I love sitting in the bleachers and watching clients of mine play in their Little League games. In our private sessions, they are very composed and on point with their skills. In the games though, the majority of them seem tense and anxious. Almost without fail, I see it with pitchers. They rush their tempo and aim the ball. After a few walks, they look completely lost, and their countenance is quite miserable. Watching these struggles is great insight for me to see the “game version” of the player. So why the 180 degree switch? Here’s my take…
1) Young players tend to treat practice as “Fun Time,” and the game as “Pressure Time.”
Unfortunately, it should be the other way around. One of my favorite sayings is, “Over prepare in practice, so you can throw it all away in the game.” Yes, practice should always be engaging and fun, but it should also be a forum for deep skill development. This is when a player should think. This is when a player should set specific goals, and find ways to combat bad tendencies. This is the forum for a player to challenge themselves and in a healthy way, be hard on themselves. Practice should also be used to give players experiences and emotions similar to that of a game. In the above scenario, I would suggest having the young pitcher face live batters in practice as much as possible. When he recreates the feel of the “Game” in “Practice,” then he will have more freedom to be his regular self when the umpire says, ‘Play Ball!’ If they treat practice in this way, the actual game should seem slow, easy, and most importantly FUN.
2) Coaches and Parents tend to fall under the same umbrella.
Practice is for fun, and the game is a time to stress. Practice gives the player an opportunity to smile, whereas the game is where too many thoughts fill up their brain, and combust into a cloud of pressure. Can you imagine a culture where the outcomes in practice take precedent over the outcomes in games? Furthermore, can you imagine the freedom a Little Leaguer gets from knowing that their parents and coaches could care less if individual success occurs in an upcoming game?
“You’ve put the work in, now go entertain the crowd,” is one of my all time favorite quotes.
I’ve seen thousands of scrimmage games in my years of coaching baseball camps. We never keep score, and personal stats go out the window. It’s treated as a culmination and a celebration of all the hard work we have put into our preparation. The quality of the game is amazing. The players are expected to be “kids” and play like they are in the backyard with their friends. Juxtapose that with the tension felt at League games, and it is night and day.