The Attitude of Gratitude

Being grateful means being appreciative, and to appreciate means to value or admire something or someone highly. Another great definition from Merriam-Webster for "appreciate" is: to judge with heightened perception or understanding; to be fully aware of.

I bring these definitions to your attention this Thanksgiving weekend in an effort to heighten you and your athlete's awareness, perception and appreciation for the gift of softball and youth sports in general.

Let's get down to specifics with The Attitude of Gratitude:

Players - Recognize and be aware of just what a privilege it is to play your sport. No matter  what team you play on your coaches chose YOU to be on it. They believe in your ability, so respect and honor your coaches and teammates by giving 110% effort all the time and bringing the Attitude of Gratitude to every practice and game. Get excited about being on your team and appreciate every minute of it. Your energy of gratitude can inspire you and your team to do great things!

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As well you should express deep gratitude and appreciation to your parents and other family members who support you in playing your support and sacrifice both valuable time and money for you to participate and improve through private lessons, traveling tournaments, clinics, top equipment, etc.

And although it may be hard to grasp in this generation but a generation ago young female athletes did not possess the opportunities to play the game as you do today. Honor those opportunities and those players who went before you to pioneer the game paving the way for the great opportunities you have today.

Remember that effort and attitude are always a choice. That you can be as good in this game as you want to be and are prepared to work for. Being grateful for the opportunity means not squandering it. If you have goals to play your sport in college find that burning desire to be your best and go for it!

Parents - For parents the Attitude of Gratitude looks like appreciating coaches for the hard work and commitment they make to your athlete's development (no, you don't need to like or agree with all their coaching decisions, but you can still be grateful and respect their time, energy and commitment). Appreciate your athlete and their team for the effort they put into mastering a very difficult sport. This means don't expect perfection; allow them time to learn by making the inevitable mistakes and adversity the game will throw at them. Focus on the process or getting better rather than solely on the results.

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Appreciate your spouse, your family and yourself for their (and your) sacrifices made that enable your athlete to pursue her dream. Being a sports parent today can be stressful, especially if you have more than one child pursuing their athletic dream! Employ "big picture" thinking.

Be grateful for all the wonderful life lessons your athlete is learning through her sports or lose. As in life we tend to learn more in the midst of failure and adversity than constant smooth sailing, so allow your athlete to fail and know that inside she is learning and growing greatly from it. These life lessons she will carry her entire life and will (and likely already) make her a better, more disciplined, more resilient person able to handle the many challenges life will throw at her as an adult.

Also in your grateful bliss commit to honoring the game which means supporting your athlete's team 100%. Nothing is worse and more detrimental to a team's success than parents talking poorly about players, team or coaches to other parents or within earshot of players. This divisiveness creates negative energy among parents and team that can only hurt your athlete. Also support and appreciate the opposing team for without them there would be no game. Despite wearing a different uniform, as adults, we should wish success for all these young athletes. Recognize that they are all working hard to achieve their athletic dreams too.

Finally as part of having an Attitude of Gratitude please respect and appreciate the umpires and officials each and every game. As with the coaches you may not agree with all their calls (I know I usually don't!), but you can still show respect and recognition that he or she is doing the very best they can to get each call right. I can assure you, having spoken to hundreds of umpires and officials over the years, that they take their jobs very seriously. Most of them sat where you did years before watching their own kids play sports. As such they respect the athletes and want to be a positive force on the field. Your verbally ridiculing an umpire only serves to disrespect the game and undermine your athlete and her team.

So on this relaxing Thanksgiving weekend, while you and your athlete are likely taking a short break from the game remember the Attitude of Gratitude. I'm confident that if you and your athlete keep the points I have written here in mind you will both enjoy the game more and you might even enjoy writing those sports related checks a little more (okay...that might be a reach!).

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Hitting Slumps: The Real Causes and Solutions

My 14u team is currently mired in a collective hitting slump. After starting the season red hot, hitting .365 as a team, we have struggled over the last three weeks hitting about .230. Our run production has gone from 5 runs per game down to 1.3 runs per game. It's no surprise that after a solid 9-4 start we're only 1-5-1 since.

It's one of softball's immutable laws...if you can't score you can't win!

It's also one of the immutable laws of the universe...13 years old athletes are inconsistent!

Now certainly hitting slumps, whether for a 13 year old softball player or 30 year old Major Leaguer, may well be rooted in physical and mechanical flaws. If your athlete is pulling her head, dropping her hands or swinging under every pitch she won't have much to show for it.

