COLUMBIA — All of the players are lying down on the the field with their eyes closed while their coach walks among them speaking softly.
It is an unusual scene for a high school sports team, but walk onto the Antimi Gold field at Cosmopolitan Park at the beginning of practice for the Hickman softball team and that is what you will see.
The exercise is called visualization and is orchestrated by assistant coach Nick Haskell, the husband of head coach Courtney Haskell.
Nick Haskell says the idea came from Stewart Johnson, who is a sports and performance psychology teacher at Hickman who uses the exercise as an assistant coach for the Hickman track team. Johnson said he realized it was something that could help all teams and has been pushing the exercise to many of the other Hickman athletics programs.
The exercise lasts between 5 and 10 minutes. The players lie on the grass or on the diamond and close their eyes. While they are doing this, Nick Haskell is putting them through game scenarios. How do they react to a bad bunt? What is the right course of action should an outfielder miss catching a pop-fly?
"The idea is to play the game before it happens," Nick Haskell said.
The activity occurs only before practices, and while Nick Haskell encourages the players to use the activity at home, the activity is off-limits before games.
"In game time, it's all about reactions," Nick Haskell said. "You don't want players tripping over their brains and letting the pressure get to their head."
For the players, it's a highly cherished ritual. The players will complain if practice starts without their visualization exercise. Senior Nell Chronister describes it as her favorite part of softball practice.
"It gets you in the right state of mind before practice," Chronister said.
In scenarios where the upcoming game is unique, such as when Hickman played Rock Bridge on Sept. 13 at University field where the MU softball team plays, Nick Haskell tries to include things specifically related to the situation in the visualization exercise.
That will be the case when the Kewpies (17-7) begin play Thursday in the Class 4, District 9 Tournament. Hickman is set to play the winner of a first-round game Wednesday between Rock Bridge (16-4) and Smith-Cotton (3-13) at the Bruins' field.
"The ones who win championships are the ones who are mentally tough," Nick Haskell said.