As I coach that observes a few hundred softball games every year I marvel just how often coaches and parents get upset at a player for smiling too much during a game, or being able to “laugh off” a mistake or bad at bat as somehow being a demonstration of not caring or not being intense enough. One of the girls in the travel organization I coach with even told me that the coach on her previous team got really upset with her for having what he called a bad attitude that, ultimately, caused her former team to not ask her back. What was she guilty of you ask? She smiled too much, which caused her coach to feel she did not take the game seriously enough. Are you kidding me?
Have sports become that important and that obsessive at the youth level that as parents we will allow a coach to berate our kid, or any kid for that matter, for having fun on the field? And the crazy part of these situations in which a parent or coach goes off on a player for whatever reason is that the exact outcome the adult is hoping for, a stellar performance by their player, will rarely if ever happen because she is too scared, distracted and bummed out to be able to come anywhere close to playing at her peak performance level. The day when a coach or parent finally recognizes and agrees that a relaxed and confident player is the most competent player is the day their athlete(s) will at least have the opportunity to be her very best.
You see peak performance and joy go hand in hand for any player in any sport. Once sport becomes drudgery joy and passion go out the window. You can’t ask a player to put in the hours it takes to be great if she doesn’t love the game, and you can’t ask a player to love the game if she is being mentally beaten on by her coach or parent(s). Does that make sense? In other words when an athlete plays relaxed, confident, focused and poised the joy will follow.
As well when a player naturally loves the game and her parent or coach supports her enthusiasm and passion with patience and process oriented thinking wrapped around a foundation of sound mental skills this player will become a consistent peak performer on the field.
Of course two of the greatest examples of players who played with passion and joy, and a big smile of their faces, were Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. Their collective success speaks for itself: 11 NBA Championships and 8 Most Valuable Players awards. If your athlete has a deep passion for the game let her smile all she wants...it might actually make her and her teammates play better!
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