Tuesday

5 Keys to Make Her Stand Out From the Crowd

Whether your athlete's next level is college, high school, travel or all stars like all parents you want her to stand out from the crowd; to be noticed and given the opportunity she deserves.

I have been an all star and travel coach evaluating players for over a decade and there is no question certain athletes stand out from the pack. I have also spoken to numerous high school and college softball coaches about what makes an athlete stand out for them.

Here are the 5 Keys to Make Your Athlete Stand Out from the Crowd:

1. Hustle - a given but not seen as often as you'd think. Nothing peaks a coach's interest more than maximum effort. When an athlete hesitates or holds back it is an indication that she does not trust herself or she's simply afraid --not endearing traits to a coach. And to a coach effort is always a choice, so if a player "chooses" not to give 100% in a game or tryout I watch I'm going to wonder if or when she will ever do it? Hustle demonstrates commitment to the team.

Here are specific things your athlete can do to demonstrate hustle:

a. Diving for balls...get dirty and make a play!
b. Sliding at every base
c. Running out every ball as hard as possible
d. Running the bases at full speed
e. Hustling on and off the field every time
f.  Using her voice to call balls or help teammates on the field and in the dugout

travel softball great catch
Give her the gift of confidence that will change her game forever!

2. Attitude - this may be a tough key to measure in a limited exposure scenario, which is why college coaches prefer to evaluate a prospect several times. As one top 10 coach told me, "We can teach them how to hit but we can't teach a good attitude." Again, attitude is a choice that like hustle is easy to notice.

Here are specific things your athlete can do to show she's got a great attitude:

a. Smile - it may seem simple but coaches love a kid who loves the game and shows it
b. Encourage teammates
c. Be vocal in the dugout
d. Be the first one to grab equipment after the game, or clean the dugout
e. Be respectful 100% of the time to her coaches, umpires, teammates and parents (believe   me...the college coaches ALWAYS watch this to determine attitude)
f.  Body language - don't slump the shoulders or kick the dirt after a strike out or error (a killer)!

3. Intelligence - yes, softball IQ is really easy and quick for a coach to judge. A player that demonstrates questionable decision making will not stay at the top of the list very long. Certainly your athlete's grasp of the game is relative to her experience and quality of coaching she has received. However, when a player shows superior intelligence in making the right decisions on the field all coaches write down a "plus" next to her name...I guarantee it. face it...dumb plays lose games, it's that simple.


Here are specific things your athlete can do to demonstrate her intelligence:

a. Make quick decisions - holding the ball and not knowing where to throw it on defense is a huge black mark.
b. Understand the strike zone - know the count and don't swing at bad pitches, particularly when she is ahead in the count
c. Understand the game situation - know what her job is each at bat, whether it is to advance the runner or drive her in
d. Know how many outs there are - it looks really bad when the pitcher or any player on defense (or on the bases!) forgets how many outs there are. That's an immediate cross off the list move!
e. Know the game situation - where are the runners and what will she do with the ball if hit to her?

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4. Concentration - this is HUGE for coaches. Softball is a game won or lost based on a team's ability to execute simple tasks successfully. If your athlete can't execute a simple sacrifice bunt or spaces out fielding a routine grounder (see Key #3) due to a lack of mental focus she's not going to make it to the next level. If she can't summon 10 seconds of concentration for each pitch maybe she's playing the wrong sport.

Here are specific things your athlete can do to demonstrate her concentration:

a. Execute...make plays!
b. Battle when down in the count. A seven or eight pitch at bat gets a coach's attention.
c. Play consistently, particularly when fatigued or playing in adverse weather.
d. Coming through in the clutch. This takes tremendous concentration and is a guaranteed "top of the list" key.

5. Overcoming Adversity - because softball is a game built on failure and adversity every coach will evaluate whether or not your athlete can rebound from a "smack across the face" in the form of a strike out, poor at bat, error or tough inning in the circle. This is where body language comes in. A player that demonstrates an ability to frame adversity as a learning opportunity and a challenge excites all coaches. Conversely a player who takes a bad at bat into the field, or an error in the field to her next at bat does not demonstrate the mental toughness top coaches are looking for.

Here are specific things your athlete can do to show she can handle adversity:

a. Run back to the dugout after a strikeout (as opposed to the slow moping walk)
b. Show determination to come back stronger the next time
c. Exhibit positive body language (coaches all look for this after adversity hits)
d. Never argue with an umpire's call (a killer)
e. Work harder in practice to get better in the areas she needs help (college coaches will ask travel or high school coaches about a prospect's work ethic during practices)

So there you go...five keys to make her stand out from the crowd, from a coach's perspective. It's time for your athlete to get to work!

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Saturday

Softball Scholarship Opportunities By the Numbers

Here are the latest numbers on collegiate softball scholarships, courtesy of the NCAA and NAIA:

Division I Softball Programs: 286
Division I Maximum Softball Scholarships/Program: 12*
Total Potential Division I Softball Scholarships: 3,432

Division II Softball Programs: 264
Division II Maximum Softball Scholarships/Program: 7.2*
Total Potential Division II Softball Scholarships: 1,901

Division III Softball Programs: 408
Division III Maximum Softball Scholarships/Program: 0**
Total Potential Division III Softball Scholarships: 0

NAIA Softball Programs: 209***
NAIA Maximum Softball Scholarships/Program: 10*
Total Potential NAIA Softball Scholarships: 2,090

The good news is there are over 1,100 four year colleges across America that field softball teams with the potential for nearly 7,500 athletic scholarships.

