Combating Perfectionism in Pitchers: Coaching Tips

Written By: Nicole Denes

Coaching Perfectionist Pitchers

Coaches have the power to influence their players in ways that parents just can’t.  I can’t tell you how many times parents tell me, “I tell her the same thing, but it means so much more coming from you.”  That means coaches can help change the negative thinking patterns and habits a perfectionist pitcher/athlete is likely experiencing.  Hopefully, Part I of this article will help you clearly identify your perfectionist pitcher/athlete on your team.  Part II will give you a few helpful tips to encourage and coach this particular athlete.

Three Helpful Coaching Tips

Points of Emphasis:

Use the Defense
  • Teach your pitcher how to use their defense, don’t assume that they already know what that means. 
    • Sit behind them when they are throwing live or practicing situations and walk through locations while explaining the type of pitch that would help set the defense up to hold a runner.
    • This creates teachable moments when your pitcher falls into the mode of “trying to strike everyone out.” 
    • Really praise the pitcher when they allow the defense to work versus giving up a walk.
    • Help them understand that a ball in play does not mean “bad” – and know that in the perfectionist’s brain, it likely does.
Controllable Culture
  • Create a team culture around the “little things” that make the game great; energy, hustle, picking up another teammate, etc.
    • Essentially these are processes within the game that the athlete has 100% control over. 
    • Be deliberate and clear when talking about the “little things”, so there is no question that the athlete knows what is in their control and what is not.
    • The perfectionist believes they can control things that in reality, they can’t. 
    • You may sound repetitive, but the perfectionist pitcher/athlete needs to be reminded of this over and over again.
Re-direct Negativity
  • Challenge “All or Nothing” and “Coulda-woulda-shoulda” statements IMMEDIATELY.
    • Help them redirect their frustration toward something they can control. Example:
      • Perfectionist Pitcher:  “If I would have struck her out, they never would have scored, and we could have won the game.”
      • Coach:  “Do you have 100% control over the ball once it leaves your hand?”
      • Perfectionist Pitcher: “No.”
      • Coach:  “No, but you do have control over how you prepare for the weekend.  And so do we, as a team. Let's focus on how we can prepare differently to have a different outcome next time.”

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments

One weekend, one practice, one game, will provide you with numerous teachable moments and opportunities to help a perfectionist pitcher.  You might be the best person to talk to parents about changes they can make in the home to further challenge the negative mindset and tendencies for this particular player.  As mentioned in Part I, pitchers, athletes, and non-athletes that severely struggle with perfectionism would most likely benefit from the help of a mental skills coach, and in some cases, an individual or family therapist.  When done in a sensitive way, a coach’s suggestion to seek professional help can be the catalyst a family, parent or player needs to make real changes.

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