TEN TIPS TO HELP COACHES DEVELOP MENTAL TOUGHNESS IN THEIR PLAYERS
1. Develop a practice routine your players can depend on.
To develop mental toughness you must have a planned practice routine. Your players will work hard everyday if they know what to expect. Have a routine that works for you, your coaches,your players, and their parents. This includes what you do at practice, when you do it, and the time it takes to practice. I have found through experience that the old adage “you play like you practice” is true. For more ideas please check out our practice plan tips
2. Use practice rituals that develop a strong mind set in your players.
Mental toughness comes through preparation which leads to confidence. This mind set starts with the coaches and it starts in practice. For example, our varsity players know that we have a 30- 40 minute “BP” session everyday before we practice. We hit everyday on the field except for game days and on home game days players hit in the batting cages.
Our players know this routine and get dress and prepare the field for BP. We hit in the same groups everyday, but vary the order of the groups. We usually hit in 3-4 small groups with rounds of 6-10 per round. Without fail, we ALWAYS start the first round with two bunts and hit every pitch in the first round to the opposite field. We demand it from our players. Our older players let the younger players know when they don’t hit the ball correctly to the opposite field. Hitting to the opposite field happens when the hitting an outside pitch late in the strike zone.
Hitting to the opposite field is critical in games when facing a good pitcher that keeps everything away (especially one that has a good curveball or slider that moves down and away from the hitter), when a hitter has two strikes, and also when trying to move a runner up from second to third. This becomes routine in a game for our hitters because we demand it everyday in our routine. It’s part of their mind set and essential to develop mental toughness.
3. Have a few good rules and stick by them.
Don’t have rules for the sake of having rules. Figure out what rules are needed and be fair enforcing them. A few good rules could involve being on time to practice, not using foul language, not throwing equipment, running out all ground balls, etc.,.
Be prepared to enforce them equally to all team members.
A "strong-willed" player is a good thing and you should use that to develop mental toughness. But don't break their spirit by constantly having rules and chastising them.
4. Have dress code requirements for games and practices.
Just like the expectation an employer has for his/her employees demand proper dress at games and practices. Our practice dress uniforms include solid gray pants with a matching solid color belt and socks, matching practice shirts, practice hats, and black shoes with black shoestrings. On practices the day before a game (or when it’s really hot) we may allow players to wear shorts, but they wear team issued mesh shorts.
Discipline is important to develop mental toughness and discipline in playing starts with the way you look. Have you ever interviewed someone that was dressed badly? It’s hard to get past that. Your team will respond to this, in fact they like dressing sharp and looking good. We usually buy micro-fiber practice shirts (and pre game shirts) that look really good and our players like. (Try to keep up-to-date with clothing styles, your players will appreciate it. If your not sure, ask a couple of the older players, they will tell you)
5. Work hard to develop each player’s role.
Players need to know where they fit in on the team. This may take some time at the beginning of the season when players are competing for playing time, but it’s important to let them know where they stand. Weekly depth charts and individual discussions will help the players understand their roles. If they are a sub let them know how you plan to use them off the bench or if they are still closely behind the person ahead of them. Maybe you plan to platoon them, let them know what you’re thinking. They may not always like your thoughts or agree, but they will not be wondering what you’re thinking.
6. Body language speaks LOUD.
It’s easy to get discouraged during a game, this is true for both the player and also a coach. Coaches must work hard to give a player confidence and the ability to keep fighting. A coach can not control the thought process or desire of a player, but the player will not try if the coach is negative towards them. This is especially true for the coach in the third base box during the game. They must instill positive words of encouragement and desire without overloading the player’s thought process with things to do.
7. Start on time and be prepared.
Having an organized practice plan and keeping a routine will help with preparation. It might help to print a practice plan outline and place it on the dugout wall prior to practice. The outline can be general with just enough information and time schedules to let players know what’s going on.
This expectation can help practice move quickly. Arriving early and starting on time will send a message to your players and they will arrive early expecting to start on time.
8. Don’t burn them out from over-practice or over-play.
It's hard to develop mental toughness in players that do not have a passion to play. They must have energy that is obvious. I call this energy the player's "motor". This is why some really good athletes never develop mental toughness in game situations, their energy level is low.
Do not dull the passion of the player to play by burning them out during practice or over the season. Keep drill times short. Young players will lose interest quickly so work hard to keep them engaged mentally. It's impossible to develop mental toughness if your players can not focus and concentrate on the item at hand at practices.
During BP make sure groups move quickly and that the BP pitcher is throwing strikes. If you plan to practice for two hours, stop it at that time. If you need to run or condition at the end of practice, stop a few minutes early to allow time for the conditioning. We start out in preseason with 2 ½ -3 hour practices, going to 2 hours by mid season and slightly under 2 hours during the last weeks of the season (hopefully when we are deep in the playoffs).
It might also be a good idea to plan days off during the season. A day off in the middle of the week during a tough late stretch in the season may help add an energy level to your team and help them maintain that "edge" that is needed to develop mental toughness in competition.
9. Keep everyone busy.
Being prepared for practice involves keeping everyone moving. Trust me, a slow sluggish practice will carry over to game performance. Crisp drills and hustling from station to station will also carry over to games.
BP is usually the natural time that everyone stands around. This can be avoided by hitting in small groups, have a group of base runners, have a group hitting in the cage (or hitting waffle balls on the side). This will leave fewer players in the field and they will have to hustle after balls that are hit. For more ideas go to our “BP Practice Tips”
During scrimmages post an itinerary letting players know when they are hitting and what position they are playing at different times during the scrimmage. Allow time for pitchers to warm up. Players not involved in the scrimmage or keeping up with foul balls could be allowed to hit in the cage.
10. Develop concentration and good habits in practice.
Have a purpose for everything you do in practice. Give players reasons to concentrate. For example, during BP, place runners on base and have hitters practice situational hitting, moving runners into scoring position or scoring them.
On deck hitters can be practicing their load and timing with the pitcher. Have base runners work on proper leads at each base. Have infielders throw ground balls to first base (or second depending on the situation), but outfield can throw the balls hit to them to an outfield bucket in shallow center field.
Developing the mind set in knowing what to do before the pitch is made in practices will translate into the same thing during games and this will help develop the mental toughness of your players.
Overall, be patient and consistent. To develop mental toughness it will take persistence on the part of the coach and the parents. Hopefully, they are doing their part and you are only reinforcing what they teach at home.
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