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Warming Up

Chapter 3: Warming-Up and Getting ready

The Central Park Softball LeaguesA BLOG SERIES BY ALEC RILL

Practicing holding the bat and making sure the weight is right

In previous chapters we learned how Central Park, built for the rich, became the park for everyone when the ballpark fields opened (contributing to one of the ten domains that form the basis of the Gross National Happiness index: Diversity.)  

We then saw how group activities such as preparing the fields for the games contributed to Group Cohesion which produced a second domain: Community Vitality (we cancall it also Group Cohesion or Team Work).

In this chapter we will look into the domains of Health and Psychological Wellbeing by showing the players warming-up and preparing themselves physically and psychologically before a game. 

But let’s begin by showing how Group Cohesion made the Kings team this year’s champions.

The Kings team won the 2023 season championship. The lost in 2022.  After the final game, the captain gave the team the customary pep talk and this year he said, “Congratulations, we won! Last year we lost, why? We didn’t play as a team. The difference is that this year we played as one, we trusted each other and we relied on each other’s strengths. That’s how we won! – let’s do it again next year and keep winning”

Kings captain describing the reasons they won this year

Celebration of wining the championship with friend, family, and fellow players

And what a great moment for the pitcher to propose (with his knee on the home plate). Did she accept?  How could she not, he is the King and he won!

Would you marry your King?

So, Group Cohesion (teamwork) were critical for the King’s win. But what else does it take to reach the top? Let’s look at warming-up, physically, and mentally (the domains of Health and Psychological Wellbeing).

The purpose of warming-up before the game is to physically prepare the body for the competition. We will describe later the mental aspect of the preparation. 

Warming-up increases heart rate and therefore blood flow. When the body is passive, it produces only 15-20% of blood flow to muscles. However, after 10 minutes of body activity, blood flow to the muscles increases to 70-75%.

Maybe a short warm-up period is enough for some players. Meet Dave who is in his late 60s – Dave played stickball when he was eight years old with the kids on his block in his native Queens. In the early 1980s he discovered the leagues in Central Park and has been playing ever since. Dave is a busy man, collecting and selling rare books; he plays six days/week during a typical season. Dave knows the importance of warming-up but with his busy schedule he gets to the park just a few minutes before the game and stretches as time permits.  

Dave would like to warm-up more and as his body ages and becomes more prone to injuries, he gets hurt. Years ago, he had knee surgery and today he sometime plays injured but he perseveres and plays through the pain. In his words, “I can play even if it hurts, pain is not the problem. The only time I don’t play is when I can’t play: when the muscle just doesn’t work.”

Dave stretching 10 minutes before the game

The body’s reaction to exercising varies individually but also with the age of the player. There are no scientific rules on how much to warm-up so each player needs to learn how his or her body reacts based on years of experience.

Heat is especially hard on older people; hydration is critical but there are not many studies about how warming-up affects the overall performance of the elderly.  

Meet Jack. He has been playing in Central Park since 1959 (yes, in 2023 he is still playing). Jack knows the importance of stretching and warming-up. On a scorching day in July, I asked him how does a very hot day affect him. Jack told me that he loves it: his muscles relax because of the heat and therefore he doesn’t need to do as many flexibility exercises before a game.  

Flexibility training improves range of motion of joints, postural balance, and locomotion and thus reduces the risk of falling. Who knew that climate change would help Jack take it a little easier? 

Jack is concerned about what climate change will do to future generations. He likes that extreme heat  help him personally but he would rather warm-up more and live in a cooler and less dangerous planet.

Jack warming-up at the bat at 90-degree weather

Warming-up and stretching near field #5 before the game

Athletes prepare for the games by doing physical training but equally important is mental preparation, individually and for the entire team.

There are mental training tools and techniques to reduce anxiety, eliminate fear and calm the mind. The following pictures show some of these techniques being practiced by the players, including: meditation, relaxation exercises, performing repetitive actions to free the mind and others. 

Relaxing and meditating before the championship game

Fixing his glove so that it is perfect helps this player get psychologically ready for the game

Pets have a stress-reducing effect, so a good way to relax and increase confidence is to bring your dog to the game

And finally, after making sure the body and mind are ready, the players move on to practicing their craft in the field.And finally, after making sure the body and mind are ready, the players move on to practicing their craft in the field.

Practicing batting

Practicing pitching

Selecting the best and most balanced balls

And now the players are ready, individually, to play. Each one is physically and mentally ready.  

The last thing to do is make sure they remember that they are a team; preparing them mentally, as a group.

The ritual of getting together at the edge of the field to raise their hands in unison and scream is the last action before:

PLAY BALL!

Alec Rill

I am a street photographer documenting the world as I see it through my camera. I try to show the range of human emotions wherever I go, whether it is to far away places or across the street.

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