Blake Lyons channels a ton of his energy into making sure his players are mentally tough.
It’s one of the major reasons the Jones County (Georgia) High School softball program has been so successful in his 10 seasons at the helm.
Jones County captured a state title in 2010 to go along with two regional championships, while making the playoffs in all but one season.
Prior to Jones County, Lyons helped start the Eagles Landing High School softball program and guided them to a state title in 1999.
One thing Lyons has strived to do over the years is to use practice time to instill the mental toughness needed on gameday.
“One thing we do is work on the plays after we or the other team make a mistake,” Lyons said of his approach. “If we make an error we are not allowed to make two errors in a row or the same mistake twice.”
Lyons also puts his team to work on routine drills, but usually with some kind of twist to keep players on their toes and learning.
“I also set up routine drills,” Lyons said, “Such as a fly ball drill for the entire team to work on communication and putting pressure on the players so not to just ‘shag balls’ but each catch matters or the drill starts over again after some sort of punishment, either sprints or push ups.”
Lyons seeks to ramp up the intensity for his players. While repetition is important in any practice, Lyons believes that it’s also pressure that players need to feel in order to make the play in a game situation.
“The routine fly ball isn't so routine when a state championship is at stake. Players can catch a fly ball 100 out of 100 times when just shagging fungos.”
One of these drills starts with his entire team in the outfield, with infielders behind the infield dirt and outfielders behind them to replicate game situation pop flies and fly balls.
“The team has to cover all grass from behind the infield dirt to the fence from foul line to foul line. Coach hits a fly ball and fielders have to ‘call it’ using what ever words the team uses. Outfielders have priority over infielders because they are coming in just like a real game. Once a player catches the ball they come off the field.
“And the next fly ball is hit. As players catch the ball, each player comes off the field. If more than half the team is left when a ball hits the grass from being missed, the team does clap push-ups for the number of players left in the outfield. If the ball is missed and less than half the team is left in the outfield them the team goes to home plate and sprints a base for each player already out. Restart the drill with all players until the drill is complete. A routine fly ball is no longer routine.”
Injecting intensity into practice helps prevent it from becoming rote, and ensures players will be ready when the lights are brightest.
“Being successful isn't how you are on the good days, we are all good on the good days, but it's how you find a way to contribute on the bad days. You may not hit well that day or pitch well, but do you have a positive mental approach so others aren't distracted by your self-pity so they can hopefully have a good day themselves therefore helping the team? In real life tough days are there, how do you fight through them? We teach in our program what to do on bad days to help the team.”