Here are 5 Lessons that Struggle can Teach Us:
Improves Our Strength – Think about the most obvious type of strengthening method there is – weight lifting – and it’s nothing more than struggling against the weight. In your effort to lift the weight you build up extra strength. Of course you can choose a weight that’s far too heavy for you and in that case the weight wins, your struggle lasts about 1/10 of a second and you quit. But, if you pick a weight that’s just heavy enough that you have to “struggle” to lift it, then you’ll build up your strength. This same thing happens whenever we play teams that are better than we are. If the team is way better than we are there isn’t much of a struggle and we shut down. But, if we pick an opponent that really challenges us it’s just like weightlifting for your team – it makes them stronger via the struggle
Makes Failure Hurt – Whenever we struggle it makes losing really hurt. Losing 2-1 in 10 innings hurts way more than getting smacked around 15-0 in 3. By the time that game finally ends you’ve already come to grips with the outcome so it isn’t near as painful as a close game that you had chances to win, but didn’t. The biggest difference between really competitive people and the rest of us is that really competitive people HATE to lose. Losing hurts so much to them they can’t handle it so they fight extra hard in practice and games to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Raises Weakness Lessons to the Top – Because losing hurts it helps bring those painful lessons to the top of our brains so we can begin practicing to solve those problems. Struggle exposes our weaknesses and weaknesses are what opponents attack when they try to beat you. Knowing what your weaknesses are is very helpful in trying to ensure you’re able to strengthen them so that opponents can’t beat you.
Helps Ignite the Urgency to Improve – If you care anything at all about winning, then the struggle you endured when you lost is all it takes to ignite your passion to improve. The urgency to practice is nothing more than the fear of losing the next time you play. Sometimes that urgency needs to be created through defeat and nothing helps light that fire more than the struggles you go through in competition.
Builds or Breaks You – Struggling against anything is such a powerful thing because it really only gives you two choices: overcome or succumb! Period. Either you find inside of you the ability to keep going and power on, or else you rationalize why it’s easier to quit. Earlier this year I struggled through 20 weeks of Boot Camp and trust me, it was a struggle! Every part of it was a struggle for me from getting up at 5:45 to doing that 500th sit up to running suicides in the parking lot. I wanted to quit so often and sometimes I did – momentarily. But I kept struggling and through it all I really increased both my physical AND my mental strength. I find that now it’s much easier for me to continue through a really hard project because I know I have the mental strength to do it!
Here’s a sure way to tell if someone has learned from their struggles and are moving toward their next win, or they are stuck back in the loss. Listen to the way they talk, if you hear things like, “I knew I was weak there”,” I’m working on improving that”, “I can’t wait to start practicing that”…this type of player has been strengthened from her struggle and is on her way to winning. But, if you hear things like, “the umpires were horrible”, “we really did get ripped-off on that play”, “our draw was fixed”, “it wasn’t our fault”…this player is stuck in the loss and will no doubt be headed for more since she has yet to learn any lessons from her struggle.
Struggle Baby – it’s what separates the competitors from the spectators and it’s what builds up anybody who takes it on. As coaches, we need to help our players find the lessons in their struggles instead of leaving them with the emotions of it. Let’s all work to make sure we aren’t adding to their emotional piles by getting big in our discussions with our players about the losses. Help encourage your players to keep fighting and battling through their struggles instead of discouraging them – which only makes it easier to quit.
Once you’ve identified what specific things that really led to your team’s defeat, then put together a plan to start improving those things! Struggle makes us all better!
Check out the following items that can help:
Book: A Coach’s Guide to Creating Team Chemistry: Tips on Coaching Female Athletes
Book: The Ultimate Softball Practice Guide – 2nd Edition
eBook: The Ultimate Softball Practice Guide – 2nd Edition
eClinic: Everything You Need to Know About Holding A Great Tryout
Republished with permission from SoftballExcellence.com