*Note that many programs choose not to utilize their maximum allotted athletic scholarships each season.

**Although D III programs cannot offer athletic scholarships they are very adept at lining up academic scholarship money for student athletes.

***Unlike the NCAA the NAIA rules allow coaches to talk to high schools athletes prior to the end of their junior year.


It is certainly a trend total with college softball programs to combine athletic and academic scholarships to as many of their recruits as possible. Very few players are on full athletic scholarships, so if your athlete is a great student her opportunities to play in college with substantial financial aid will be greatly enhanced.

Recent NCAA rules make it possible for member schools to now offer multi-year athletic scholarship commitments rather than just year to year renewals.

Remember with over 1,100 schools offering softball programs don’t limit your sights to regional programs or ones that attend showcases. As several D-II and D-III softball coaches have told me their budgets limit their ability to travel but they are always looking for top notch players. Many of these smaller schools will offer your daughter a great opportunity to both play ball and get a great education, so be proactive and reach out!

Thanks for reading!


 Watch John Kelly explain how to skyrocket your athlete's game day performance HERE.


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Why Excessive Expectations Can Damage Her Success

Your athlete is likely under the burden of excessive expectations every time she steps onto the field, and these expectations can strangle and sabotage her performance without you or her even knowing it.

Expectations can be the 700 pound gorilla in the room and here is why. In a game that is built on failure fastpitch softball will inevitably kick your athlete in the stomach and test her ability to overcome adversity. Expectations that are unrealistic can be very damaging to her self-confidence and disrupt her performance by causing undue stress and anxiety. Let's look at the three most common forms of expectations your athlete may fall prey to:

  • Parental Expectations - the most common and damaging for any player. Children naturally want to please their parents so excessive and unrealistic expectations placed on a child can cause her to try too hard causing mistakes. Mistakes cause increased ire by the parents and the vicious cycle of expectations accelerates further damaging the athlete's performance.
  • Coach Expectations - often as damaging as those of parents because they likely rear their ugly head during the game and right after a mistake or poor at bat when a coach is most likely to use negative verbal or non-verbal communication to express disapproval of the athlete's performance. Many coaches are prone to expect perfection from their teams and players...which is a losing proposition as no team or player that has ever played the game is perfect.
  • Player's Expectations- Certainly having an expectation for success is healthy for your athlete. expectation. After all she works hard at her game and thus should expect a reward for her efforts. However many players suffer from perfectionsim in which they expect that their game will always be without mistakes, outs or hits (if a pitcher). Thus every game is a set up for frustration, anger or sadness. This behavior and thought process is extremely dangerous and can have profound negative impact on all areas of her life. 

These three sources of expectations individually can cause your athlete to fall short of her performance goals. Collectively they can turn your athlete into a nervous wreck incapable of the mental focus and self-confidence necessary to succeed at the difficult game of fastpitch softball.

As a parent of a softball player and a coach (game and mental skills) I highly recommend that you be honest in assessing your own expectations for your athlete. The pressure you may be putting on her may be an unconscious one, yet she feels it just the same. In my new book, How She Thinks Is How She Plays, I cover in great detail just how difficult a game fastpitch softball really is and how excessive expectations act to diminsh your athlete's game, not enhance it.

Suffice it to say that a hitter has less than 1/3 of one second to determine the ball's velocity, location and movement in a strike zone that measures about six square feet. Is it tough to hit a ball...you bet it is!

My suggestion is to also have a discussion with your athlete to determine what expectations she has for her own performance to determine whether these expectations are healthy or unrealistic. Moreover softball should be a fun activity for your athlete where she can learn the many positive life lessons sports can teach her. Burdensome expectations only serve to make those opportunities for growth and joy blurred and unrecognizable.

Learn more about Winner's Edge Softball and the 21 Mental Performance Killers that sabotage your athlete's success and efforts to become the consistent peak performer college coaches want.

**Special Offer - take 40% OFF all our great mental skills training products for the holiday weekend. Offer ends Sunday, November 27 at midnight! Give your athlete the gift that will change her game forever. Just CLICK HERE and enter thanksgiving2011 in the "coupon code" box at checkout to get your 40% SAVINGS.


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Wednesday

Does She Use Her Secret Weapon? Find Out...

There are several descriptive ways to say it: Aladdin's Lamp, The Genie, The X Factor, The Game Changer, The Secret Weapon, The Difference Maker, etc. As I write about often what determines greatness on the athletic field and how does your athlete access that on a consistent basis?

Why do some teams seem to have a "magical" season winning all the close games, getting all the calls and all the bounces while others struggle for consistency and success? Why do some players look effortless in their command of the game, displaying exceptional, consistent peak performance game after game while other players hit massive slumps or ride the roller coaster of success and failure almost without warning or reason? 

Certainly talent is an important component in the quest for greatness but talent is in no way a guarantee of greatness simply because an athlete is faster, stronger or quicker than others or possesses a greater command of softball specific skills than others.

Certainly physical preparation plays a huge role in determining greatness as success would be virtually impossible in a game as difficult to master as fastpitch softball unless an athlete and team spend significant time practicing the fundamentals of hitting, fielding, pitching and base running.

But here is where the analysis usually ends...with the physical. If we study almost any great athlete we will discover that the one thing that separates him or her from the competition is their mental preparation.

