Friday, June 20

Tony Gwynn's Message to Fastpitch Players

I met the recently departed Hall of Famer Tony Gywnn for the first time on the field in our college days when he doubled off of me into the left centerfield gap merely days removed from the conclusion of his basketball season at San Diego State.

I met Tony off the field decades later at a charity function, when he chuckled with that infectious laugh of his upon hearing my recount of his success hitting off of me, then reassuring me that I wasn't the only pitcher he did that too in his career!

Tony Gwynn was the epitome of consistency; a "pros pro" who never took his success for granted. Gwynn was, in fact, one of the last of a breed of ballplayers (along with fellow HOF inductee Cal Ripken, Jr.) whose Herculean work ethic and drive to better themselves pushed them to the limits of their God given talents, while serving as sterling role models to all who observed their relentless pursuit for perfection in a game built on failure.

Gwynn pioneered the use of video, endlessly studying his at bats after every game looking for the smallest flaw he could correct with more work. Gwynn was also known to be at the ballpark by noon for a 7 pm game, again working on perfecting his craft with countless swings in the cage and off the tee.

In his obit to the now "late" Tony Gwynn, "In a .338 Lifetime Average, Every Day Counts," the New York Times Tyler Kepner writes:

"In 1994, while on his way to the fifth of his eight National League batting crowns Gwynn spoke passionately about the attitude of the modern player. 

"They just feel like stuff is supposed to happen to them," he said. "They're not going to have to work for it. And that bugs me because I know how hard I had to work to get where I got. Sometimes they sit there in amazement at why I come out (so early) every day. But I cannot let their way of thinking into my head."

Unfortunately in 2014 I see the same thing in fastpitch softball Tony saw twenty years ago in baseball; a lackluster work ethic and a growing entitlement mentality where "getting better" often means doing the bare minimum despite an increasingly ultra-competitive softball landscape, all in the quest for college scholarships.

I have had several college coaches tell me the same: that their job description does not include baby sitting or having to deal with the endless drama and emotion that many "thin-skinned" athletes bring with them to college.

I'm confident that if Tony Gwynn were to speak to your athlete or team, as I'm sure he did often to his San Diego State baseball teams, he would say the following:

  1. Challenge and push yourself to be better. You'll never know how good you can be unless you try.
  2. Have pride in your game. Take your weaknesses and work tirelessly to transform them into strengths because, as a competitor, you care deeply about how the quality of your play.
  3. Focus on the little things. Look for ways to get better by becoming a relentless "student of the game."
  4. Don't let the team or your friends dictate your effort or performance level. Be a leader and set the example; raise the bar of excellence for yourself and others.
  5. Never let anyone tell you "you can't" achieve any level or goal you set for yourself. In the end it's "you versus you." GO FOR IT!
When Tony Gwynn began his professional career his outfield skills were below average. But as with his hitting Gwynn worked his tail off to improve his arm strength, his footwork, and developed a quicker release on his throws. The end result of all his hard work...five Gold Gloves to go along with his eight batting titles, fifteen All Star appearances, two trips to the World Series and immortality in Cooperstown.

Closer to home the summer after my high school graduation, prior to commencing my college baseball career, I spent an hour every day taking a hundred swings in the local batting cage, working on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. My thinking was I would see better pitching in college and trying to pull everything and hit home runs against mostly mediocre high school pitching wasn't going to fly at the D1 college level. Turns out I was right and all that hard work paid off for me in college.

As summer is upon us your athlete and team has no excuse not to work hard and smart to improve their game. Like I always say, "How good do you want to be?"

Like Tony Gwynn, develop an expectancy for success and build that rock solid sports confidence that only comes as the result of countless hours of quality preparation through a work ethic forged from desire, dedication, determination and passion.

Tony Gwynn both expected and achieved monumental success in his 20 year Major League career. He did it the hard way, through relentless effort. It's the only way he and Cal Ripken, Jr. knew how to play the game.

