What is the best way for introducing mental training skills during the pre-season? We all know that these are skills that everyone can benefit from, but it is not uncommon for teams to focus more on the technical and tactical game more than the psychological game until the mental skills are really needed.
This skill is a tool that can have more influence on performance outcome than the opponents you are playing against. I have always said that when two teams are close in skill level, it is the mental game that will make the difference. This difference though needs to be initiated at the beginning of the season. It is not something that can be introduced as a tactic 2 weeks before the most important tournament of the year and have the effect that you think it should.
The best time to implement a mental training program is at the beginning of the year with simple skills that they have some familiarity with already. One of those easy skills is goal setting which most people do regularly with school, part time employment and even scheduling events with their friends. The other mental training skill that many use without knowing is imagery or visualization. Use the word imagine in a statement and watch the eyes sort of close as they see in their mind that trip to Disneyland or to the final tournament championship game. The trick is to use the language that’s already associated with mental skills that we don’t even know we use such as what do you say to yourself rather than self-talk or imagine rather than visualize.
Allowing the players to do some of the work at home will make it less uncomfortable for those who might feel vulnerable being asked to close their eyes or to take part in a visualization exercise with the team. You might also find that if you are working with the team for the first time in mental training, there might be laughing due to nervousness. This is not uncommon, especially if they have no experience at all. It’s a good idea if you are not comfortable with delivering mental training skills information and training to enlist an experienced mental training coach who knows how to introduce the skills in a way that the players will be receptive as they are introduced to the idea.
As the season approaches, provide situations that are game like in addition to exhibition games where the team can work on their ability to draw on the skills being natural. One thing that I can guarantee is that your players will not unlearn mental skills once they have them in their tool box. They are useful for all kinds of situations that don’t even have to do with softball or sports in general. Ask your players as you are moving through your season how they are able to transfer the skills into their daily lives with school, work, friends and fun activities.
Again, mental training is not a skill that you can introduce 2 weeks before the most important competitions of the year, and expect that it is going to make a big difference in the performance of your team. It is a skill that needs to be learned and experimented with by the athletes with enough time so that they can learn to call on them when needed. By the end of the third quarter of the season, mental skills should be a regularly used tool in softball and any modifications which should be minor by then, should be made before the 2 week tapering period.