Simply stated your athlete's success and desire for greatness is found between her ears. And her ability to take responsibility for her thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviors is the true secret weapon that either she uses to advance her game or destroy it.

On the field after 600+ games coaching (and countless I have seen on television) I have witnessed some amazing performances as well as pathetic ones from individual players and teams. I always marvel at the unsung hero of the World Series; usually a guy with limited success during the season who transforms himself into a monster when it counts the most. Why does this phenomenon happen so frequently and what creates the World Series greatness? Here are 10 attributes of greatness your athlete needs to demonstrate to become her team's World Series hero:

1. Laser Focus
2. Expectancy for Success
3. Ability to Overcome Adversity Quickly
4. Supreme Self-Confidence 
5. Trust Herself
6. Give 110% Effort
7. Super Relaxed
8. Utilize Mental Imagery to "See" Her Success Before it Happens
9. Not Burdened by the Expectations of Others
10. Focus on Their Effort, Not Their Results

All of these ideal attributes require mental skills training in order to be consistent in her approach to the game. These attributes of greatness take time to cultivate and will not happen through physical training alone. Mental skills training can give her the tools to insure her the best opportunity for consistent success and greatness in a difficult game.

The upside of proper mental skills training will be a player who can utilize her secret weapon at will to consistently elevate her game from good to great. Her mastery of the game will accelerate as will her desire and joy for playing it.

Your athlete has a powerful secret weapon located between her ears. Is she using it to insure her greatness?

Happy Thanksgiving and thank for reading!

 
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Learn more about how your athlete can develop her secret weapon today with The Game Changer Program: A Mental Skills Blueprint to Make Her the Best She Can Be, or John Kelly's new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays.

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Monday

What Defines 100% Effort for Your Athlete?

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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Friday

5 Factors That Will Make Her Great...Overnight !

What defines greatness? We could all probably write a laundry list of traits and factors that we each believe to be the causes for greatness. However, sometimes we look beyond the most obvious factors...the ones that will really make the difference between good and great.

At practice last night I told both my teams, in essence, what I am writing about today; that each of them could be great if they only focused on doing the following:

1. Pay Attention (A.B.L.L. - Always Be Learning & Listening) - During practice my teams were hitting live and the dozen or so girls who were not hitting or in the field were confined to the dugout for safety reasons. Sadly I had to remind them not to turn their backs on the action on the field and yack away, but rather turn around and see what they could learn by watching and observing. Fastpitch softball is a game of subtle nuances that take a long time to learn. By being a student and always paying attention your athlete can master those nuances and her game far quicker than the average athlete with her back turned...guaranteed! This included listening to her coaches...ALWAYS.

2. Give 100% Effort...All the Time - As I always write about...your athlete's work ethic can set her apart in the eyes of her coaches, her teammates, her opponents and the recruiters. And this 100% "leave it all on the field" effort starts in practice, whether on her own, with private coaches or in her team practice. Becoming great takes an certain attitude, a personal drive that pushes her beyond what any other player is doing. If she can challenge herself every time she practices to go beyond what she did the day before she will absolutely exhibit greatness on game day.

***As an important caveat it's crucial that your athlete recognize that she is a unique individual with unique talents. As such her greatness may not be her best friend's greatness. She should strive to be the best Megan (whatever her name is) she can be and not compare herself to any other player.

3. Mental Focus - As a coach nothing is more frustrating than seeing a player fail simply because she was distracted or simply not prepared for the ball to be hit to her, or prepared properly for her at bat or time in the circle. Mental focus is always a choice and 90% of all mistakes on the field are do to a simple lack of mental focus. Mental discipline or "toughness" defines all great athletes. if you athlete can cultivate this focus she will leap frog 80% of the girls in the sport on her way to the top of the recruiting list!

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4. Expect Success - This is a subtle factor that can greatly increase your athlete's self-confidence level. The mere act of expecting success with a "can do" attitude will do wonders for her game. Don't confuse this with arrogance. If she is giving 100% all the time she has the right to expect success as a return on her investment of time and effort.

5. Have a Plan - Having a plan can be as simple as knowing the game situation, the score of the game and the umpire's strike zone. It's stepping into the batter's box knowing what is expected of you in that at bat (e.g. looking for a low outside pitch to hit on the ground to 2nd base to score the runner from 3rd). Having a plan means your athlete leverages her powers of expectancy and anticipation to up her game to a different level. The increased production and performance combined with a higher sense of accomplishment that will follow "having a plan" will be mind blowing! It's truly amazing what being prepared can do.

The great news for you and your athlete is that all of these factors are 100% within her control to execute. it is ultimately her choice as to how good she wants to be in this game. Even if she does not possess great speed, power or athleticism she can rise above other athletes with more natural skills simply be leveraging the five factors for greatness I've laid out in this post...the choice is hers!

Thanks for reading! -- John Kelly

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Thursday

Why Wanting Perfection Can Destroy Her Game

As a coach and a parent I always admire a young person who strives to be the very best she can be in whatever endeavor she undertakes. Whether it's in the classroom, the athletic field, or on the piano a child who has a strong sense of pride for the quality of her work develops a strong work ethic and more times than not has great success in that endeavor and in life. Expecting the best from oneself demonstrates strong self-confidence, a positive self-image, and are indicative traits of what are called "super achievers" today.

