It’s All in My Head

Jocelynn De La Cruz playing softball.

Contributing Writer – Jocelynn De La Cruz, MTSU Softball

As athletes, we constantly train and practice our physical aspects of the game. Coaches make us do weights and conditioning regularly, in order to make us physically stronger/faster.. but what about the mental part of the game? Whether you believe it or not, your mentality can take you further than any physical ability will. You can only go so far with talent and strength, but with the right mindset, you can go so much further.

Growing Up

I hate to admit it, but I was probably one of the most mentally weak players growing up. It started around age 10, where I would get very upset if I didn’t perform the way I wanted to. I couldn’t deal with failure. Softball is, in fact, a game of failure though. So as you can see, that didn’t mix well. No one ever taught me how to control my emotions or how I should approach the game. They focused on my physical performance and briefly went over mindset. They would mention things here and there, but it never clicked with me.

Over the years, my frustration started to show, even though it improved from when I was a kid. My passion for the game would sometimes get the best of me and I knew it. In the summer (2017), I really wanted to change the way I approached the game and how I dealt with failure because I didn’t want to be known as that hot-tempered player. My problem was that I was a perfectionist when it came to my performance. I would expect to get on almost every time and to never make an error. You see where that is harmful? I set myself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations. And when I didn’t achieve those unattainable goals, I would get angry at myself and have lots of negative self-talk. I knew I had to change—I couldn’t continue to be this way if I ever wanted to be great or inspire others.

Setting Goals

So what did I do? I set realistic goals, trained my mind to think positively, read books about the mental game, and contacted a new trainer who challenged me physically but also trained my mind. The books really opened up my mind to the bigger picture. I finally understood that I can still be a great player even if I fail often. I can’t let one game or one at-bat define me as a player. I learned to stop trying to prove myself to everyone else and that it doesn’t matter what others, nevertheless strangers, think of me because I know who I am. I changed the way I think and talk to myself in my head, and it truly worked.

My trainer, Coach Jason Britten, worked with me, from July-August (two days before I left for college). We did a lot of physical training but a lot of mental skill building as well.  He opened up my eyes to different, positive ways of thinking and approaching life. Also, my knee was hurting me the whole summer, and he taught me how to change the negative thoughts that came along with the pain.

My New Home

When I first got to MTSU, I knew that my knee hurt from playing so much in the spring and summer, but it started to hurt way worse. It really bugged me even when I wasn’t doing any physical activity. In that first week, I got an MRI and discovered that I had a partial tear in my medial meniscus. The doctor told me that it couldn’t heal on its own and that I would need to get surgery for it to ever feel better. I was given a choice to have the surgery then or after the season, and being me, of course, I chose after the season.

I thought to myself, “I do not want to waste my Freshman year. I want to make an impact right away.”

So now I’m required to go to rehab/physical therapy almost every single day (excluding Sunday and Monday), in between classes, before/after practice and games, and sometimes early in the morning. If I don’t go, it increases the chance that it will turn into a full tear, then I will need surgery right away. It’s extremely painful because my injury makes all the muscles around it super tight and even on my other leg because it compensates for the left one. I try to keep a positive mindset and remember that I’m doing it for the game that I absolutely love.

Before and during this fall season, the coaches started to train our mental game as well. We reviewed our summer reading, Mental Conditioning for Softball by Brian Cain, and we listened to several audio sessions from him too. That helped me a lot as well, even if others may look at it as silly. He taught me to play the game one pitch a time. Looking forward or backward into the game does no good, it only distracts you from the present moment. I practiced that way and learned that it definitely improved my game.

When I played my first fall season (off-season)  at MTSU, I surprised myself. I did pretty well, better than I’ve performed in a while,and I truly believe it’s because of my new mindset.

I had confidence in myself during every play and at bat, focusing on one pitch at a time. When I didn’t get the result I wanted, I only got more excited to get it back the next time. I didn’t get angry, I turned it into energy to yell for and cheer on my teammates. It’s better that way.

I’ve learned to think of everything in a more positive light. I look at 6 AM lifts as an opportunity to get stronger and faster. When I’m struggling during conditioning because of my asthma and my knee, I do not let my mind follow what my body tells it, which is: to give up. I make myself control my breathing and I tell myself over and over:

“You are relentless. You are not a quitter. You finish what you start. The only way I’m stopping is because my legs gave out from under me or because I’m unconscious, not from deciding to give up. You can do this. One more. Now another one. Now just get through this one.”

Looking Forward

Now, I look at practices as just another chance to improve what I am lacking in. I started to look at things like “I get to do this” rather than “I have to do this.” It makes a difference. And when the negative thoughts start to creep in, usually during or after physical therapy, I remind myself why I’m here.

I’m going through all of the pain because I love this game and I will do anything to help my team. If I can overcome this injury and this pain and continue to play, then I believe that no opponent can stop me.

I’m going to continue to train and work my mental part of the game because I know that many more obstacles are going to be thrown my way during the season. I will be prepared.

If you are an athlete here at MTSU and have a story you are willing to share, please contact Stephen Smith.