KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Tennessee softball uses the psychological theory of classic conditioning.
“You get to first, you get two Skittles from Maddy,” said sophomore infielder Savannah Huffstetler.
It works just like the famous psychologist Pavlov and his dog. Pavlov would ring a bell, and the dog would get food. For the Vols, if they get a hit, they get two Skittles.
“When they make it to first base, I give them a little treat,” said volunteer assistant coach Madison Shipman.
Shipman got the ball rolling on this.
“It started about three years ago now. Karen (Weekly) was actually the one who started it back when she coached, she would hand out peanut M&Ms,” said Shipman. “I thought, well the peanut M&Ms might melt in my pocket so that’s what made me switch to the Skittles. And the girls loved it so I kept on doing it.”
It may seem like fun, but to Madison, this is serious.
“I’m a little superstitious about it so I won’t put an enormous amount in my pocket. I’ll put just enough to where I think that we can get through the inning that way. But I like to refill it every inning,” she said. “I have to take them out of my pocket during every inning, because otherwise they will start to melt a little bit when they’re in my pocket. During cold games, I actually keep a hand warmer in my pocket so that the Skittles don’t turn into rock solid when they get on to first base. So there’s a little bit of a strategy when it comes to the skittles.”
It seems like a lot of work, but any incentive to get on base is a good thing..
“It’s just like this cool little reward that we get,” said junior utility Scarlet McSwain.
“Maddy gives us a couple skittles, it’s kind of like positive reinforcement,” said sophomore catcher Abby Lockman.
“I don’t really think about it whenever I’m in the box but whenever I get on first base, I better get my Skittles,” said McSwain.
So far this year, the team has made it on base almost 700 times, meaning they’ve consumed over 1,300 Skittles. They hope to eat a few more Thursday at the SEC Softball tournament.
“Whatever gets them over to first base, I’ll do it,” said Shipman.