Super achievers on the softball field can achieve fantastic success...but they can also suffer through an emotional roller coaster while playing a game in which no one is perfect. Every weekend that I coach I see countless girls reduced to tears every time they make an out or an error. These players are so tightly wound up that the slightest result beneath their expectations causes them to crumble emotionally. To them the game is a constant frustration. And the more frustration they experience the worse it gets as they become unable to exert the necessary mental focus and "can do" mindset in takes to succeed in softball. Don't let that be your athlete!


Super achievers can also be "perfectionists" who literally expect at a deep emotional and cognitive level to never make mistakes. These are the students who have a meltdown when they don't get a perfect grade on a test or don't achieve a 4.0 GPA every semester. These are also the softball players who expect to go through a game untouched by the inevitable adversity the game throws at EVERY player at one time or another.

Expecting success is a healthy place to be mentally, but expecting perfection on the athletic field is unhealthy and can lead to perpetual frustration, anxiety, anger and sadness; all of which diminish both an athlete's on the field performance level and her joy and desire for playing the game.



Again, having high self-expectations is both common and necessary for any athlete to be a consistent peak performer. However, contained within that peak performer's mind is a clear understanding that they can strive for perfection but will never achieve it. They recognize that the game contains many variables that are outside of their control and to expect a perfect performance every time is unrealistic and damaging to their confidence and ultimately their performance.

As I cover at length in my new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays,  a high level of self-confidence is critical for any fastpitch softball player to have if she has any chance to succeed on a regular basis. As a parent my priority with my own daughter is to protect and nourish that self-confidence any way I can. My daughter tends to be a borderline perfectionist so I have a little experience in the topic!

Ensuring that your athlete has high but reasonable expectations for her performance as well as explaining to her the factors she does and does not have control over on the field will help her to grow her self-confidence as a player and as young woman.

If your athlete is a super achiever with very high self-expectations for herself and her performance the glass is definitely half full! However, as the adult you may need to help her to manage those expectations of perfectionism that can cause her game and her confidence to spiral downward quickly!

***Announcing the release of the newest Winner's Edge Softball product: The Difference Maker $1.97 Audio Lessons! For less than $2 bucks you can hear John Kelly explain strategies for understanding and conquering the mental performance killer that may be sabotaging your athlete's success. Each audio lesson is 12-20 minutes in length and is an instant mp3 download.

Give yourself the holiday gift of your athlete's success with John's Game Changer Program: A Mental Skills Blueprint to Make Her the Best She Can Be. You'll get 6 hours of cutting edge mental skills Audio Lessons, John's new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays, a 40 page eBook, Think It & Hit It, a personal mental skills self-assessment profile and a 30 minute private coaching session with John...all for less than the cost of an hour hitting lesson!

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Wednesday

Softball Success Leaves Clues. What are They?

At our practice last night all the coaches were disappointed by both team's effort on the field. We have a competitive tournament coming up this weekend and the girls just didn't look very good. Between the schedule and weather we've missed some practice and game time over the last three weeks and we were hoping to get the girls back into a rhythm. Well they played very off tune!

Softball, like most sports, is a difficult game to master and achieve consistent success in; however success does leave clues. As I told our two teams last night it's an easy game when you do certain things right and a brutal game when you don't. So how does your athlete and her team become consistent peak performers and what are the clues success leaves for them to discover?

1. Mental Focus - At my practice last night the girls had a hard time focusing and that was really the main cause for their lackluster performance. Being able to train one's mind on the task at hand is harder for some people than others. However the game doesn't care. If your athlete is easily distracted by other players goofing around or any external factor she will have a hard time being her best. Mental focus is always a choice and clearly a factor she has 100% control over.


2. Practice Intensity - For some reason it seems a common thing for players not to bring the same intensity to practice they do during a game. Perhaps it's the culture of the team or nature of the practice but your athlete is robbing herself of a valuable opportunity to get everything she can out of each and every practice if she is not playing with a high level of intensity. I tell my teams that they will play how they practice, so it makes no sense to me for them to bring less than their "A" game during practice. If they can't bring it for practice how do they expect to turn the switch on between the white lines on Saturday? Like its sister mental focus, intensity is a choice and fully within your athlete's control to exert.

3. Desire to Be Better - In my book, "How She Thinks is How She Plays" I talk about assessing motivation and desire in your athlete. Ultimately either she wants it or she does not. The game gets faster and harder with each level your athlete progresses to. Giving 110% all the time is what it takes to become an elite athlete top coaches put at the top of their recruiting list, and that mentality is employed ALL THE TIME; in practice as well as games. If your athlete has a burning desire to get better each time she steps on the field there is no question she has every opportunity to reach her goals.


4. Paying Attention to Details - This is a game of minute details of execution that will make or break your athlete and her team if not done the correct way. Fastpitch is a much faster game than baseball so mistakes are magnified. Your athlete must constantly be a student of the game and observe every little detail around her that will cause her to become a better player. Her mindset must be that of a sponge...always soaking in valuable information to give her the edge.

5. Enjoy the Game - This may sound obvious, but successful players and teams enjoy being on the field and being part of their team. This sense of excitement to go to practice or put on the uniform shows up in having a great attitude and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get better and help the team succeed. Playing under stress and anxiety, worrying too much about each result or playing to please mom or dad will also show up in a player's on the field performance. Again, attitude is a choice and 100% within your athlete's control.

