Have you ever seen a player make an error, mental mistake or strike out?  Well of course you have.  And how often have you seen player’s entire body language change after doing so?  You know….they hang their head and look as if they’re about to cry.  I’m sure you’ve seen that too.  They’re having a Pity Party.

I first heard this expression from one of my daughter’s travel coaches (John W.) and it has stuck with me since.  As a parent I was fortunate not to suffer through any of my daughters behaving this way.  But as a coach I’ve seen it repeatedly over the years.  The million dollar question is how do you stop players from having one?

Woe Is Me (Sigh)

There are various descriptions of Pity Parties online such as, “indulging in self-pity or feeling sorry for oneself.”  In my experience when a player goes into this mode, they are finished for the day, meaning their play will only get worse.  Imagine if it is the beginning of a varsity double-header or the first inning of game one on bracket day?  I have also found that they happen to players of all talent levels, novice to college prospects.  

Softball is a team sport and like baseball, has been called a game of failure.  For example, batting .300 may be considered very good.  But, that means the batter fails to get a hit 70% of the time.  A batter may go 4-4 in the first game of a tourney, then 0-8 in the next two.  A short-stop may have a fielding percentage of .900, which means she fails to make the play 10% of the time.  She may make every play in the first two games, but boot the ball 3 times in the last game of the day.

The player who gets down on herself after making an error in the field can usually be expected to follow it up with a poor at-bat.  Then, it is a domino effect offensively and defensively with their depth of self-pity becoming paralyzing.  They are so concerned with themselves that they’ve completely forgotten about their teammates.  While it is not literally contagious, it absolutely does negatively affect the team.

In a nutshell Pity Party’s are acts of selfishness.  It is like saying, “I don’t care about the team right now, because I am not having a good day.”  The team senses this and eventually loses faith and respect for this player who essentially is quitting on them.  It becomes a cancer to the team chemistry.

A college coach from a top 25 D1 program told me once, “We were playing a game that had several lead changes.  We won it in the bottom of the 7th inning on a walk-off hit.  It was an important conference game.  Everybody rushed the field to celebrate and congratulate the player who got the hit.  Then, I turn around and see one player in the dugout with her head down actually sulking!  I asked her what was wrong only to learn she was pouting because she was 0-4 in the game and failed to get the hit in earlier in that last inning.”  Needless to say, the coach was beyond upset!  She said, “Here we just win a huge conference game and all this girl cares about is herself!”  

I’m not a psychologist and won’t even attempt to elaborate on the causes of this behavior in some athletes.  My concern is how to help players to overcome this debilitating practice.  Below are some tips for coaches and parents to help their players and daughters to avoid this behavior.

Method #1 – Encouragement & Reassurance

The coach could privately explain to the player the negative affect that her behavior is having on her team as well as herself.  He could let her know that he will call her out whenever she begins the descent into self-pity, while expecting her to stop it immediately.  He may tell the player that she is on the team for a reason, because she is talented enough to excel and be an integral part of the team.  He could praise her a little more often for even some routine little things with the hopes of increasing her confidence and boosting her self-esteem.

Method #2 – Tough Love

The coach might use discipline to correct the problem.  He could confront the player explaining to her that the behavior will not be tolerated and why.  If the problem persists, he could pull the player out of the lineup and sit her on the bench (for awhile).  Or since it is a team sport, he might hold the entire team accountable, by making them do extra sprints, burpees or run poles.  Her teammate’s discontent will grow quickly in this case, which they will no doubt be sure to express.  

Method #3 – Special Drills (A Game Within a Game)

Defense - A common habit of players in the midst of pity parties is when they drop/bobble a ball, then give up on the play or walk to the ball to retrieve it.  Split the team in half with a coach hitting ground balls to each group (2 coaches).  For every ball they field and throw back to the coach and/or a player (ideally a first baseman), they get a point.  If you use a player to receive the throws, give them another point for any exceptional catches (like a scoop in the dirt etc.).  Take away a point for throws that cannot be caught.  The first group to 20 wins.

The game forces them to hurry after balls they bobble with no time to pout.  The groups cheer on their teams, especially when there are tough plays and/or scoops.  They also cheer when a ball is booted and the player must run it down quickly and make the throw before the next player can go.  Through repetition it teaches them to hustle after balls they bobble or boot.  In the gym the wall is behind them, while outside you can use the fence/backstop.  

Offense – The bad habit while hitting is the pouting after swings and misses (strikeouts).  Again, split the team into 2 groups with a coach front tossing to each batter (2 coaches).  It is probably easier to use wiffle balls or the squishy balls (soft rubber wiffle balls – especially if indoors), but if you have the pitching nets and are outside, real balls work too.  Each player gets one pitch to swing at, even if it’s a bad pitch, so basically they have to swing. For every fair ball they hit their team gets a point.  The first team to 20 wins.  ***Helmets are a good idea and make sure there is space between the group and the batter***

Again, the teams cheer for each other.  There is no time to have pity parties.  If a player swings and misses or hits the ball foul, they have to get out of the way for the next batter.  Both of these drills teach the players to compete, cheer for their teammates and to have short memories.  You can add incentives to these drills by having the losing teams run a couple of sprints or something like that.  The games are fast paced with no time for pouting, which will hopefully build better habits to replace the bad ones.

What Parents Can Do

Cut the cord.  Don’t be a helicopter parent.  Teach them to be responsible for themselves, to be prepared for games and practices by having all their extra gear, sweats, snacks, drinks, etc. without constantly hovering around the bench/dugout asking them if they’re okay or need anything.  ALLOW THEM TO FAIL!  Let them fail and teach them how to deal with failure.  If they can learn to handle their failures as children playing a game, they have a better chance of not playing the part of a victim of their trials and tribulations as adults.

Don’t make excuses for them like, “The ball took a bad hop, the ump was terrible, your team played poorly today, I don’t know what your coach was thinking, etc………followed by………it’s not your fault.”  Instead, let them know they have to get in front of ground balls in case of bad hops, to swing if its close with 2 strikes, sometimes the team will have those kinds of days, the coach had to send you home because the team was struggling hitting, etc.  Call them out if they don’t hustle, display a bad attitude or lack focus.  Support the coach who doesn’t baby your daughter.

Conclusion

A coach must remember that his goal is to help the player overcome this behavior, which will not serve her well in her adult life or career.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.  And sometimes the issue will remain unresolved.  It could be part of something bigger that is deeply ingrained in their personality.  But, as a coach (or a parent)……..you have to try.

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