Sickels brings calmness, confidence, courage to softball diamond


Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior Sydney Sickels pitches during competition. Sickels has been an essential asset to the softball team this year.

By Allende Miglietta, Contributing Writer

Junior pitcher Sydney Sickels shared three things that guide her performances: calmness to feel comfortable, confidence to overcome challenges and courage to enable determination.
Illinois’ motto is to have a “no-fear mentality,” where confidence overrides doubt. This helps them believe that they can compete at the highest level, where their mindset translates onto the field. Sickels is one of these players who strives to push distractions aside and put her all into the given moment.
“A challenge that I’ve struggled with is gaining that confidence, especially during times where things may not be going well. This has been something that I’ve been trying to overcome,” Sickels said. “An example of this would be giving up a big hit that could potentially change the game, and rather than getting down on myself and learning just how, as a team, we can bounce back from that.”
Like most sports, there will be letdowns that obstruct a team’s development toward success. Sickels, along with the rest of her teammates, focuses on how to prevail. When she steps onto the plate, fear is not an option.
“Be where your feet are,” Sickels said.
Sickels’ strategy on the mound is to be present in the moment. This motivation influences her to take each play one step at a time, not allowing herself to rush into anything too soon. That approach helped the Illini dominate the field with a nation-leading 0.84 team ERA through 83 innings pitched.
“Right now, my thought on (our ERA) is how can we keep it there,” Sickels said. “Just focusing on what we do to keep ourselves with this top contending stat, and how we can continue competing at this high level.”
Mindfulness has developed Sickels into an outstanding player. She focuses on her own awareness in the present moment, staying calm, yet confident. With courage, she is ready to tackle the rest of the season, starting with Minnesota. Sickels has found her footing, and she is not stopping there.
Her performance at Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex in Leesburg, Florida, was rewarded with Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors. Sickels went 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 21 innings pitched. Her performance included 31 strikeouts without allowing a walk and back-to-back one-hit, 10-strikeout complete games.
Sickels says her optimistic mindset helps her manage expectations going into games. Her mental and physical state allows her to take advantage of the given moment. Being a team player, Sickels recognizes that to win, a team needs to work as a cohesive unit on the field, not as nine separate players.
“My goals for the rest of the season are to continue to help my team win and help keep the runs down, so my teammates can do what they need to do to finish the inning without making their job too strenuous,” Sickels said.
She pushes herself to be the best she can for herself and her teammates. Sickels spoke on how it is easy to get caught up in your own individual mindset and goals, yet for the Illini, focusing on the team and the next task at hand is the way to go.
Illinois’ softball program promotes unity, as they influence their players to stay calm, confident and courageous. Sickels demonstrates this not only with herself but with her teammates as well. She focuses on both mental and physical improvement. The Illini focus on trying to overcome any mental blockage developed from the past and are learning to master a positive mindset.
“While playing (at Illinois), a vital aspect that I’ve learned is to stay calm during games. That just goes back to when I had spoken about feeling comfortable on the field,” Sickels said. “Rather than getting flustered and overwhelmed about a mistake, the key to jumping back is calmness.”
Softball is both a mental and physical game. It is evident that Sickels’ approach to pitching has helped her thrive over the years. She does not let distractions get in her way, whether they are difficulties on the field or disparaging comments.
“If I could go back in time, I would have told my younger self to just keep working hard and not let the naysayers get in your head. There will always be those people who don’t believe in you and don’t think you’re good enough,” Sickels said. “However, there will also be people who believe in you wholeheartedly and want you to do well, so listen to those people. Don’t let those who don’t believe in you get inside your head.”

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