In fastpitch softball success definitely leaves clues and most of them are things that your athlete has complete control over. Like I tell my teams...you are always at choice to what effort you give, what attitude you bring and what mental focus you exert each time you step on the field. Be sure your athlete understands these clues for her success and makes a conscious effort to elevate her game around them. When she does I can assure you her results will reflect her effort!

Thanks for reading!  -- John Kelly

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Monday

Top 10 Habits of Highly Recruited Athletes

In southern California this time of year every weekend is filled with a different showcase event for 18u, 16u and some 14u fastpitch softball teams to show off their players in front of college coaches and scouts. Every player (and their parents) hopes for a stellar game or games to standout in some way, shape or form from all the rest of the players. And while playing well is the ultimate goal during a showcase how to prepare for that day is the topic of my post today.

If your athlete aspires to play ball in college and receive a partial or full athletic scholarship it is never too early to start having her focus on developing the kinds of habits and traits that top softball recruits have that both catch the eye of the scouts as well as allow them to play at a consistent peak level.

Change her game forever with one click!

Here are the Top 10 Habits and Traits of Highly Recruited Athletes:

1. They Have a Great Work Ethic - These peak performers have a crazy work ethic, and are self-driven to get better each day. They are the ones flying all over the field, and when they miss a ball in practice they immediately ask for anther one. Every coach would love to have 15 of these girls on his or her roster!

2. They Love the Game - Their work ethic is propelled due to their love of the game. Playing the game brings these elite players joy; they love the way they feel on the field and even smile after a mistake. It's all good to them whenever they cross the white line and their love for the game is infectious!

girls softball practice
3. They Possess Great  Mental Focus - These are true competitors who have cultivated the ability to stay in present moment awareness during crunch time. They have the unique ability to get into the zone and block out all distractions. These athletes are the ones who consistently play poised under pressure and seem to have ice in their veins in the biggest at bats and games.

4. They Expect Success for Themselves and Their Teammates - These positive leaders recognize the tremendous investment they and their teammates have made into the game and as a result expect success come game day. They have a consistent "can do" attitude and it is contagious on their team. Their presence in the dugout makes everyone around them better.




5. They are Students of the Game - These top recruits never stop being a student of the game. Each game and each practice they observe what their teammates and the opponents are doing, always looking for ways to improve their game. They master the little things in their game and constantly look for ways to gain the edge, like recognizing the umpire's strike zone or finding a defensive weakness and exploiting it. Coaches both love and respect these players!

6. They Focus on Effort, Not Outcome - These are consistent peak performers in part because they have learned to focus on the effort they give and not solely on the outcome of each at bat, play in the field or pitching performance. They recognize that the game is a tough one to master, filled with adversity. By focusing on putting forth maximum effort in the moment and not being concerned with how others judge their outcomes they are able to frame mistakes as a learning opportunity.

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7. They Bounce Back Well from Adversity - This ability defines top recruits. Because they have a high level of self-confidence, expect success, do not focus on outcome and have a plan of action these peak performers do not get "stuck" when adversity and failure hits. They know no one is perfect, shake off the mistake and move back to present moment focus quickly.

8. They Have A Highly Developed Level of Self-Confidence - Because of their mastery with the other nine items on this list these athletes have developed a rock solid level of self-confidence; their emotional tanks are full and their on the field success is predictably stellar. Without this trait your athlete will never be highly recruited because the game is simply too hard to master without it.

9. They Honor the Game - Top recruits have one thing in common...they respect the game and all the players in it. They honor their teammates, their coaches, their parents, the umpires, their opponents and mostly themselves. They know their is no "I" in team and respect all those who came before them to make the game what it is today.

10. They Have a Plan of Action -  These elite athletes all have clearly defined goals and  well rehearsed pre-game, in-game and post-game rituals to insure they will perform their best. They have positive trigger phrases they use to get ready for an at bat. They prepare themselves mentally, "seeing" their success in advance. They can summon intense concentration and focus on demand. After the game they reflect on their performance positively and look for things they can work on in practice to get better.

The time for your athlete to start cultivating these habits and traits is NOW, regardless of her age. In the end it is the intangibles that will make your athlete's game great and get her the scholarship you both want, and these intangible factors all start between her ears. The good news is that she has 100% control over all of these 10 traits and habits. It's time to get to work!


***Subscribe to my FREE Softball Smarts Tips Here to make 2013 her best season yet!



 Check out John Kelly's new "softball specific" multi-media program, The Game Changer. List price is $59.97, now on sale for just $29.97. It contains over six hours of cutting edge mental performance audio lessons, plus John Kelly's new ebook, How She Thinks is How She Plays. All for a little more than the cost of a single hitting lesson!

Insure a great return on your softball investment with The Game Changer Program!
  




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Friday

5 Simple Steps to Improve Her Hitting...and They're Not What You Think!

It has often been said that hitting a round ball with a round bat is, perhaps, the single hardest thing to do well in sports. In addition to that challenge a hitter in fastpitch softball has all of about 1/3 of a second to determine ball velocity, movement and location; no problem! Is it any wonder then that even the very best fastpitch hitters fail 60%  or more of the time?

