Softball season is officially upon us, and slowly but surely heavy volumes of games, practices, and travel start to creep up in a just a few weeks. The offseason is where all of the hard work goes in. Hard work has its place always, but the key to having a longer career is not necessarily outworking your opponents, especially in season. It is about listening to your mind and body and out-recovering your opponents.
It took me until about my junior year in college to realize this. After playing multiple summers with Team USA, having two grinding college seasons under my belt, my body was starting to wear down. I had always prided myself by being the hardest worker in the room. First one in, last one out. The more reps the better. The more hours and hours I could put in in the weight room, the better. But once I took on the approach that being more recovered was my ultimate competition, everything changed.
I became focused on eating better than my opponents, rather than putting up 100 more cuts than them. I became focused on out-sleeping my opponents, rather than doing an extra cardio session. I foam rolled more, took more ice baths, drank more water, and did more mobility work instead of trying to get more reps than everyone during the season. The result? My body felt fresh. I was able to actually give 100% effort in games, as opposed to trying to make it through my at bats because my body was so sore and achy. It paid off. I had my most mentally fresh and productive seasons my junior and senior years and began working smarter and listening to my body more and more frequently.
If we can change our mindset to thinking about long term success rather than what is just in front of us this weekend, we'll find that our level of play will increase and the results will be more consistent over time. Anyone I know that is a talented athlete can go out any given weekend and be lights out, due to luck, finding something to fix in a swing, or just being in "the zone," but so often see that the law of averages plays out, and the next time out is often an 0 for 4 or 1 for 5 performance, because you cannot sustain that in a game of failure.
Focusing on our recovery combats this because it creates a consistent approach in preparation and a guaranteed fresh mindset every time you step onto the field. I tell kids all the time that I am looking to build "Players of the Year" not "Players of the Week." Fun fact, I never won a player of the week award when I was in college, but I reached base in over 60% of my at bats throughout my career. I will take consistency over the entire season rather than one lights out weekend any day of the week.
From a research standpoint, the goal of recovery should be to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness. The most recent research suggests that massage and cold-water immersion are the most effective at reducing inflammatory markers (Meta-Analysis here). Massage is not cheap, but foam rolling can be a nice substitute for flushing out some of those inflammatory markers such as creatine kinase and interleukin-6. Bottom line, figure out what works best for you, and implement at least one recovery modality daily. The best investment you can make is taking care of the vessel of your ability.
I would encourage anyone who gets lost in the grind of the year or gets into a slump to remind themselves that working harder is not necessarily smarter, and it does not always guarantee success. Switch your mindset from outworking your opponents by out-recovering your opponents. Do this by taking care of your body, by drinking more water, sleeping more hours, stretching more, and breathing more. Watch that "grind" slowly but surely turn into rejuvenation, and watch your consistency go through the roof.
HAPPY SOFTBALL SEASON! Take care of yourself, literally.