Advice To Young Pitchers: Love Being The Underdog
My whole life, people have underestimated me. The Pac-12 turned me down before I even played a high school game. The SEC didn't even bother watching me play. The Big Ten and Big 12 both said thanks but no thanks. In my junior year I committed to the University of Memphis, which at the time was part of Conference USA.
To make a long story short, after a couple of coaching changes I finally landed at the University of Mississippi in the SEC. How could a kid like me, who coaches knowingly passed up in the recruiting process, beat the players they believed were better than me when we were only 13?
Before I even stepped onto the field at Ole Miss in 2013, my mind was filled with self-doubt. "I was never meant to be in the SEC. I'm not good enough to be here. I'm only here because my coach got the job here."
But how could I possibly compete with All-Americans in the SEC? I convinced myself that I had no place on the field with the same girls I faced in travel ball and high school less than a year before. Not only did I create an idea in my head that I wasn't good enough, but I was also scared. I feared being put out on the field against Madison Shipman, Haylie McCleney, and Kelsey Stewart.
For the first three years of my college career, I settled between being average or simply content with not playing at all. It wasn't until my senior year that I realized how good I could be with the right mental approach.
Imagine my pitching mindset as an old dusty box filled with illogical, self-critical thoughts about past pitching performances. Coach Taryne Mowatt came in, picked up the box, and dumped all of its contents in the trash. She then took the box back inside, gave it a fresh coat of paint, and filled it with smart, confident thoughts. Sounds easy right? Always easier said than done.
Confidence is hard to build and easy to break. Let's face it: A majority of pitchers are underdogs. Unless you are pitching for a top 10 team, you are the underdog.
Pitching as the underdog means you are competing against a team that you are not expected to beat. It doesn't mean is that you are not good enough to win, it just means that you are not the favorite to win in the matchup.
While I was at Ole Miss, no one expected us to win. In fact, in my senior year the preseason coaches poll for SEC standings had us ranked 12th out of 13 teams going into the 2016 season. We had nothing to lose and only room for improvement, not a bad place to be if you ask me.
So then what's your game plan? How are you going to defeat Goliath?
- PREPARE. Before even stepping onto the field, you should prepare to be successful and use every available resource to your advantage: watch film, scout lineups, pick up on hitting tendencies, and create a game plan. What is a hitter's weakness; what is their strength? How were previous pitchers successful against them? Be confident in your plan and mentally picture getting every single hitter out.
- POSITIVITY. Pitching is a mental game within the game of softball. If you go into a game with a losing mentality, you've already set yourself up for failure. Who cares about rankings, batting averages, or the name on the back of a jersey? Good batters get themselves out seven out of 10 times -- the odds are in your favor! Positive self-talk during the game is HUGE. So what if you're not expected to win? Take it as an opportunity to PROVE them wrong. You can do this. You are good enough. You have NOTHING to lose.
- TEAMMATE. Be a good teammate. Be more excited for their successes than you own, because if they succeed, you succeed too. Recognize that pitching is not a one person job. Appreciate your catchers, they are the whole reason you look good and are usually the only people who can cover up your mistakes. Appreciate and trust your infield, they have your back. Appreciate your outfield, they are going to keep you in the game, so let them do their job. Understand that pitching is a huge responsibility, but you need a team behind you and a catcher in front of you to defeat Goliath.
Pitching as an underdog is an opportunity for greatness, dressed up as a losing program beating a nationally ranked team on senior night for the first in a decade. Being picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC was our motivation to prove everyone wrong.
Instead of thinking we were never going to beat those teams, we thought "Time to get to work and prove them wrong." And we did. We finished 24th in the nation and eighth in the SEC, beating numerous ranked teams and making it to our first-ever NCAA Regional before losing to the eventual national champion, Oklahoma.
The doubt should fuel your fire. But above all else, have fun. Softball is a game that is meant to be played with passion. So what do you have to lose?
Follow Madi Osias on Twitter & Instagram