Being a travel softball coach I understand the mechanical part of hitting as well as most, but it is the element between the ears that determines a player's success or failure in the batter's box. So here are 5 simple steps your athlete can take to improve her batting average and her joy for playing the game:

1. Focus -  Most hitters cannot focus their energy on the task at hand because they are either over analyzing things, consumed by past failures, or have a bout with ADD. Being able to exert laser focus for each pitch is paramount to her success. Just a 50% increase in her mental focus will greatly increase her success. Once your athlete can recognize her focus level it will be easier for her to flip the focus switch on whenever she needs to.

2. Relax -  Players today are so burdened with excessive expectations that each at bat can feel as if their whole future depends on it's outcome! These expectations can lead to excessive anxiety and adrenalin which in turn diminishes performance due to physiological responses like reduced motor reflexes, reduced vision, reduced focus, sweaty palms, increased pulse rate, etc. If your athlete can practice some simple breathing techniques and positive "can do" trigger statements in the on deck circle she can keep herself relaxed and focused.

3. Have a Plan - For your athlete to improve her batting success she needs to take a "proactive" stance and adequately prepare herself for each at bat. This can include studying the pitcher, knowing the umpire's strike zone, looking for a certain pitch or location, knowing the game situation. Having a plan can also include well rehearsed "pre-game," "in-game," and "post game" plans to prepare mentally for the inevitable adversity the game will throw at her.


4. Expect Success - Self-confidence is supremely important in order for any hitter to be successful, but it's more than that. Your athlete needs to cultivate an expectancy for success. Her thoughts will tell her she "can" or she "cannot" before and during her at bats. With all the time and effort she puts into her game during the week she deserves success on the weekends! Expectancy for success will give her a little extra pep in her step on her way to the box. It will also serve to calm her mind down and increase her ability to focus. Can you say .400?

5. Proper Perspective - Because the game of fastpitch is so hard perfection is not an option. Your athlete needs to recognize that she will fail more often than she will succeed and keep the perspective that each at bat can be a learning opportunity for her to improve her next at bat. If she (and you) can focus more on her effort than the results she will get better faster and see a more rapid improvement in her success.

Your athlete can approach her at bats by design or by default. Having strong physical preparation coupled with strong mental preparation will allow her success to be more predictable as well as more enjoyable for her and you!


 Watch John Kelly explain how to skyrocket your athlete's game day performance HERE.
 

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Thursday

Does She Have the "X Factor?"

Like millions of people I have gotten caught up in watching The X Factor. One of the main reasons I enjoy the show is to see the gradual improvement each week of the artists as they hyper-focus on improving their "game" with the help of voice and choreography coaches as well as their celebrity mentor. Last night Simon Cowell, in speaking to one contestant, said she had the "X Factor." That got me thinking about what the "X Factor" is in fastpitch softball that has top college coaches drooling over one prospect and indifferent over another?

To me the "X Factor" is another term for someone having an intangible quality, something unique and special that sets her apart from everyone else. Certainly skill and talent are a necessary part of the mix, but I believe the true "X Factor" for a softball player is not just in the talent but rather how that talent is displayed on the field. Here is what I mean: the top college softball coaches I have spoken with tell me they are looking for a player who plays with consistent intensity, consistent confidence, consistent focus, and consistent joy when playing the game.

In short these top coaches are looking for a "winner," someone who is a game changer whose on the field presence transcends skill and talent alone. These consistent peak performers have a burning desire and passion to be their best. In fact these elite athletes want the spotlight on them, they want the pressure packed at bat because they have supreme confidence in their ability to get the job done!

The "X Factor' in these special athletes really shows up between the ears where they know they may make mistakes or have a poor at bat, but their confidence and expectation for success is so strong any failure or adversity they encounter only motivates them more to work harder to succeed the next time.

These highest recruited athletes are also leaders on and off the field. They always treat their teammates, coaches, umpires, parents and opponents with respect because they honor the game.



To these elite athletes who have the "X Factor" they simply love the game. They will gladly take another 100 grounders or 100 swings, not because it will make them better (which they know it will) but because they really enjoy it. They possess a crazy work ethic which coaches love.

One of the cool things that is so evident in watching a show like The X Factor or American Idol is that you can see with each week how the self-confidence builds in these artists. What started out an an improbable journey for all of them is now a dream come true. The stage fright we saw during the early auditions and first live show has been replaced with supreme confidence. And as their self-confidence has risen so have their performances.

The same is true for your athlete. For her to be the consistent peak performer that top coaches put at the top of their recruiting lists she must develop or display the "X Factor" they are looking for. But don't think for a minute that your athlete has to have the most talent to get noticed because she doesn't. Talent with a poor attitude or limited mental skills mastery will get an athlete no where. If she loves the game and is willing to work hard and display maximum effort, maximum joy and maximum mental focus she can develop her own special "X Factor" that will have coaches nodding there heads.

You see everyone recognizes the "X Factor" when they see it!

Yes the holidays are rapidly approaching and what better gift to give your athlete but The Game Changer Program: A Mental Skills Blueprint to Make Her the Best She Can Be. This is a multi-media program that includes over 6 hours of Audio Lessons covering the 21 Mental Performance Killers that sabotage her success, plus John Kelly's new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays, a 40 page ebook, Think it & Hit It, and a must listen 29 minute bonus Audio Lesson, The Scholarship Game...What You Must Know! You can get The Game Changer Program for about the same amount as a one hour hitting lesson.

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Wednesday

Do We Expect Too Much from Our Kids?

