The Comeback Mindset

The “comeback”…one of the great elements of sport, when momentum shifts and player or team overcome the odds and prevails in dramatic fashion. After all what’s more exciting than the walk off hit to win the game or the clutch hit, pitch or play that forever changes the course of the game!
But what is the genesis of the comeback, and when do the seeds of that comeback take root and why?
As well, we’ve all seen athletes or teams stuck in prolonged hitting, fielding or pitching slumps.
What are the causes for the slump, why is it so hard to break the bondage of such a slump, and how can athlete or team get back on track with brimming confidence and dynamic performances?
Finally, why is hitting or not hitting “contagious?” Meaning why is it that when a few players start to hit the entire team joins the fun, and (think the 2014 San Diego Padres) when key players don’t hit the virus of not hitting spreads like wildfire on a team?
It all comes back to the “Comeback Mindset” (or lack of one), the “cause” of all “effects” on the field. And here is the really good news: any athlete or team can acquire and possess the “Comeback Mindset,” as it is always a CHOICE. Let me explain:
1. It all starts with the human mind; the most powerful thing on the planet! Each of us creates and experiences over 50,000 unique thoughts each and every day. This amazing fact, along with the knowledge that these massive thoughts tend to “clump together” into “thought patterns,” leads us to understand why athletic highs and lows can come so frequently and so dramatically. Because at the core of it all, how you think is how you play! Doubt can be as strong and powerful as a freight train if left unattended. It can grow deep roots that steadily undermine sports confidence and derail game performance. This is the mind’s power at work. The goal is to first recognize these limiting thought patterns, then shift the thoughts behind the emotional state to effect performance levels.
2. For a team, from my experiences on the field, there is no denying that the more energized, loud and focused team will carry or shift momentum. This collective energy, all focused on the comeback (a common goal), is not only palpable in the dugout but to the other team as well. On the other hand a team with divided energy (some “can do” and some “can’t do”…and this includes coaches) will never mount a comeback. Great players and teams often “will” themselves to overcome the odds to achieve success.
3. For an individual player the same applies. If one’s energy and expectancy for future at bats, plays in the field or next inning in the circle is for SUCCESS their body and mind should be in a corresponding calm, relaxed, focused and confident state allowing her to play her best. However, if this same athlete is bothered or awash in DOUBT her body will experience corresponding anxiousness, confusion, hesitancy in action and fleeting confidence at best. In this emotional thought state she can never perform her best and her slump will likely continue.
4. For athlete or team the development of the “Comeback Mindset” is always a CHOICE. Can the athlete/team cultivate the “belief” that their luck can change, or do they resign themselves to only what they see? This leads me to the Zen paradox of “I’ll see it when I believe it,” instead of the typical Western response, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Looking at game adversity as a challenge and opportunity to prevail is at the heart of the “Comeback Mindset.”
5. It’s all “cause and effect.” If you want to change the result, change the cause. Sounds simple (and it actually is to one who practices the process) but it takes some time to fine tune your mind and thought process to be able to make the necessary shift (minor or major). Perpetuating the same beliefs and thoughts will only bring the same results. As such, limiting beliefs must be challenged and thinking must be “by design” instead of “by default.” You always have the power to program your mind to direct your thinking, even in the toughest of times, to the “green zone” instead of the accidental “red zone.”
Here are five “action step” strategies your athlete and team can implement IMMEDIATELY to “activate” their “Comeback Mindset:”
1. Recognize that the “Comeback Mindset” is always a choice. Be the one to set the tone on your team. Be the leader who gets vocal, gets dirty and chooses to keep competing. Adopt a “never give up and never give in” attitude and spread it throughout your dugout and on the field! Your personal energy can ignite your entire team and change the outcome of the game. Remember prior successes and BELIEVE that if you have done it before you can do it again!
2. Stay in the present moment. Present Moment Awareness (“PMA”) is crucial for an individual athlete and team when trying to overcome a slump or turn the tide for your team in a game that looks hopeless. Being bothered by a past failure or mistake (“Past Focus”), or worrying about failing in the next inning or next at bat (“Future Focus”) will insure your outcome will be the same as before. In a game where the hitter has less than 4/10th of a second to decide pitch velocity, movement and location the inability to harness 100% of your mental focus in the present moment will spell predictable disaster!
3. Be aware of your own energy. I firmly believe that female athletes need to “feel good” to play well. As such be mindful of how you feel and work hard to keep those “can do” thoughts going. Run on and off the field and make noise. I have found that the simple act of making noise on the field or in the dugout can elevate focus and performance for both individual and team. Try it…you’ll feel better!
4. Understand “Controllables;” those factors you do and do not have any control over. Things like the umpire’s strike zone, field conditions, teammates play, coaching comments, hitting the ball right at someone, bad hops, etc. are out of your control. To let these things get into your head when you may already be fighting yourself mentally is a really bad plan, as it will surely only serve to accelerate negative, doubtful thinking.
So what factors can you as player or team control?
Your ATTITUDE (see #1 above)
Your level of PREPARATION
Your mental FOCUS (see #2)
5. Have a super short memory. Hey, let’s face it…tough things happen to all players and teams in softball. It’s just the nature of the game. Prepare yourself for the adversity the game will inevitably throw at you by devising a mental game plan to overcome and bounce back from the bad things that happen. This preparation will enable you to build more resiliencies. If you are in a slump or your team is having one of those days let go of what happened bad and look forward to the next “opportunity” the game gives you (again, see #2)! A great way to do this is to focus more on the “process” and your “effort” than being obsessed solely with the outcome or results you get. Be mindful of your inner conversation (see #5 above) and choose “green.”
The bottom line is the “Comeback Mindset,” once cultivated, is a super powerful weapon for any player or team. A determined, enthusiastic player or team is hard to stop. And, again, activating this mindset is always a choice that can be triggered in any given moment by a shift in thinking (which in turn triggers a subtle then powerful shift emotionally).
The challenge, of course, is to be able to implement these strategies when you don’t feel great, or are having one of those days. This is why physical AND mental preparations BEFORE you step on the field are crucial to reversing slumps and turning games around for teams.
To comeback or not comeback, that is the question…that is the choice!



