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The first time University of Arizona and former U.S. Olympic softball coach Mike Candrea saw Jennie Finch pitch, her physical talent was obvious. But he was even more impressed by her mental approach to the game: her composure on the mound, preparation, and an intense competitiveness.
Finch was playing travel ball for the OC Batbusters at the time, leading the team to a national title in 1997 and a runner-up finish the following season.
“The thing I always loved about her is she had a really good understanding of the game,” said Candrea, who would go on to coach her at Arizona and Team USA. “She has been a great role model for a lot of young kids, and has been the voice and face of softball. I think much of that is because of her well-balanced nature.”
Finch grew up in a family that was passionate about sports. Her two older brothers played baseball, and her father, Doug, spent countless hours working with Jennie on softball pitching and hitting techniques. At Arizona, she won an NCAA-record 60 straight games, including a 32-0 junior season. Her success as a pitcher and first baseman during Team USA’s Olympic gold-medal run in 2004 and silver-medal finish in 2008 has made her one of the most recognizable names in softball.
It takes more than pure talent to make a great player. Finch shares three tips on how she developed mental toughness, preparation and focus.
Deal with Failure
The sweep by the U.S. team through the 2004 Athens Games was one of the most dominant performances in sports. But in 2008, Team USA came up short in its bid for a second gold, losing to Japan in the finals. The loss was particularly devastating for Finch, since the International Olympic Committee had recently voted to remove softball and baseball from the Olympic program. (Both sports will return to Olympic competition in 2020).
But Finch has learned to handle setbacks, realizing each one creates an opportunity to grow.
“They can either make or break you,” she explained. “You have to use those experiences to help you become a great pitcher.”
Candrea, who coached the 2008 team, agrees.
“Softball is a game of failure,” he said. “Anyone who is successful has been through failure. Jennie was emotional at the right times, and was very composed at the right times.”
Prepare for Games in Practice
Don’t wait for a game to learn how to handle pressure; use practices to mentally prepare for any situation, such as a 3-2 count with the winning run on third in the bottom of the seventh. Finch created such scenarios in her mind during her bullpen sessions, which gave her the confidence to deal with them during a real game.
“It’s crazy how powerful our mind can be,” Finch said. “My bullpens would always consist of going through a lineup, so when I actually got out there, it’s like I’ve faced them all week long.”
Keep Things in Perspective
Finch uses her camps, clinics, and softball academy to teach life lessons young girls can use away from the playing field. As competitive as she was in softball, she also realized it was just a game. Giving up a home run or losing in an Olympic gold-medal game means little compared to other real-life hardships.
Finch discovered this firsthand when the 2004 Olympic team had the opportunity to train with a group of Navy Seals.
“For us, it put things in perspective,” Finch recalled. “Yes, representing your country is a lot of pressure, and millions of people are watching. But, ultimately, it’s not anything close to real life pressure like our servicemen and women are doing on a daily basis.”
From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.