As I write about often, there are so many maddening elements and factors contained within the game of fastpitch softball that your athlete has absolutely no control over. However she does have absolute control over the two most important factors in determining her success: her effort and her attitude. You see as your athlete climbs the ranks of fastpitch she will begin to master most of the routine "mechanical" aspects of the game. The game gets faster and more precise (and more fun to watch!) as most girls reach 13. But it is at this point where the rubber meets the road and the cream begins to rise to the top.
As a game coach I recognize that in most games my team plays, at the 14u level, either team can win. In southern California it is rare at this level when we see a team which can't field, pitch or hit well enough to win. What this means then is that the outcome of the game all comes down to execution and desire; both of which are triggered by thoughts.
So the question I ask you is, what defines 100% effort? How far is your athlete willing to go to give all she has physically and mentally to be her best and help her team win? How much is she willing to trust herself to step outside of her comfort zones and elevate her game to the next level? These are questions your athlete needs to be asked and she needs to ponder.
Certainly it starts with her own desire and motivation, but it also includes playing for a team in which the bar for achievement and effort is high; a team filled with players of like mind all giving 100% all the time.
In our first bracket game yesterday we let a team we got up on early 3-0 come back and tie us in the last inning. With two out and the winning run at 2nd base the opposing hitter crushed a ball in the right centerfield gap. As the ball was clearly going to split my two fielders I blurted out "ball game." To my amazement my right fielder launched herself onto a full out-stretched dive, barely catching the ball, then rolled over violently but still maintaining possession. It was an ESPN caliber "web gem" to be sure! That catch and the subsequent "mental' momentum it created propelled us to a 7-3 win in the International Tie Breaker.
My player had a choice to give 100%. She could have easily not laid out for it, the ball would have dropped and we would have been eliminated from the tournament. However she chose to trust herself, to be the ultimate teammate and leave it all, literally, on the field. He effort was the catalyst for that win and the next win as well (after which the rest of the tournament was rained out). Would your athlete have had the courage to make that play?
Like I tell my players you have the choice to be as good as you want to be. But "wanting" requires sacrifice, courage and sometimes pain. From a coach's perspective, particularly a college coach, a play like my right fielder made yesterday would get his or her immediate attention. If she wasn't on the recruiting radar before that catch she certainly would be after it.
Here are my Big 4 "100% Effort" Game Changer Traits of a consistent peak performer:
1. Always willing to do what it takes physically to make a play: this attitude precludes even the thought of hesitancy or "will it hurt." To these athletes the only comfort zone is no comfort zone. This is the "warrior spirit" every coach loves to have on his or her team.
2. Always prepared mentally to make the play: this attitude requires attention, anticipation, expectancy for success and a mental toughness only found in the best players. These athletes force themselves to concentrate and stay mentally engaged each and every pitch, each and every game.
3. Always have a game plan: this means never stepping into the batters box or in the circle without a clearly defined plan of attack. As a batter know the game situation, know the umpire's strike zone, know the pitcher's tendencies and plan accordingly. As a pitcher determine the hitter's strengths and weaknesses and pitch accordingly, including set up pitches and waste pitches when ahead.
4. Enjoy the game: when a player brings a smile to her game it can ignite not only her own performance but her team's performance as well. When she expects to enjoy the game and expects to succeed at the game giving 100% is easy and a natural by-product.
I have defined what 100% effort means to me. Ask your athlete the same question and see what she says. Or have her write her thoughts in her softball journal including how she intends to give 100% physical and mental effort. Then see if she is willing to walk the talk on the field!
**Remember...the practice field is the perfect place to exert maximum effort. Once her muscle and mental memory patterns are formed there it will be easy for her to duplicate this effort on game day.
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