If your athlete is of college showcase age (14+) or soon will be you'll want to read my top 10 tips on how she can stand out in showcase events (whether games or camps):

1. Know WHY you are there! This may seem simple but there is a HUGE difference in mindset between a tournament game and a showcase game/camp. In tournaments your team must shine; in a showcase YOU must shine.

2. Know "they" are ALWAYS watching! To a college coach you are an investment they will only make if they feel it's a safe and sound one. As such they have their "eagle eye" on you before, during and after the game. So pick up those empty water bottles in the dugout 

3. Keep your eyes forward and FOCUS! Dedicate your focus and energy on what you have CONTROL of. Let your performance speak loudly. Once your focus is on the coaches behind the fence you are DONE.

4. Do something special...STAND OUT! A showcase is an OPPORTUNITY to strut your stuff amid the sea of competition so make the most of each ball hit to you; each pitch; each at bat. Get dirty! Give maximum effort ALWAYS, and "effort" is always a CHOICE!

5. Play to your STRENGTHS! If you are a pitcher with a great change up SHOW IT...often. If you've got speed then bunt, slap, steal a base or stretch that single into a double. If you are a power hitter swing HARD. Give the coaches something to REMEMBER you by. Don't take pitches as no college coach will recruit you for walking!

6. Remember the INTANGIBLES! The easiest way to stand out is to do all the little things well. Hustle on and off the field; use your voice in the field or in the dugout; run out hits; smile and have great body language; encourage your teammates; make adjustments; play fearless; love the game. These are easy to do and will make you STAND OUT!

7. PERFECTION is not important. No college coach I have ever been with during a game has told me they expect perfection from pitcher, hitter or fielder. They expect mistakes. They are looking for potential, overall game and mental skills, plus athleticism...and all the things I listed in #6.

8. Would you recruit you? Remember this is a business for a college coach. If they recruit the wrong kids their job is on the line. Give them a reason to want you (preferably several reasons). They don't recruit "projects," kids who may not be coachable, or drama queens. They want leaders who are teachable; kids who will run through a wall and smile while doing it.

9. Negative EMOTION is not an option! The very quickest way to get your name crossed off the college coach's list is to show negative emotion. Showing frustration or anger after a strikeout, error or poor inning in the circle is a terminal cancer. Arguing with an umpire, shaking your head, kicking the dirt, loafing back to the dugout, hanging your head, dropping or throwing a bat or helmet will effectively ban you from 99% of college coach's "prospect list."

10. There is always a TOMORROW! Depending on your athlete's age there will always be another showcase or camp to shine. One bad showing doesn't usually doom a player as long as she does everything else on this list well. The sky will, in fact, not fall in! Often the first showcase or college camp is a scary proposition for a younger player, so a mulligan or two may be necessary. Look at each showcase as a LEARNING opportunity.

If your athlete or team can take to heart these 10 tips and put them into practice they will be well on their way to securing their college softball future!

Thanks for reading! --John Michael Kelly


6 Ways Fragile Confidence is Nurtured or Crushed

I like to compare a younger athlete's sports confidence to that of holding a new born baby. Of course extra caution is necessary due to how fragile the infant child is. 

How any parent or coach handles their athlete(s) is no different. In truth how you "hold" your athlete's confidence matters, for it too is exceptionally fragile. One wrong move and BAM her confidence can shatter, or at the very least develop a large bump on the forehead!

In any given moment with every word spoken, body language gesture or facial expression (after all 90% of our communication as humans is non-verbal, according to a recent UCLA study) your athlete's sports confidence, like that baby, is either being nurtured or damaged.