Let me say from the get go that I'm an old school guy who believes in having a solid work ethic with little tolerance for whining or excuses. That being said I cannot help but wonder if we expect too much from our kids today? As the father of a teenager and a coach of a few dozen teenage and pre-teen girls I have a unique perspective on the topic.

Now my daughter is highly self-motivated. She stays on top of her school work without her mom or I saying a word to her about it. She takes great pride in doing her best and I am proud of her for her effort and attitude about her studies. Likewise she exhibits a similar work ethic on the softball field with high expectations for achievement. As a slapper she usually hits near .500 anyway, but she expects to get on base every time and is genuinely disappointed when she does not. Does this sounds like anyone you know?

fastpitch softball pitcher
There is a fine line between strong self expectations to drive oneself to be the best and expectations for perfection that are unachievable. But the question remains where do these expectations come from? Are they really internal or might they be from external forces?

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Let's face it...our world is a super competitive place in 2012; particularly in academics and athletics. Getting accepted to any top college is the toughest it has ever been, while year around athletics has raised the bar to a level I could have never imagined as a kid. As parents we want the best for our kids and we certainly don't want our daughters to fall behind in the race do we?

I believe, whether stated or implied, that our kids feel immense pressure to excel from us that no other generation of kids has even been subjected to. I marvel at how much is expected of the girls in my travel organization, with three hour practices twice weekly (on school nights) and weekends filled with 1-2 hour car rides and three to six games. On top of that I can't remember having the homework load these kids talk about (and I see first hand with my high school daughter) having. I guess this kind of schedule beats having them home watching TV!

The challenge with these external expectations, particularly from parents, is that these kids want nothing more than to please their parents. They understand the cost of travel ball (at least as a teen they do), and they understand the need to get great grades in order to get into college. Many of them also understand that without that softball scholarship it will be hard for their parents to afford college...period! And with college expenses expected to rise 8-15% per year for the foreseeable future the pressure of expectations will get higher on our kids to perform at peak levels.


I can't help but think, at least on the softball field, that lowered expectations from parents might actually cause they athletes to perform better. No human performs their best under undue pressure and anxiety, and for sure in softball where a hitter has all of 1/3 of a second to make a determination whether to swing and where to swing, given ball velocity, movement and location.

Is it noble to push our kids to best their best...absolutely. However, let's all recognize that ours is a warp speed world today where our kids barely have time to catch their breath and clear their head sometimes. Maybe we do expect too much. What do you think?

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My popular Game Changer Program is a one-of-a-kind audio training program designed to help your athlete become her very best by learning how to master her mental game. This program has over 6 hours of audio instruction. Take a look at what the program includes:
  • Fear & Anxiety: The Ultimate Performance Killers
  • The Secret Weapon: How She Thinks is How She Plays
  • Managing Expectations: The Source of Most Failure
  • Assessing Motivation and Desire: How Bad Does She Want It?
  • Building Rock Solid Confidence
  • Present Moment Awareness & Building a Laser Focus
  • The Parent's Role in Her Success
  • Focusing on the Results is a Recipe for Disaster
  • Why Physical Training is Not Enough to Make her Great
  • Making Adjustments: The Key to Sustained Success
  • Learning to Trust Herself to be Her Best
  • Wanting Her Success Too Much...Ouch!
  • The Dark Side: Catastrophizing
  • Embracing Pressure with Poise
  • The Critical Importance of Having a Plan
  • The Power of Belief
  • Filling Her Emotional Tank
  • The Comfort Zone Trap
  • Become a Student of the Game
  • Learning to Trust Herself
  • Separate the Player from the Performance
  • The Impact of Controllables
  • How Essential Her Coach is to Her Success
  • Honoring the Game
  • Bonus Audio # 1: Visualize Her Way to Greatness!
  • Bonus Audio #2: The Scholarship Game...What You Must Know!
**Plus you get my Amazon top selling 174 page eBook, How She Thinks is How She Plays as well.

All for 50% OFF! Now only $29.97 for a limited time. What could be a better holiday or birthday gift that education that will change her softball game forever!

The game is 90% mental. Invest in her mental game today. READ MORE HERE.

Tuesday

Smiling and Succeeding...is it Possible?

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!
**FACEBOOK SPECIAL OFFER** 

Go to our Facebook page and click on the link to get 50% off John Kelly's new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays. With this Facebook offer you can get this must read book for only $9.98! But hurry...this one time promotion ends midnight Wednesday, November 9. Be sure to enter in the "Apply Coupon" box the code "doubleplay" to get your 50% discount. But you must go to Facebook first. Give your athlete the give that will change her game forever!

           

Monday

Your Athlete's Thoughts Will Determine Her Success...It's True

The father of personal achievement Napoleon Hill once said, "You will never be greater than the thoughts that dominate your mind."  Dr. Hill, the author of one of the best selling books of all time, Think & Grow Rich, was hired by business magnate Andrew Carnegie to interview the 500 most successful people in the country between 1910 and 1920. Hill found that these successful people all followed a similar success "formula" to achieve their greatness. He interviewed the likes of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Theodore Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell, William Wrigley and many more luminaries of his time.

The reason I bring up the work of Napoleon Hill is because his findings are as relevant and true today as they were nearly a century ago. The truth is that your athlete will never be greater than the thoughts that dominate her mind. As humans we have around 50,000 independent thoughts swirling through our heads each and every day. These thoughts will make or break her success on the athletic field and in the classroom...guaranteed.
Dr. Napoleon Hill

If you haven't yet made the connection my new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays, and my multi-media Game Changer Program integrate some of the fundamental premises from Dr. Hill; chiefly that if you think you can you will, if you think you can't you won't; a simple but infinitely powerful truth.