Plant these seeds in your athlete and team as greatness is always available to the player and team willing to go after it and do whatever it takes to be their absolute best!

Take your athlete's game to the next level with my Sports Confidence Blueprint program. Over 6 hours of game changing, confidence boosting audio lessons, plus a 47 page "how to" manual. In the final analysis the success of a Tony Gwynn or any top softball player can be linked to their level of sports confidence. Don't leave her softball success to chance. The Sports Confidence Blueprint program. On sale now. Check it out here!


Friday, April 18

6 Must Tips for Finding a Great Travel Team

Whether you are contemplating the jump from rec softball to travel, or you are a seasoned travel family picking the right travel team can be the difference between your athlete loving the game and maximizing her skills (at the younger levels) to reaching her goal of playing at her ideal college with a fat athletic scholarship or not.

Picking the ideal travel team or organization requires extreme due diligence and some very clear steps and components that you must be aware of and follow to increase your odds of landing your athlete on the right team. Travel softball requires a tremendous investment in time and money so why not match your athlete with her best travel fit to insure the best return on your softball investment!

Having coached at the highest level of travel softball in southern California for the last five years I’d like to offer you six tips, strategies, “must do’s” for any parent looking for a travel softball team:

1. A good fit talent wise – The most important consideration if your athlete is younger is playing time. Be wary of rosters above 12 players as playing time can be uneven. Find a team that is a good fit for your athlete’s talent and competitive level. You want to find a team that she will see plenty of playing time, yet be challenged by slightly better competition both on her team versus the teams they play. If your athlete is overwhelmed her confidence will slide and her performance will suffer (as well as her desire to play). Be realistic about your athlete's talent and potential. If need be seek input from several qualified coaches.

2. A good fit age wise – If your athlete is 9-14 years old you need to look for a team/organization with a great track record for teaching and developing players. Don’t get caught up in the winning. In fact, RUN from the team that only cares about winning! At the younger ages you want your athlete to get better in all facets of her game. Beware the rabid “dad” coach who wants to win at all cost, and likely with his/her daughter and her friends playing every inning and batting 1-5 in the lineup! If your athlete is in the older 14u age group or older development now turns into “college exposure” as the most dominant factor in choosing a travel team/organization. Look for a team/organization that has had great success placing their players with quality colleges with substantial financial aid (whether athletic/academic scholarships or academic grant money). Read tips 4 and 5 for more on recruiting and exposure.

3. Track record on the field – Check to see how the team has played before. Speak to current parents as to their experiences. They likely will only speak positive since their kid still plays there. Therefore you need to ask some very specific questions in order to bring the truth to the surface.

a. Find out of the coach’s daughter plays on the team and what position she plays and where she bats in the lineup. Ask if the other team coaches have daughters and where they play. Ask about playing time for their daughter.

b. Ask subtly how important winning is to the team and coaches. If the parents start bragging about how much they have won be wary. Hey, as a coach, I like winning too—but remember, if your athlete is younger developing skills is far more important than winning. And often in developing skills winning has to be sacrificed for the good of a player or team’s future.

c. Ask about practices. How are they run? Are they efficient and does the coaching staff seem to be competent in teaching the full array of softball skills (hitting, defense, base running, mental game)? Have they noticed their daughter getting better while playing on the team?

d. How do the girls on the team get along (any bad apples)? How do the parents get along (any parental poison)?

4. Track record in recruiting skills – As your athlete reaches that tipping point age of 15 (14 for a pitcher) skill development takes a secondary position to the execution of your college softball “recruiting plan.” At this stage your travel team/organization becomes vitally important. You’re close to the “payday” so look at the team’s/organization’s track record of placing their former players into college programs.

If you are looking for maximum financial contribution from a university then D1 and D2 schools should be your target, as D3 schools cannot offer athletic scholarships. Ask the prospect team where their “graduates” are playing? Look on their website to see as well. Ask what percent of their seniors get athletic scholarships and what is the average % of scholarship given (25%, 50%, 75%, 100%)? Since the maximum number of scholarships any D1 school can give is 12 and D2 7.2 very few athletes get “full athletic rides.”

