Being tough isn’t just about being physically strong. It isn’t even just about being mentally tough in the heat of a game. Being tough is instead about being both mentally and physically durable, not only during a game, but all the time.
A combination of mental and physical intensity is an ideal formula for athletic success. It’s no surprise, then, that Swarthmore baseball and softball are approaching their respective seasons this semester with this winning formula.
The baseball team spent last semester practicing in preparation for their spring season. Nicko Burnett ’14 remarked on why the team begins preparing so early, explaining, “Not every team in the country practices in the fall, so we look at it as an opportunity to get a leg up on the competition.”
The fall practices, Burnett clarified, were not restricted to the field or to regularly scheduled practice hours. Up until fall break, the team’s schedule consisted of captain-organized morning practices, team practices in the evenings and inter-squad scrimmages on Saturdays.
After fall break, they were forced to change their practice schedule slightly because the NCAA prevents teams from having more than a certain number of practices in the fall. The training remained challenging and consisted of posted workouts and weight lifting, which continued to prepare the athletes for the spring.
In the past few seasons, Swarthmore has come tantalizingly close to qualifying for conference playoffs. Last year, for example, the team was only one game away from continuing on to the playoffs. This year, team is aiming to not only make the playoffs, but to win the championship, too.
There was a common thread amongst team members and coaches when they were asked about the difference between this season and past seasons. Now, many of them said, they put a specific focus on mental toughness. “It is important for us to not get complacent and continue to have a hunter’s mentality throughout the season… I think the change in attitude is what makes this year different from past seasons,” Burnett said.
Baseball coach Matt Midkiff echoed this sentiment and cited some of the concrete ways in which the team is preparing for the season: “We have been working a lot on our offense (hitting) and our overall strength.”
The team hopes that it will be able to use its extensive mental and physical preparations to its advantage this season. Henry Cappel ’17 offered an anecdote about a speech that Midkiff had made recently about the importance of persisting, especially when the going gets tough on the field. Cappel laid out the team’s vision simply: “Our goal for the season is to prove we are the best team in our conference.”
Swarthmore softball is preparing similarly for their season, both physically and mentally. The result of their training, too, has been an attitude of positivity and excitement about the upcoming season.
After wrapping up “fall ball,” the team also took to a schedule heavy on gym time and with less emphasis on field practice. The team devoted three days each week to captain-organized practices in addition to regularly scheduled practices and lifting.
Part of their lifting routine this year was new. The team now has a new lifting coach who prepares the players for their season by putting together rigorous workouts for them each week. This addition to the regular fall practice routine has increased the team’s strength and should serve them well on the field.
The team has also implemented a new running program so that they can maintain season-level cardio intensity, and so that come game time, they are quicker and more agile while on the field.
With regard to success in the fall season, the team is still riding the waves of victory, which has pushed them to work harder and strive for even more impressive wins in the spring season. Christen Boas Hayes ’16 mentioned a win against an opponent that Swatties are usually particularly proud of: “We beat Haverford twice this fall, something that we’re looking forward to doing again this spring.”
With the excitement of the fall season behind them, the team is looking to the future with justified confidence. Rose Pitkin ’14 described the evolution of the team to its current state saying, “We have been making great progress over the past few years from our fitness to commitment to practices. We are excited to work hard, stay engaged and be successful this season.”
Pitkin describes the team’s commitment to working mentally and physically hard so that they improve and function at the highest possible level. That is why, alongside all of the alterations to the physical priming of the softball team, there have been alterations to the way in which the team mentally outfits itself.
Their practice regimen now includes a specific mental component. Boas Hayes shared explained that, “We’ve been focusing on staying engaged, which has also involved mental conditioning so that we maintain positive attitudes throughout the course of the season.” The conditioning has had a focus on remaining engaged and positive, especially during long games when it can be easy to lose focus or get discouraged. This addition to the team’s routine is aimed at making one of the hardest parts of playing softball, or any sport, no longer a roadblock to success, but an asset.
Boas Hayes exemplified the new attitude and “mental toughness” strategies that she and Pitkin had described when she said, “I’m confident that this season is going to be very successful for the softball team.”
In the past few months, the softball and baseball teams have greatly benefitted from both their mental and physical training regimens. Their hard work has created optimism and it seems likely that these benefits will carry over throughout their entire spring season.