Keeping softball from turning into Space Armada
Back in the mid-1980s, I owned an early video game console from Mattel called Intellivision. Extremely primitive by today’s standards, I still managed to waste many an hour playing it. This was long before I started coaching softball, obviously.
My favorite game was one called Space Armada, basically a knockoff of Atari’s Space Invaders. The object was to kill off all the invaders while avoiding being hit by bombs dropped by a flying saucer that went back and forth across the screen. If one of the invaders reached the bottom of the screen, the game was over.
Why tell you about an ancient video game in a softball blog? Because there were a lot of similarities between that game and what can happen to softball players when they start to panic.
You see, as hard as it may be for today’s young games to understand, in Space Armada there was no way to “win.” You didn’t beat a level boss to move up, and you could never reach an end. In Space Aramada, every time you cleared the aliens a new group would appear. Each new screen would work faster and faster, while the pulsing “music” behind it would go from thump…..thump……thump to thump…thump…thump and ultimately thumpthumpthump. In the meantime, your heart would race and your brain would be, shall we say, over-stimulated.
That’s the way it can feel in a softball game or even a practice too. We often hear players who are “in the zone” say the game slowed down while they were in there.
Well, the opposite can happen when things don’t go well, such a pitcher not making the pitches (or getting the calls), or a hitter struggling through a slump. The player starts to press, and you can almost hear the background sounds going thumpthumpthump. At that point it’s going to be tough to recover. Usually the biggest sign is that the player starts to work faster, such as a pitcher trying to throw the next pitch as soon as she gets the ball back.
If you feel that happening (or you’re a coach and you see it happening to a player or the team) you need to try to get them to chill out, slow it back down and relax.
The best way to do it is to take some time to breathe. Not just any breath, though. Take a deep cleansing breath or two – in through your nose, out through your mouth, slowly and taking in as much oxygen as you can. You’d be amazed at how that deep breath can help you calm down and relax.
You want to clear your brain and quit over-thinking — especially of the consequences of failure. Trust your training and focus on the task at hand.
If you’re a coach, you may want to take this opportunity to call a timeout and talk to the player or team. Tell a joke, comment on what a nice day it is, remind the player or team that they’re playing for the love of the game, and perhaps a little plastic trophy or medal, not world peace. Do whatever it takes to slow those aliens down and keep the game at a pace they can handle.
When I played Space Armada I knew it was just a game. But the competitor in me couldn’t help but get wrapped up in the pressure to perform. It’s the same for your team. Help them keep the game from getting out of control and you’ll like the results a whole lot better.