While pitching isn’t easy, closing out a game can be even harder. Have you ever wondered why your pitchers can do so well up to a certain point only to have the whole thing fall apart on them?
It happens to lots of pitchers so find out what you can do to stop it!
There are a lot of different factors at work toward the end of a 7 inning softball game. Once you understand what those factors are, it becomes much easier to figure out why so many pitchers lose it at the end of the game.
At the beginning of the game pitchers are pumped up! They’re energized, focused and newly warmed-up so they’ve got lots of good things going for them. Once the game gets going and we enter the 4th or 5th inning, things begin to change, and sometimes they can change drastically!
By the 5th inning the following factors start to have an impact on the pitcher and on the game itself:
1. Batters are coming up for their 3rd at-bats – This means that the good hitters have seen you before and are ready for what you have pitched them previously. They’re ready for your pitches, but most importantly, they’re ready for the order in which you pitch them. So, if you’re going to get good hitters out at the end of the game, you have to change things up so they can’t anticipate correctly what you’re going to throw and when.
2. Pitchers can get bored and let their minds/focus wander – Many pitchers start to get bored towards the end of a game, particularly if things are going well and seem almost too easy. That’s a sure sign that trouble is right around the corner. As soon as a pitcher starts thinking about “easy” or “hard” they are no longer thinking about taking care of business. Instead, they start getting too big of a view of the situation which is harmful to performance.
3. Pitchers can get tired and start to slip physically – Depending on the weather (heat, humidity, cold), where you are in your season, and the number of innings and/or games a pitcher has pitched previously, finishing out a 7 inning game can become a struggle. If your pitcher is losing games because she’s not strong enough to finish, then she needs to get in better shape. Physical fitness is the easiest factor for a pitcher to control, and thus should never be a factor in the outcome of a game.
4. The game gets close and pitchers start to tighten up – Once a game gets close, the pitcher starts to think more about the end of the game then she does about the things she needs to do to pitch well. Anytime a player shifts her focus from the little picture (pitching mechanics, focusing on her target, etc.) to the big picture (the score is close, I need to finish out this inning, etc.) it shifts her performance from taking care of the details to making big mistakes. We know how this movie ends…
5. Umpires get tired and their strike zone starts to change (either drastically or slightly) – In spite of what some of us think, umpires are human and they do get tired. In fact, most umpires are much older than the players they are umpiring, and not all of them are in the best shape. This isn’t meant as a criticism but as simply an observation. For every deep knee bend (squat) that your catcher is doing the umpire is doing 2 (one for each catcher), so naturally the umpire will get a little tired toward the end of the game. As umpires get tired their vision gets a little off – and that’s why the strike zone typically shifts around the 4th or 5th inning.
OK – so we now know all the various factors tugging at a pitcher as she nears the end of a game. Fortunately there are some things we can do as coaches to help our pitchers successfully finish out a game.
We can help our pitchers understand that umpires typically get tired around the 4th – 5th inning, so we should expect the strike zone to change and to be ready for it when it does. Pitchers take pride in their ability to out-adjust the other pitcher, so when the umpire changes the strike zone be ready for it, notice it and then immediately adjust to it. Complaining about it is what the losing pitcher will do – that’s not us! So your pitchers get used to this, in practice have your pitchers throw pitch sequences against each other, and have your catchers call balls and strikes. Then, have your catchers suddenly change the strike zone and start calling a completely different strike zone. The pitcher that figures it out and adjusts to it the fastest wins!
Another thing we can do as coaches is help our pitchers learn to use their minds better. The mind is a body part just like any other body part, and it can be strengthened and improved with proper practice. By learning to better use their minds, pitchers can make immediate and successful adjustments in competition.
Successful pitching requires constantly making adjustments to things like:
- The umpire slightly changing the zone
- The batter slightly changing her approach on her next at-bat
- A particular pitch that was great during warm-ups and is flat as a board in the game
- An infielder that suddenly starts fielding groundballs with her ankles.
Here are 7 Steps pitchers can take to Control the End of the Game:
- Expect the Strike Zone to Change
- Adjust to the Change as Soon as You Notice it
- Know it Changes for the Hitters Too
- Practice with Strike Zones that Change
- Don’t Fight It or Complain About It – Adjust To It!
- Get in Shape!
- Understand Why it Happens (umpire doing about 450 deep knee bends by the end of the 5th inning)
For more help with all aspects of mental toughness and pitching, check out the following products:
- Book: Coach’s Guide to Creating Team Chemistry: Tips on Coaching Female Athletes
- Pitching eDrills
- Pitching eClinics
- Zip Balls
- DVD: Controlling Critical Counts & Pitching and Catching Drillmania
- DVD: Breaking Down the Pitching Motion – Fastball Mechanics
- DVD: Advanced Motion Pitches Riseball & Screwball
- DVD: Identifying Pitching Problems & How to Fix Them
- DVD: 4 DVD Pitching Series
- Spin Right Spinner
- Manual – Practices & Workouts for Pitchers
- Manual – 30 Drills for Pitchers
- The Complete Book of Pitching