You see your athlete's thoughts are extremely powerful. Regardless of her age she likely doesn't recognize this fact. On the softball field the game moves quickly and if she is not in the proper mental state mistakes will occur and it will be difficult for her to master the game.



In the batter's box she has all of 1/3 of a second to determine the ball's velocity, movement and location. If she has no "plan" entering the box; if she does not have laser focused present moment awareness and concentration her results will never be the best they can be.

The mental skills training your athlete does or does not do  will show up on game day. In a game where failure and adversity are the rule and not the exception your athlete needs every possible edge she can get to rise to the top. As I often say, physical training is essential, but physical training alone is simply not enough to make her the consistent peak performer top coaches want on their team. Ignore this statement at your own risk.

There are myriad factors that determine the level of your athlete's success and enjoyment in playing the game. However, ground zero for her greatness is how she thinks. If she can begin to recognize this and begin to understand the inevitable cause and effect nature of her thoughts and her performance she will build a solid foundation for her future success!

As always...it's all in my book and my Audio Lessons. The Game Changer Program: A Mental Skills Blueprint to Make Her the Best She Can Be contains over 6 hours of mental skills Audio Lessons, plus my new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays, plus a 40 page eBook, Think It & Hit It...plus a 30 minute private mental skills coaching lesson with me. Such a deal! Really, for less than the cost of a one hour hitting lesson you can give your athlete the gift that will change her game, and her future, forever!

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Friday

400 Pitches and Still Kickin'

Most every day I share thoughts on this blog about the various mental skills your athlete needs to develop and master to become a consistent peak performer. However, today I want to talk about another very important element in your athlete's development and her success...her coaches.

At last night's practice we had 30 or so girls there, as my travel organization routinely has multiple teams practicing together, and focused the evening on hitting with six separate hitting stations plus live, situational hitting on the diamond. I was at the whiffle ball station throwing each player 12-15 pitches while fighting off the pesky fall mosquitoes. Over the next couple of hours I must have thrown about 400 pitches and, yes...I am a little sore this morning as a result!

And just so you're all clear...I am paid the grand sum of nothing for doing this. Yes I, like so many thousands of dedicated men and women across the country, volunteer my time to coach because I enjoy teaching and helping these young ladies learn the game I love.  I also have no daughter playing on the team.

He was just pointing out the snack bar.

As parents it is easy to sit back and judge or criticize the job coaches do. Certainly some coaches have more experience and more knowledge of the game than others, and yes, some coaches may appear to favor their own daughters a tad. However, without the countless hours that these coaches put into the game and your athlete there would be no games and no softball.

And for the record, coaching is not easy...particularly at a travel level when parents are paying a decent sum of money each month for their daughter's participation. Like I used to say when I was a member of my daughter's recreational league board, "If you're not happy with the coaching then volunteer yourself." At the travel level your daughter hopefully has more professional coaches that legitimately know more than you do about the game and how to teach it.

Believe me, every coach in every corner of the country wants the very best for each of his or her players. However, fastpitch softball is a numbers game and as coaches we must be mindful of the stats and play kids accordingly. There is a girl on my fall team who is a tremendous athlete yet batting only .120. She hit well over .300 last spring/summer but is having a tough time this fall. She is certainly trying too hard and some of her frustration is showing up in her defense. As a coach should I stick with her based on what she did last season and what I know she is capable of doing? I'll let you make that call. It is not an easy one for sure.

The bottom line from me on this rainy morning in sunny San Diego is a big shout out to all of you who give your time so willingly to coach these great young athletes. Thank you for helping the great sport of fastpitch softball to grow so quickly in recent years across America, while in the process giving so many young ladies the opportunity to both play the game as well as learn to enduring life lessons fastpitch softball teaches them!

For those of you who are not coaches or don't coach anymore please support your athlete's coaches and recognize that they are doing the best they can to juggle 12-16 players every game and practice. Fastpitch softball is a tough game for everyone involved. It is a game of infinite variables and bounces. Every coach makes mistakes, so please don't bad mouth them to other parents or worse to your athlete. As it is with your athlete I would suggest you applaud the coaches' effort and not the outcome.

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Because I am so confident that my Game Changer Program: A Mental Skills Blueprint to Make Her the Best She Can Be, will absolutely transform your athlete into the consistent peak performer you both want her to be...from now through Sunday evening, November 6, at midnight I am slashing the price of The Game Changer Program from $59.97 to just $39.97! That is a whopping 33% discount. This is a multi-media program which includes my new 175 page book, How She Thinks is How She Plays, plus over 6 hours and 26 powerful mental skills audio lessons to help your athlete to conquer the 21 Mental Performance Killers that sabotage her success on the field. You also get a bonus 40 page ebook, Think It & Hit It, as well as a FREE 30 minute private Mental Skills Coaching lesson with John Kelly.

For about the same amount as you spend for a 30 minute hitting or pitching lesson you can give your athlete an early Christmas present that will transform her game forever! This is a one time discount that will end Sunday night at midnight. Don't leave her fastpitch future to chance...get her The Game Changer today! Just type in the word "fastpitch" in the Apply Coupon box to get the great price of $39.97.