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3 Ways to Take Practice into Games

By: Cindy Bristow

Are you constantly amazed that your team is so good during practice only to fall apart during games? Find out how what you can do to change things and start winning those games.

Fastpitch Softball creating Game like competition in practice
Practice is very different from games, for a lot of reasons. But are you sure of the reasons and how to make sure you include these differences in your practices?

Here are 2 facts of life about practice:

  1. We practice far more than we ever play games
  2. We play games like we practice

The reason I included the Did You Know fact this week about NFL games is because so many of us think that softball and baseball are the two sports where everyone spends most of their time standing around. What makes softball so hard is this standing-around time. Managing our minds when our minds are free to wonder is really, really hard.

Our practices usually make everyone involved and require everyone to hurry up and hustle. Not that hustling is bad, not at all, but what we’ve got to do is make our practices help us be successful in games. To do that, let’s look at the factors that are present in games:

  • Pace – it’s usually hurry up in practice and lots of dead time in games. Where does your mind go when you have dead time?
  • Pressure – means different things to different people and we’ll look at this in more detail in a minute.
  • Consequence – means there is a result from every single pitch and every single play. It’s either fair or foul, out or safe, ball or strike, and you either win or lose.
  • Distractions – games involve lots of different things that can distract us. Things like noise, people, wind, cold, heat, sun, smells, tv, the crowd, our opponents are just some of the things that can pull for our attention and distract us.
  • Competition – this is by far the BIGGEST difference between games and practice as you’re trying to WIN a game, which means there’s competition present. Repeating skills to learn them is much different from performing them to win!

Before we move on to discover how we can add some of these critical factors to our practices let’s look closer at the power of Pressure. Pressure is usually present during games and it has an incredible power over people. Pressure alone can be why your players practice so well and play so horribly in games. Pressure means different things to different people, but whatever it is that makes you feel it, it does the same thing to all of us. Pressure (or stress):

  • Limits Performance
  • Limits Memory to only Simplest Things – which is why you can’t remember where your keys are when 100 things are going on at the same time. Think about how you’ve told a player to do something in a big game only to have that player totally not do it! Pressure/Stress limits your memory to only the simplest of things – and what is simple to one person may not be simple to the next!
  • Perception is Eroded – When we are Pressured or Stressed we See Less, Hear Less, Miss More Cues from our Environment, Make More Mistakes and our Vision Narrows. Wow – these are all pretty important senses to have in a softball game and to know that basically we see less, hear less, observe less and make more mistakes is no doubt the biggest reason our teams play worse than they practice!
  • Can Kill You – and finally, if you’re under enough pressure and stress it will eventually kill you. My Dad died of a heart attack at age 54 so I know about this first-hand. If something is bad enough to kill you it can certainly hinder your performance during games…

Just keep in mind when you’re thinking about the role that Pressure and Stress can play on your players that different things create pressure to different people. I LOVED softball when I was growing up so I never felt nervous being in front of the line for groundballs or being up-to-bat with the bases loaded or having a ball hit to me with the game on the line. But, when I was first learning to pitch and I knew I wasn’t very good, when the coach would look down the bench to figure out who should start warming up if our current pitcher was in trouble, it was years before I ever wanted to make eye contact. There was NO WAY I wanted it to be me! Not at first anyway. I got over that as I got better but I’m still petrified of heights! I’ll fly on a plane all over the world but don’t make me look out the window as the elevator goes to the 3rd floor! We all have our pressure triggers and they all aren’t the same!

OK, now the biggest and most obvious difference between practices and game is Competition! Competition is trying to win something, whether it’s getting to the car first so you could control the radio as a kid (not the same anymore) or having your team win the conference, we like to win! Games are where we can win and lose and too often practice is where we just do things – but we don’t actually compete.

Competition brings things out in us much like Pressure and Stress does, and when you look down this list you’ll see that many of these factors are the same. Why? Because to lots of people Competition IS Pressure. Competition brings out:

  • Pressure – to many people they are one and the same
  • Anxiety – we start to get nervous and anxious about doing poorly or about our performance in general
  • Change in Focus- we can start thinking about “not losing” or what’s at stake instead of on performing like we know how
  • Rushing – we can start to rush whatever we’re doing instead of doing things at our normal pace. Our opponents can also try to make us rush in an effort to get us to fail.
  • Fear – we are afraid of the outcome and the “what if’s” instead of focusing on what we know how to do and trusting in that
  • Self-Criticism – we can tear ourselves apart, particularly if we start to fail!

Ok so now that we know what Competition does to us there are some things we can do during practice to help our players become more familiar with competition, more comfortable with it and therefore perform more successfully whenever they face it.

During practice, add competition by having your players compete:

  1. Against the Clock – time your players doing any of the following:
  2. Against Themselves – have players compete against their own best time. Record their results and have winners for each week as well as the season.
    • Number of Good Throws in a Row – player with the most number of good throws in a row wins!
    • Swings Per Good Bunt – Instead of giving your players 10 swings in practice have them earn their swings by making good bunts. 3 swings for every bunt that’s good.
  3. Competitive Challenges – break your team up into smaller groups and have these groups compete against each other. The winners pick what the losers do.
    • Batting Practice for Points
    • Bunts for Sprints

Making our practice much more game-like will ensure that our players are more focused, relaxed and confident during games which will really increase their chances of playing good.

For more ways to add competition to your practices check out the following Competitive eDrills we offer:

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Cindy,
    Have been involved with Australian Softball teams on a few occasions as an assistant coach and also a father of an Australian Softball Player.
    My philosophy about practice and game situations is that:

    “You cannot expect a player to execute a skill in a game that has not been rehearsed at practice”.

    In this regard practice sessions must simulate game situations including putting players under stress once they have mastered the basic skills.

    Enjoy your articles.


    Don Ledingham.

    Comment by Don Ledingham — March 14, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

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"Cindy, Thanks so much for putting these together for us all the time!! I read them every time and always get some great information out of them! Keep up the good work!" - Brittany Bennett

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