In The Dugout - Imagining the Game
By Stacey Nuveman
Appropriately, the title of my column is "In the Dugout with Stacey Nuveman." The title is particularly appropriate because the dugout is where I have spent most of my time during the first swing of USA Softball's Aiming for Athens tour. Not that the dugout is where I would prefer to spend my time, but I am still recovering from injuries that have disabled me from getting on the playing field.
The dugout is a blessing and a curse for most softball players. It provides shelter in times of rain and frustration, and during TV games, the dugout is a place where you can throw your helmet and the cameras won't see (just kidding, I have never thrown my helmet, I have only wanted to throw my helmet).
The curse of the dugout is that when you spend innings there, you find yourself struggling to keep your attention focused on the game. It is easy to become more interested in crowd scanning and sunflower seed consumption. It is easy to kill time talking about things other than that game happening on the field. So with all of this being said, I have had to work on my dugout-dwelling skills, and finding new ways to stay focused and in the game.
In a previous column, I made mention of sport psychologist Dr. Ken Ravizza, a great friend of mine and the best counselor in the world. Dr. Ravizza (Ken to most of us), is a professor at California State University, Fullerton, which also happened to be one of our tour stops in March. After several weeks as Captain of the Dugout, I was in need of some emotional counseling from Ken. I had hit somewhat of an emotional wall, becoming rather overwhelmed by my frustration and good old feeling-sorry-for-myself syndrome.
Ken and I set up a meeting in his office at CSUF one morning before an evening game. As I made my way to Ken's office, I was greatly anticipating his words of encouragement, and felt I was ready to take the next step in my emotional recovery from my injuries. Yes, I did say emotional recovery.
Throughout my career, I have come to learn that recovering from injury is about 40% physical and 60% mental/emotional. The body wants to heal, but without the proper mental thinking, the healing process will slow or stop. Athletes have to believe that they are getting better and will be well. That belief is really what motivates athletes to get back to the playing field, and without it, the fire of the recovery process has no oxygen to stay alive.
As expected, my meeting with Ken provided me with a wonderful outlet, and was a chance for me to breakdown a bit in private. Being a permanent fixture in the dugout had worn me out, and I needed to vent my frustration and pain at my situation, and then, more importantly, to move on and create a new plan of action.
One of Ken's suggestions was for me to take at-bats in the dugout. Ken said that I should be taking at-bats with someone else that was actually playing. The concept was for me to mentally put on my batting gloves and helmet, then to take my bat from the bat rack and head to the on deck circle. From there, I was to mentally take my warm up swings, to track and time the pitcher, just as I would if I were truly on deck preparing for my at-bat. After mentally warming up, I then would go through the at-bat with that player, and really see myself getting to the plate and going through the at-bat.
One thing Ken mentioned was that I should not expect myself to be really locked on and focused for every batter in our lineup, much in the same way we are not asked to be locked and loaded every second of every game. There is a certain amount of down time during a game where we are permitted to lose our focus. But the key is to only lose focus momentarily before getting back on track. This was no different. Ken suggested picking a player who hit like me (as he put it), and going through the hitting process with them, right along side them.
While I wanted to say that I hit like Natasha Watley, able to beat out a ground ball hit to the 1st baseman, we all know that isn't true! So I opted to shadow Lisa Fernandez. Lisa is a very disciplined hitter, and has a very focused and concentrated on deck routine, which I like. So as Lisa would get prepared in the dugout before heading to the on deck circle, I would mentally do the same. I imagined myself walking to the end of the dugout, taking my batting gloves out of my helmet, fastening them, putting my helmet on, and then taking my bat from the rack. I saw myself walking up the steps from the dugout to the chalked circle, with intensity on my face. Mentally, I took warm up swings, watched the pitcher for any tendencies I could find, and got myself ready for my at-bat.
As Lisa walked up to the plate and heard her name announced, so did I. I heard my name called, smoothed out the batters box and checked Coach Candrea for the sign. As usual, he told me to hit away, so I was ready to go. I took my deep breath, and stepped into the batters box. I did my warm up swings, and then sent my attention out to the pitcher and her release point. As the pitcher went through her windup, I kept my eyes on her hip, at the release point, and said to myself "see it and hit it". So, every time Lisa Fernandez comes up to bat, it is Lisa and I against the opposing pitcher. In my head, I get three at-bats a game, winning some and losing some.
And while my body is in the dugout, my mind isn't. My mind is out on the field, catching, hitting, running and winning.