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However, the more common root cause of hitting slumps lies between the ears. The mind is, in fact, so powerful that it can actually cause physical changes that make hitting a ball squarely nearly impossible. Therefore the mental plays a far bigger part in both causing and solving hitting slumps for individual players and entire teams. 

So in solving your athlete and her team's hitting slump consider these 6 "mental dynamics":
1. Over thinking. Too much going on inside the head. Maybe coach and parent are yelling instructions while she's in the box. The mind must be entirely "zen like" focused on the task at hand to be successful as a hitter.
2. Can't do thinking. This looks like "expecting" failure...doom and gloom thinking. Negative thinking and fear of failure can actually cause anxiety than will cause reflexes to slow, eyesight to diminish and hitting mechanics to be altered.
3. Lack of focus. This can happen when the mind is distracted by dwelling on the past or future rather than the present moment. With only 1/3 of one second to make a decision on pitch velocity, movement and location anything less than 100% focus can doom your athlete's potential for hitting success.
4. Not paying attention. Your athlete can help herself out immensely as a hitter by noticing little things like umpire strike zone, pitch type and location tendencies, defensive positioning, etc. When in a slump your athlete needs to look for any edge she can get! 

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5. Trusting herself. For younger athletes I find this is the biggest culprit that sabotages success. When in a slump younger hitters tend to take too many good pitches and find themselves perpetually behind in the count. I encourage my players and those I coach privately to be aggressive and trust themselves to swing early in the count at a pitch they believe they can hit. Don't wait until you have two strikes and the evil rise ball and change up rear their ugly heads.
6. Team energy. A collective team hitting slump can be caused and remedied by something as simple as team energy. Hitting is certainly contagious and so is not hitting. I have found that staying loud in the dugout and staying mentally engaged in the game can help a team hit well. Good team energy can fuel comebacks, while poor team energy looks like waiving the white flag!
So take these 6 mental dynamics into account (as well as any mechanical problems) to help identify and solve your athlete and her team's hitting slumps. The great news is that these 6 dynamics are all a matter of choice. With proper mental preparation your athlete's slumps should be few and far between!

**Give your athlete and his/her team the gift of self-confidence and peak performance with The Sports Confidence Blueprint program! On sale for only $39.97...full of a ton of mental performance resources!


6 Ways Parents Can Insure Softball Success

As a softball parent I know the challenges I face in wanting every on the field success for my daughter. As adults we always see the big picture and do all we can to help our kids avoid mistakes on and off the field.

We coach them from behind the backstop because we figure one little verbal tip from us will surely make the difference between success and failure in the at bat.

If our daughter is a pitcher we bark mechanics reminders to her between pitches (maybe every pitch) hoping she'll be the strike and location machine she is in practice.

A friend of mine said to me this week that it's truly amazing how involved parents are today with their kids' sports, given that our parents hardly ever showed up to watch us play (to my are the exception!!). Heck, I rode my bike to little league practice and games. As a freshman high school I rode my bike to 6am basketball practice every day!

Today, as parents, we tend to micro manage our kids' schedules from sunrise to sunset...including their sports.

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Then you add in the cost of youth sports today and I kind of feel like, as parents, we are managing our "investment" from the stands (or pacing behind the backstop or dugout...come know who you are!).

Now I know that all parent involvement isn't negative. Sometimes parents yell supportive things to their daughters during the games. Sure the old "Hit that ball pumpkin" comment is always a "hoot." But this post isn't about the "I'm just happy to watch my kid or lose" parents.

Because of the investment of time and money you and your athlete put into her sport she is acutely aware (even though she may never show it or mention it) of the expectations on her to excel on the diamond.

It may be a quick comment you make, your body language after a mistake on the field or poor at bat, or an all out "Do you know how much we spend every month on your softball? Between private lessons, travel dues, your new $300 bat; gas costs over $4.00 per gallon...did you know that? And your mom and I sacrifice every weekend to travel to God knows where...and for what...three strike outs and two errors? I just don't get it!"

Hopefully this is not you as a parent, but even the best meaning parents can blow a gasket if their daughter's game day performance is below their "expectations."

