When Should My Athletes Think & When Should They Simply Play?

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It’s confusing when we tell our players to pay attention and use their heads while we also tell them not to think, to just relax and perform! So which is it?

Mixed messages like these are confusing for our players so, learn how to help your players do both successfully!

There are times when it’s very important for players to think – to actually be thoughtful in their actions. Players need to think in order to make the right adjustments between swings or pitches, to know when to go for the lead out or play it safe and just get an out. And players need to understand when to risk going for the extra base and when to play it safe and stay where they are. But players also need to be relaxed when they pitch or hit or field or throw and clearing the mind while performing is important to being relaxed, and loose and fast.

One thing I’ve found that really helps make this confusing concept of “Hey Cindy, you’ve got to think out there!” and “Cindy, quit thinking so much. Just see the ball and hit it!” is to create 2 completely separate areas for the player; one where they can THINK and the other where they can DO. I call them THINK and DO Zones.

The 2 main parts on the field where players get confused about thinking or doing are the Pitching Circle and the Batter’s Box. The concept of a THINK Zone and a DO Zone help teach players that it’s good to THINK by having a certain place where that occurs as well as a certain place where DOING the actual skill occurs. Separating these two different things by creating different areas for each on the field not only helps the coach better teach the concept but also lets the player know there is a place on the field for both to occur.

Let’s see how these 2 different THINK and DO Zones work with the pitching circle and the batter’s box:

batters box think zone do zone when player think when players play

The Batter’s Box:

This diagram shows how you can create an area just outside of the batter’s box (either side depending on whether the batter is right or left handed) that is the hitter’s THINK Zone.

Whenever the batter needs to think about anything – swing adjustments, any adjustment the pitcher might make, reading the defense or taking a signal – the batter must step into the THINK Zone. And then when the batter has finished thinking and is ready to simply hit they step into the DO Zone, the batter’s box, and hit. Following the pitch if the hitter needs to think again they step back into the THINK Zone and start the process all over again.

pitching circle do zone think zone players think players play

The Pitching Circle:

This same process happens in the pitching circle for the pitcher as shown in diagram 2. Pitcher’s definitely need to think and that thinking should never happen when they’re standing on the rubber holding the ball and ready to pitch. Instead, it needs to happen back behind the rubber – in the pitcher’s THINK Zone.

When the pitcher has finished thinking about the adjustment she needs to make, or the pitch most likely to be called, or what the hitter is trying to do on this pitch and how she’ll counter it she steps onto the rubber and into the Do Zone to simply pitch and not think!

Using these simple THINK and DO Zones help your players know that both thinking and doing are important and lets them know there’s a time and place for each action. “Doing” in the THINK Zone won’t help and “Thinking” in the DO Zone limits performance as well.

We often send our players mixed messages by telling them to pay attention, to use their heads but then we turn around and tell them to just relax, quit thinking and “get it done”. Softball is a very strategic game and players that can think the game, that can make adjustments to their skills and that know the strategy are usually very successful.

If you’re going to use this concept of THINK and DO Zones then be sure to include it in your practices as well. If you’re having batting practice and if you start teaching a player then they need to step back into the THINK Zone to get into their instruction and to think about how they’re going to use that to improve their next swing. Then step into the DO ZONE and get it done!

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