5.  Exposure – This is where the rubber hits the road. What showcases does your prospect team/organization attend? Are they in the “invitation only” mix to top showcase events? Are they scheduled on the main fields or relegated to the back fields (which fewer college coaches go to watch)? Does the team/organization have a quality website with individual player profile pages that college coaches can view and download, with links to skills videos on YouTube? Can the coach or administrative head pick up the phone and call target school coaches for you (and will those college coaches take the call)? Do the travel coaches on your prospective team nominate their players for top college showcase camps and all star games like the Fireworks Showcase in Colorado and On Deck?

6.  The Big Picture – Of course from the mental standpoint you want your athlete to continue her love for and dedication to the game within the bigger picture of selecting the right travel team/organization. Let me interject, however, the perils resulting from switching teams too often. I call it “team hopping,” and in southern California it’s a full blown epidemic! For your athlete to play her best she needs to “feel” her best, so team hopping can rip her away from a comfort zone into a new environment that may challenge her sports confidence. 

Now if she isn’t getting playing time or the coach is a jacka** by all means change teams. But to bail on one team for another based on promises being offered or the chance to wear the cool name on the jersey or play for a winner may not be what is best for your athlete.

The second half of "big picture thinking" is assessing your athlete's motivation and desire for playing. As travel will require a much bigger time commitment and a likely lessening or near abandonment of her social life be sure she is in sync with her athletic goals and is "all in." She much find the self-motivation to work hard and make the self-sacrifices that come with travel softball (as all members of the family must buy into). If your athlete is still playing to please you that dog won't hunt much longer...believe me!

In my experience if you really want to find the truth their are always plenty of places and plenty of people to help you in the softball community. Good luck with your search. Let me know how it goes!

"JMK'S “TAKEAWAYS”

Here are a couple of key takeaways for you from this article:

1. Be patient and be prepared to exercise due diligence in finding the best match for your athlete. Ask questions and do plenty of research online, including team track record, roster sizes and coaching bios.

2. Be sure the team is a good fit for your athlete in regards to her talent level, commitment level and age. Remember...younger ages it's all about DEVELOPMENT; older ages it's all about RECRUITMENT.

3. Try to pick the right team and stick with it so your athlete can flourish within their system. Team hopping can result in diminished confidence, performance and enthusiasm for the game.

**Be sure to register for my upcoming FREE 60 minute webinar, "The 12 Pillars of Sports Confidence: How to Unleash the Awesomeness in Your Athlete or Team!"

Friday, March 21

The Confidence-Performance Connection: 6 Pivotal Strategies

I imagine since the days of the early Olympics in ancient Greece athletes, coaches, families and fans have contemplated the impact self-confidence has on athletic performance.

More recently behavioral psychologists have proven a correlation between how game performance impacts self-confidence.
 
In other words sports confidence and sports performance are attached at the hip for EVERY athlete. One drives the other in an inescapable "cause and effect" relationship.

It is undeniable, then, that self-confidence is the single most consistent factor and predictor of the level of success any athlete will achieve.

Adding to the degree of difficulty for any younger athlete is the reality that sports confidence can be strong one minute and fragile the next; leading to the inconsistent play we know all too well as coaches and sports parents!

Confidence Definitions

Here are some of my favorite definitions of confidence for you to ponder:
  • A feeling or belief that you can do something well.
  • Sure of oneself; having no uncertainty about one's abilities.
  • The state or quality of being certain.
And, as always, more hitting or pitching lessons often isn't the answer to building stronger confidence and elevated individual and team game performance; that answer usually lies between the ears and takes the powerful form of thoughts and emotions. As humans we all have over 50,000 unique thoughts every day that create countless emotional states we can slip in and out of quickly or be stuck with for days.

So with that...let's move on to the strategies!


