Olympic gold medal softball pitcher Jennie Finch addresses a wide range of softball topics while focusing her attention on the critical area of confidence, specifically confidence on the mound.
Finch also tunes players into the equally critical area of practice habits, which she believes will, in turn, effect positively or negatively upon a player’s confidence level.
“Confidence is so important,” says Finch. “Ninety percent of pitching is right between your ears. You have to be confident on the mound to be successful.”
A pitcher must be committed to each pitch. “She has to believe in each pitch before you throw it,” says Finch. “If you have that little doubt, or that negative thought – if you’re thinking, don’t walk her – what happens? You walk her.
“If you are thinking the batter is a great hitter, she becomes a great hitter.” Despite having eight teammates playing defense behind us, and an arsenal of pitches at our disposal, it’s not unusual for a pitcher to give an opponent too much credit.
Believe in your pitch
“As a pitcher, it is crucial for you to believe in your pitch. You have to believe in what you are doing,” says Finch. “You have to trust your ability, trust your mechanics, trust your teammates and go for it.”
Finch says she always tells her pitchers, “Seventy percent of the time you’re going to get that hitter out. And that’s a .300 hitter. That’s a pretty good hitter, right? If we are going to get those hitters out seven out of 10 times, why are we doubting ourselves? Believe in your stuff. Trust it. So many times we put way too much pressure on ourselves as pitchers.”
Pressure is a privilege
Finch was one of the most dominant college pitchers of all-time and is a legendary Olympic star, one who thrived in pressure situations, in those so many games decided by a run or two and in the late stages.
“You work hard to be in that circle,” she says. “That’s where you want to be. So believe in yourself and go for it. You better believe in yourself, because there is nothing worse than playing defense behind a pouty pitcher. Don’t be that pouty pitcher. I’m challenging you.”
Consistency is important is so many ways. Finch showed it in her overall play and that was revealed in her staggering statistical achievements. She was 38-2 with a 0.39 ERA in her remarkable career with the U.S. National Team. She also registered 411 strikeouts while walking 39 batters in 250.1 career innings.
Her college career at University of Arizona was equally stunning for its consistency. She recorded a 119-16 record in her four seasons and a 1.08 ERA while striking out 1,028 and walking 244 in 876.2 innings. But that consistency statistically is a reflection of a consistent approach and mood on the mound.
“I love not being able to tell if a pitcher is up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs,” Finch says. “Be that consistent pitcher on the mound. Have that game face out there on the mound. Your defenders don’t want to be behind someone who doesn’t want to be in the circle.
“Own it. Enjoy it. Appreciate it. That pressure is a privilege. You worked hard to have that ball, that game in your hands. Lead your team. Your teammates look to you and look to the mound before every single pitch. You have to lead your team from that circle.”
Finch advises to use your mind as a weapon to keep yourself focused on the job at hand.
“Sometimes when things are going bad you have to think about cheeseburgers, the ocean, whatever gets you to a happy place. Fake it until you make it. Stay challenged.”
Challenge yourself on the mound
Finch says part of challenging yourself to be a great player begins in a practice setting. You cannot simulate game action or game speed without approaching practices at full speed.
“You never want to drop down to your opponent’s level,” she says. “Get fired up. You want to stay at your 100 percent level.”
To do that, she says, “Your practice has to be at a high level. It must be at that 95, 96, 97 percent level, so when you get into the game you can reach your 100 percent, 101 or 102 percent level. Your adrenaline, those butterflies at game time will be used to your advantage.
“If you practice your curveball at 80 percent effort and break a nice curveball, then get in the game and throw it at 100 percent effort, you’re not going to know how to break that curveball for a strike. You would have been used to throwing it at 80 percent effort.”
In other words, your practices have to match your game speed.
Jennie’s final thought
“As a pitcher, if you believe in yourself, your teammates will believe in you and play well behind you. Trust your stuff and go right after those hitters.”
It certainly worked for Jennie.