As a parent or coach you get to decide whether that precious cargo of "confidence" you are holding, and have so much power to shape, will grow steadily or erode steadily. Here are 6 tips to consider:

1. Are you really being critical or supportive? If you are harping on results or expecting her to do more than she is capable you will damage or stymie her confidence.

2. In the same way you speak praise and support to a toddler attempting their first steps, or a child's first bike ride your athlete's confidence needs praise, not criticism or judgment. Words can be very damaging to a young person's confidence, self-esteem and self-image. Use your words carefully!

3. So often I see and hear parents and coaches getting down on their athlete(s) after a mistake on the field, almost as if the athlete was trying to screw up. I can assure you that your athlete is likely doing her best to master a very difficult sport. Allow those mistakes to be the springboard for learning and growth; not events she is terrified of because of the nasty comments, looks and body language she expects from parent or coach.

4. In truth confidence and competence are tied together. As parent or coach work hard to help your athlete to get better in all facets of their game. Give them the constant encourage and time it takes to improve. The more competent she "feels" she is the more her confidence will naturally grow. If she knows that in your eyes making a mistake isn't the end of the world you will be amazed, and I say this from personal experience, how much better she will feel about herself...and how much better she will play!

5. Remember that confidence in one area of her game doesn't guarantee confidence in all areas. By on the lookout for cracks in her confidence and address them in the most supportive way possible. Remind her that she doesn't have to be perfect (no player is).

6. Enjoy the journey. Her softball days will end some day. Why not be more focused on the creation of great memories for both of you instead of making endless mountains out of mole hills that both erode her sports confidence and drive a wedge of frustration between you both.

My daughter recently left for college and I would do anything to take back so many of the harmful things I said to her out of frustration over the years of her playing softball.

Commit to being different. Focus on what you are "for" instead of what you are "against." Develop a positive, supportive, nurturing mindset and watch your athlete(s) blossom on and off the diamond!

**Download a free chapter of my new book, Think Right, Play Great!


Parent & Athlete: 5 Tips for "Big Picture" Thinking

The big picture. Sounds kind of cool, right? Today we all love "big," even outside of the great state of Texas! Bigger is always better, and the idea of big picture thinking usually brings with it positive connotations and expectations. You know, the big hit; the big play; the big game!

Today I want to use the concept of big picture thinking a little differently as it applies to you as a sports parent, coach or athlete.

You see I believe big picture thinking is one of the most powerful mindsets any athlete and their parent/coach can have to insure success on the field and success in college recruiting.

Here are five powerful tips to keep you and your athlete grounded and focused in big picture thinking:

1. For parents - The big picture means not getting caught up with micro-managing how good your athlete is today (if she is 16 or younger). Allow her development process to unfold. Yes, some days she may take two glorious steps forward and other days one agonizing step backwards. Accept it, support it and move on! She is not at 12 what she will be at 16. Your obsession with her play only causes her more pressure on the field to live up to your expectations.

2. For athletes - The big picture means remembering the game takes time to master and, thus, mistakes and game day failures should be viewed as opportunities and challenges to get take another step forward on that stairway to mastery! To build the kind of "macro-confidence" it takes to experience consistent success in a hard game your mindset must be big picture to allow you to easily bounce back from game adversity. Big picture thinking also means keeping a single at bat, pitch or play in proper perspective. In a time when travel softball teams routinely play over 100 games each year is a single at bat, game or tournament really that important?

3. For coaches - The big picture means recognizing that at younger ages your role is "player development," and at the older ages it is "college exposure." No where did I mention winning being the top priority; particularly if it means sacrificing playing time for players to just win baby! Another part of big picture thinking for coaches is refraining from putting any of your athletes into a "box," as physical and mental talents can change and develop dramatically from one age level to the next. In the big picture any of your athletes have the possibility of being much better players than they are now. Be open to that and work hard to develop ALL your players.

4. For parents - The big picture means understanding the "process" from 10 to 12, from 12-14, from 14-16 and 16-18. At each stage of her development you will have to get involved to guide, not only, her athletic development but her academic development as well. If your daughter aspires to play ball in college her academic success may mean as much as her athletic prowess. Because if you are looking for $$ for college the higher your athlete's GPA and board scores the more recruitable she will be. Develop a big picture "plan" and stick to it!

5. For athletes - Remember that big picture thinking means knowing that you always have a "choice" as to how hard you work and how good you can be. Never let anyone out-work you, out hustle you, out prepare you, outsmart you. If you want to make that college team, varsity team, top travel team or all star team you must stand out from the sea of competition. And how do you do that...with BIG PICTURE THINKING! On and off the diamond you will succeed by design, not by accident. Ultimately the only competition you have is you, so challenge yourself with big picture goals and big picture thinking!

So there it is, five cool and important tips to engage in the kind of big picture thinking needed for your athlete and team to succeed in the...big picture of things!

Thanks for reading!

--John Michael Kelly, Softball Smarts