6 Pivotal Strategies

Here are 6 pivotal strategies for parents, coaches and players to both understand and maximize the confidence-performance connection:
    1. "Trait" vs. "state" confidenceThis refers to macro ("trait") and micro ("state") conditions of confidence; meaning does your athlete have an overall self-confident mindset as a person? Does she possess a high level of overall self-esteem? Does she see herself, overall, as a good and competent softball player?
           
    In the "state" condition of confidence does she have self-confidence in the moment; immediately after adversity strikes on the field? Can she summon a high level of sports confidence with the game on the line? This is "state" confidence.

    As parent or coach it is essential to recognize the difference between "trait" and "state" confidence in an athlete. As coach you may not be aware of home or childhood issues that could be a foundational cause for low self-esteem or self-confidence levels. Trying to focus on her "state" confidence may prove less than successful if her dominant "trait" confidence levels are low.

    Likewise she may have extremely high levels of "trait" confidence yet still get overly anxious before or during a game or pivotal moment. Her high levels of "trait" confidence may allow you to push different buttons to activate her "state" confidence on the field.
      2. The role thoughts and emotions play - The ultimate cause and effect relationship exists for every athlete with how she thinks and feels before, during and after a practice or game. Thoughts give birth to emotions, and emotions propel thought patterns.

      Simply stated limiting/negative/"can't do"/resistant thoughts lead to the elevated emotional states of frustration/anger/sadness/embarrassment/fear/anxiety (all of which tear away at confidence and performance levels).

      While expansive/flowing/"can do"/positive thought patterns lead to the steady emotional states of joy/happiness/excitement/anticipation/calmness/focus (all of which propel confidence and performance levels).

      The thoughts and ensuing emotions/feelings are a constant battle for younger athletes; particularly female athletes in my 12 years of coaching experience.

      As parent or coach you have the opportunity and responsibility to help your athlete(s) to recognize that they control their thinking and have the power to "manage" (not CONTROL) their emotional states. There are many techniques to shift thought patterns, including proper breathing, positive trigger statements and the use of mental imagery among many others.
        3. Physical/mental mastery - Confidence and performance will absolutely improve with the proper physical and mental preparation. The more competent a younger athlete is the more confident she will feel and play. In a sport as difficult as fastpitch softball every athlete must become proficient, then ultimately master both the physical and mental skills necessary to succeed.

        Physical and mental mastery of their sport allows an athlete to extend their sense of "certainty" and belief that she can and will succeed on the diamond. This underpinning of physical/mental mastery is a huge predictor of game day sports confidence and performance.

        As parent or coach the monotony of practice reps in softball can wear on a young athlete, yet it is the slow and steady mastery of these skills and the mental IQ of the game that ultimately builds the rock solid sports confidence every coach and parent seeks for their daughter and team. If she has successfully executed a game task or skill hundreds of times on the field (and in her head) she will play with confidence, void of the hesitation and doubt that kills game performance.
          4. Environmental comfort zones - For any athlete her environment plays a huge role in the stability of her sports confidence. A stressful environment full of elevated performance expectations from parents or coaches can leave an athlete with a very fragile "trait" confidence condition; making her game "state" confidence equally shaky.

          And yet growth can only occur for a younger athlete when she is willing to risk leaving the security of her comfort zone for a new unknown environment (new team, new coaches, new age level, new competition level). It is a vexing paradox for sure.

          As parent or coach your role in growing your athlete(s) sports confidence is to be mindful and sensitive to her environmental comfort zones. This can include changing routines; changing positions on the field or even her spot in the batting order. The key here is ALWAYS good communication; giving the athlete as much advance notice as possible of any planned changes in her comfort zone so that she can mentally prepare herself without puncturing her sports confidence balloon and with it tanking her game performance.
            5. The Impact of Coach or Parent - Strictly within the context of confidence and performance any adult role model or authority figure will have an enormous impact on any younger athlete.

