I’m a writer. My ideal work environment is the parlor couch, large cup of coffee at my side and computer on my lap, without a shred of noise in the background. No TV, no music, no conversations, no neighbor using that stupid leaf blower he loves so much.
But I’m also a mom, a travel ball mom at that, and not much of a “waking-up-at-4-am-when-the-world-is-quiet” kind of person. So that perfect writing environment…well, it like never happens.
Since the world around me isn’t going to adapt to my ideal working requirements, I’ve had to learn to mentally block out the distractions. Some days I’m better at it than others. But if I weren’t able to handle the noise, I’d have to find another job.
I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking, “Great. I’ll remember this if I become a writer, but what does it have to do with playing ball?”
Baseball and softball are a lot like writing in that they require pinpoint focus.
That’s why it can be so infuriating when your kid (or any kid) is on the mound, doing his or her job and the opposing team begins to taunt and heckle, sounding like a bunch of idiotic farm animals. If there was a top ten list of bush league tactics, surely this would be number one.
Throughout my decade as a ball mom, I’ve heard entire dugouts croaking, quacking, barking, mooing, booing, buzzing, chirping, aaaaachooooing, yelling “MISS IT” right as the ball is released and employing a variety of other creative cacophony to throw off the pitcher’s focus. And when they’re playing defense, they turn their taunts toward the batter.
Every now and then I get emails from readers asking me to start a discussion about why it’s wrong to heckle the opposing team and how coaches shouldn’t allow it. And I tend to agree with these readers. But right or wrong, fair or unfair, there will always be teams who engage in these tactics.
Heckling, taunting and chanting are like all other ball field hazards that we have to teach our kids to accept and perform in spite of…like a misshapen mound, an inconsistent strike zone, the sun in their eyes, an uncomfortable undershirt, etc.
A common defect of today’s parenting is that too many of us want to “fix” every potential problem that our kids face. Often referred to as lawnmower parents (running over the obstacles before our kids get to them), we volunteer to help coach JV baseball to ensure that our 8th grader will make the team, we go to battle with teachers over every B on our student’s report cards, we try to remove anything from their environment that might make them feel the least bit uncomfortable. We’re bending over backward to adjust our kids’ worlds to them rather than helping them adjust to their worlds. An unintended consequence of this is that children aren’t developing problem solving skills of their own. We’ve overlooked the value of everyday obstacles in cultivating toughness, tenacity and perseverance. (Stepping off my soapbox now.)
So, yes, I could start a TBP discussion about how taunting and heckling should be banned. Instead, however, let’s accept this nonsense as part of the game and teach our kids to handle it.
But how does a young player learn to hit the mental mute button on all those insidious quacks, chirps and chants?
1.Positive Self Talk works like preventive medicine. If a kid is feeling confident and in a good place mentally, the opposing team’s heckling won’t have the same jarring effect it would against a player who’s feeling unsure of himself.
In the article, Mental Aspects of Pitching, Rene LeBlanc explains the importance of pregame affirmations. “Any feelings of fear, negativity, what-if’s, etc will determine the fate of a pitcher’s outing before it has begun. Knowing you WILL get a hitter out, throw a strike, create soft contact and ultimately win is key. There should be no choice in what your fate will be for each pitch in an outing. Knowing you are the BEST will only help a pitcher, and the earlier he can learn this, the quicker his road will be to becoming a successful pitcher. Be a ‘winner’ and do not take ‘no’ for an answer.”
A quick Google search of baseball and softball affirmations netted some valuable mantras that young players can repeat to build their confidence and counteract any negative self talk trying to sneak in.
(repeat six times a day)
“I am a great clutch hitter. I thrive on driving in runs.”
“My fastball overpowers hitters.”
“When I’m on the mound, I am relaxed and in complete control.”
“I am a great softball player and I get better and better each and every day.”
The Affirmation Spot has downloadable sports affirmation MP3’s that players can listen to.
2. Don’t Acknowledge it Unless your Player Does. Parents, this one is for you. When we make a big deal out of something, it becomes a big deal for our kids also. A distraction that rattles me to the edge of sanity might not even register in my son’s brain….until I start whining about how awful it is.
So, before you storm over to the visitors’ bleachers and cold cock the chief heckler’s mom in her folding chair, remind yourself that her kid’s banter might bother you more than it does your son. Plus, your team’s coach is in control. If he or she thinks the noise is too much, they’ll handle it.
3. View it as a Challenge, Not a Threat. Tell your players, “when the other team starts their antics, see it as them asking you to show off your best stuff. And let your performance respond for you. A surefire way to put hecklers in their place is to win the game…or go down swinging (metaphorically). The more runs you put on the board, the quieter they tend to become.”
4. Show Some Humor. I’m not sure how it started, but somewhere along the way, my fast ball hurling 16-year-old son, developed a habit of winking at his most verbal haters when they’d step up to the plate. This subtle action was a funny way of catching them off-guard and showing them that he was in control of their at-bat, not them. It’s also his way of reminding himself that he’s in charge.
5. Battle Back. (My husband James, a successful coach for 25 years, added this last point.) “Sports is a competition. You have to battle your opponent. I get sick of people whining to the umpire about fairness when the other team does something that ‘isn’t very nice, but not illegal.’ We’re not raising a bunch of pansies. It’s okay to have a little swagger. When the other team starts heckling, look over and give them the death stare for several seconds…and then take care of business on the mound,”….he proclaimed before lumbering off to go do something manly.
(I must say that my husband has the most intimidating stare of anyone I’ve ever met in my life. It’s like he took a class on how to unnerve people with a simple look…and aced it.)
Got any thoughts on heckling, chanting, lawnmowers, winking, raising pansies, or successful staring tactics? We’d love to read them in the comments.