There is never a good time to get into a hitting slump.
But softball players who start their season off not being able to collect a hit face an uphill climb.
If Sun Prairie (Wis.) varsity softball coach Jamie Olson has one of her players begin the year say 0-for-5 or 0-for-6, the next day in practice she or one of her coaches will pull the kid off to the side to address the situation. Olson isn’t going to wait until the player is 0-for-11; she’s going to nip it in the bud.
“Especially if they’re one of the solid hitters, absolutely we’re approaching them right away and trying to figure out what’s going on,” Olson said.
Olson will have a chat with the player to try to get to the root of the problem.
“My biggest thing is, stop thinking so much about it,” Olson said. “You’re constantly thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I struck out last time. I’m going to strike out again.’ Hitting is a mental game where kids get it in their head and they struggle. The biggest thing is we try to boost their confidence as much as possible and help them be successful.”
Olson figures 80 percent of a player’s slump happens between their ears. She goes on to tell the player every hitter — even the great ones — suffer through an occasional rough hitting spell.
“I tell every kid, ‘You’re not going to make contact every single time you’re up to the plate,’” Olson said. “‘If you were, you’d be going Division I. And look at Division I players, they don’t make contact every single at-bat.’ They have to realize what they need to do and when they need to do it.”
One secret Olsen uses to try and cure a slump is having her player bunt consistently the next day at practice.
“So that they’re going down into the bunting position and they’re seeing that ball come off the bat,” Olson said. “So, they’re watching that ball come off their bat and they’re able to go back up into that swing and be able to come back in and make contact at the contact point.”
After talking to a player about the slump, Olson or an assistant coach will work one-on-one with her for 30-45 minutes.
“We’ll go right back to the basics of hitting off the tee, breaking down her swing, looking at all of it,” Olson said. “Sometimes it’s just going back to the basic fundamentals.”
Breaking down the swing can mean slowing down pitches just so the player can make contact and build confidence back up. A slump can be very disheartening to a player, so Olson makes sure she is addressing the situation appropriately.
“Girls are very emotional, they critique and criticize themselves a lot harder I believe than boys do,” Olson said. “They constantly feel like they’re being watched and they need to be successful — in their eyes, in their parents’ eyes. I get that for all athletes.”
To help evaluate a player’s swing, Olson will record her at-bats in a game and in practice. Olson doesn’t tape all her players’ in-game plate appearances, just when a kid requests it. Some teenagers are visual learners and can pick up quickly what they are doing wrong mechanically if they can watch their swing.
Olson will take just as much stock in how a girl is swinging the bat during a game as she does during practice.
“I look at in practice how much more relaxed they are compared to when they get into a game situation and how tense they become,” Olson said. “We try to look at both of their swings in those situations, because when you’re in the box and you’re loose and relaxed, you’re going to make better contact. When you’re in the box and you’re nervous, tight and shaking, or you’re mentally not there, you’re not making contact. We look at those different scenarios for those kids.”
We want to hear from you. How do you help your players get out of a slump?From GameChanger and Greg Bates