            As a coach your players, particularly teen girls, will be constantly evaluating your leadership skills. Are you fair in how you treat each player? Do you possess the tactical and strategic skills to put each player and team in an optimal competitive position on game day? Are you a good communicator? Can you motivate and stick by the team through thick or thin, or do you give up on a player or the team when things on the diamond start going ugly? Whether or not your players respect and have confidence in you as a coach goes a long way to build or undermine their sports confidence; particularly after adversity strikes a player or team.

            For parent your unconditional support of her on the diamond will go a long way towards building her sports confidence and elevating her game performance. Unreasonable expectations, constant judgment and criticism of her performance will absolutely serve to systematically destroy what ever sports confidence she has and will likely also do damage to her self-esteem as well.

            Younger athletes, by definition, want to please the adults around them in order to be accepted. Show praise, support, respect and appreciation for the hard work, effort and sacrifices your athlete gives to her sport. Simple praise over criticism can do wonders to build both "trait" and "state" confidence in any younger athlete. It's your choice, so do the right thing!
              6. Accomplishments - In a sport with so much failure inherent within it fastpitch softball can tear into an athlete's sports confidence and submarine her game performance in a nano-second. I teach my athletes to remember every little success they have achieved on the diamond (both in games and in practice); to pat themselves on the back as much as possible. Certainly not to get a swelled head of "over-confidence"...but, rather, to acknowledge and feel good about the progress they are making.

              If all the athlete focuses her thoughts and energy on is how she "failed" or on her mistakes she will have no shot at cultivating a healthy dose of sports confidence and, thus, her game performance will always fall woefully short of her potential. Fixating on results only will never be a recipe for elevating confidence and performance...NEVER!

              As parent or coach help your athlete(s) to focus her thinking on the process of getting better. Remember, the road to softball mastery is a journey that will not be accomplished over night! She and you should be solely concerned with those factors she has 100% control of as an athlete...her effort and her attitude, not the outcome of one at bat or one game. In the big picture of developing as an athlete and woman are the results of a single game really that important; especially if the athletes involved are 10, 11, 12 or 13?

              Hopefully you can embrace the exactitude of the confidence-performance connection and will commit to applying the strategies and suggestions I have made in this post.

              Sports confidence is a fickle thing. It requires nurturing, patience and understanding. It also requires that the parent or coach take a pro-active role in his or her player's well being; her self-confidence, her self-esteem and her joy for playing the game.

              Unfortunately there is no magic pill you can give an athlete to miraculously transform her sports confidence and game performance levels. It is a long process of growing up as it was for the athletes in Greece in 776 B.C.
                I have developed 12 pivotal strategies for building rock solid sports confidence and optimal game performance in both players and teams that will be covered in detail at my upcoming FREE webinar: The Mental Game Playbook Series: 12 Pivotal Strategies to Skyrocket Sports Confidence and Game Performance!  Sign up for the FREE webinar here.

                Thanks for reading!
                John Michael Kelly













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                Friday, March 7

                10 "Must Do" Game Strategies to Insure Softball Success

                Today I want to share some critically important game strategies your athlete and team must employ to play their best on game day.

                As we all know fastpitch softball is a difficult game. It is often a roller coaster ride of emotions yielding successes and failures happening in rapid succession. Two steps forward and one step back is often the road to softball mastery.

                However, the smarter your athlete and team can play the shorter will be their learning curve, and the more consistently they will play to their potential. I'm a big fan of stacking the odds in my players' favor!

                Here are the 10 "must do" game strategies to insure softball success:  

                For Pitchers:

                1. There are 3 critical keys to increasing the odds of success each time a pitcher is in the circle: throw your best pitch (which is always strike one), always strive to get the first out of every inning (as hitters who lead off an inning reaching base score about 65% of the time), and pitch from ahead (work hard to get the count in your favor so the hitter must hit a "pitcher's pitch" instead of a "hitter's pitch."

                2. Learn how to "set up" batters. Work both sides of the plate (east-west) with curves and screws as well as up and down (north-south) with rises and drops. So you might throw in, in, away, away, away, then slip the inside fastball or drop by the hitter. Or you may pound the ball in with a screw twice, go way out with a curve, come back with a screw or inside rise, then back out with the curve for strike three! Notice the batter's feet. Does she start moving away from the plate after a few inside pitches? Does she crowd the plate after a few outside pitches? Find the hitter's weakness, work the count to your favor (even allow a few foul ball swings), then drop the hammer with your best pitch in whichever location the hitter is weakest!

                3. Pitch "to contact" to certain batters and in certain game situations (it saves time and pitches). This is a really important strategy. Many coaches try to get too fine in calling the corners for all hitters. In reality batters in the 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10 spots aren't usually going to beat you (yes, there are exceptions), so why not throw more "hittable" pitches early in the count to induce a grounder or pop up (in other words...let those hitters get themselves out)? Also, if you are leading 5-0 in the last inning why nit-pick on the corners? Go after the hitters. There is little more frustrating than walking hitters with a big lead. Trust your stuff and know when to challenge the hitter.

                 
                For Hitters:

                1. Have a plan each at bat. Know what your primary and secondary job is while on deck. Be prepared and laser focus in on doing your job well. Get excited about laying down a great sac bunt or moving the runner(s) over!

                2. Guess location on the first pitch (in or away). The great Ted Williams hit this way. Give yourself an edge; particularly if you have noticed (by paying attention!) where the pitcher or coach likes to call the first pitch. If you guess wrong, worst case, you are 0-1. If you guess right it could be a laser shot over the fence!

                3. Pay attention to the umpire's strike zone and coach's pitch sequence. If the ump is calling a very wide strike zone don't be surprised. Make an adjustment to move on or off the plate. Be willing to adjust your swing to foul off a borderline pitch in order to crush your pitch! If the coach or catcher is consistently calling a change on every 0-2 pitch...LOOK FOR IT.

                4. Stop thinking once you are in the batter's box. See it and hit it. You need to focus all your attention in the present moment and trust yourself! Coaches or parents who incessantly chirp at a batter with "advice" while she is in the box invariably HURT the batter. The time for working on mechanics is during practice, not while in the box. The time to work on strategy is while on deck or during a timeout, not while in the box. All a hitter needs to think about in the box is a simple mantra (positive trigger statement) she can say inside her head over and over (like "I've got this."). The mind can only focus on a single thought at a time, so why not choose the thought in advance and make it a positive one!

                For Base Runners:

                1. Be aggressive. You can't win if you don't score, so on the bases always be looking for any way to advance 60 feet! Learn how to get great leads. Know the strength of each outfielder's arm; know the defense's weakness. Always push the defense to make mistakes. Be fearless on the bases!

                For Defenders:

                1. Anticipate and expect the ball being hit to you each pitch and know your 1st, 2nd and 3rd options (always know the outs and where the runners are). Know how fast every runner is and "sense" how much time you have to make a play. Give maximum focus for 3 seconds prior to each pitch. Get dirty...ALWAYS (110% effort); Be a difference maker on defense!

                For Catchers:

                1. Talk to the umpire. Try to find out his/her strike zone early in the game. Test the limits of the strike zone with where you set up your glove. Frame the pitch first before you pop up to look a runner back or make a back pick throw (don't lose the strike!). Be a leader on the field by being vocal. Take charge! Support your pitcher verbally all game, every pitch. Give a good target to your pitcher...It helps!

                Now many of these strategies may sound like common sense to you. However, I can tell you as a game coach that far, far too few players ever think or act as these strategies suggest on a consistent basis. That's just fact!

                I guarantee you if your athlete/team focuses on implementing these 10 strategies they will instantly become better players/teams and experience a lot more joy while playing the game!

                Another great way to skyrocket game performance is by building a rock solid foundation of self-confidence for your athlete or team. My Sports Confidence Blueprint program will help your athlete to build that foundation! It contains over 6 audio hours of easy to understand and easy to implement concepts and strategies, plus the Sports Confidence Blueprint Manual! Get more info here.