Here are 6 ways you, as a parent, can help insure your athlete's softball success:
  1. Reasonable expectations - Be mindful of your athlete's age, experience and competition level. No one who ever played the game was, is or will ever be PERFECT (were you perfect when you played sports??), so be extremely careful to set reasonable expectations for her performance.
  2. Help her to set goals and a reason for playing the game - With goals and a clearly defined purpose for playing your athlete will be able to summon the effort, determination and focus necessary for her to be her best in a sport that inflicts a heavy dose of failure on all who cross the white lines. When she can connect her effort (long days, pain, time away from friends) to her desired outcome (scholarship) she will be able to persevere through the tough days.
  3. Give her unconditional support - This includes supporting her team, her teammates and her coaches. It also includes you and her both focusing on her effort and the process of getting better instead of simply her results. She will look to you for approval and she toils long and hard on the diamond. Please give it to her without strings attached!
  4. Allow the coaches to coach -For your athlete to play her best she needs to know you support her team and coaches. Talking harshly about her coaches during the game to other parents, within earshot of the team or in the car on the way home only serve to undermine your athlete and her team's success. If you feel she is on the wrong team make a change, but until then let the coaches coach.
  5. Be aware of your athlete's confidence levels - As I write about often your athlete's self-confidence levels are the single biggest predictor of her game day success. All of the suggestions in this post are designed to help improve her confidence. However, for a young female athlete little things (both on and off the field) can have huge impacts on her confidence. Monitor your athlete's confidence levels by observing her body language, the tone of her voice, her eating and sleeping routine and, of course her sports and school performances. Help keep her confidence up and watch her soar!
  6. Keep the game fun - As always the you, as a parent, can keep the game in perspective for your athlete the more fun she will have. And the more fun she has the better she will play. If the sport feel more like a job than a joy to her she will feel stress and anxiety to perform, limiting her success.
Parenting is always a delicate balance. However, as your athlete advances in the game of softball and the game of life continue to be a positive influence and allow her success to unfold like a brilliant day at a time!

You might also enjoy these two related posts: 
Do We Ask Too Much From Our Kids.
Parents Beware the "60 Minute Rule"


Success By Design: 5 Surefire Predictors of Her Success!

Even though I've been in the game of fastpitch for awhile I am not clairvoyant and don't claim to have a crystal ball. However, when it comes to predicting the absolute level of game day success a softball player will have I'm pretty confident I could do so blindfolded!

Yes...if I have just a handful of facts and a brief conversation with your athlete, without ever watching her play, I could tell you how good a player she is and will become with pinpoint accuracy.

How can I do that? Let me explain my magic.

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As in life softball success is predictable based on a number of key factors, the most important of which is the Law of Cause and Effect; that every action empirically causes a specific and measurable reaction. Author Tony Robbins describes the process like this:

". . . the most powerful way to shape our lives is to get ourselves to take action.  The difference in the results that people produce comes down to what they’ve done differently from others in the same situations.  Different actions produce different results.  Why?  Because any action is a set cause in motion, and its effect builds on past effects to move us in a definite direction.  Every direction leads to an ultimate destination: our destiny."

Yes, I too had to read that passage a couple of times to really understand what Robbins was trying to say. After I figured it out it seems perfectly applicable to any athlete's sports "destiny."

One's destiny, in essence, is always shaped by choice; a choice of effort, a choice of attitude, a choice of preparation; a choice of purpose. And, thus, these different choices become the primal cause that shapes the ultimate levels of success and performance one athlete achieves versus another athlete.

Show me an elite athlete all the college coaches are drooling over and more often than not that athlete became elite as a result of the decisions, the actions, and the choices she has made for years.

As I often say, success simply is not an accident. An athlete succeeds by design. And a well designed and well executed plan will, as Robbins says, set in motion causes which will produce predictable effects, or results.

Here is an even more startling fact about athletic performance; right decisions, actions and choices made over time will absolutely accelerate any athlete's success because these actions become cumulative in nature. They truly build upon one another and, in fact, become habits that are the true predictors of consistent game day success.

And, perhaps, the biggest "cause and effect" benefit to your athlete approaching her success by design is that her self-confidence will skyrocket over time as she sees her decisions, actions and choices pay off on the field.

Here are five surefire "predictors" of your athlete's level of softball success:

  1. Does she have clearly defined goals? In other words, why does she play the game? If she can develop and be motivated by the "why" she plays, keeping the end goal(s) in mind, she will have the right foundation and focus to accelerate her success.
  2. How bad does she want success? This is the most powerful "cause" there is in predicting any athlete's success. It defines the intensity of purpose and effort an athlete is willing to expend to achieve her goals. In other words, what is she willing to do to succeed? Is she driven to be good or be great?
  3. How well does she prepare? Greatness is built by the sum total of small efforts repeated daily. Is your athlete willing to work on her strength, her quickness, her hitting, pitching or fielding...her mental game for just 30 minutes each day to become the best player she can be? This is the "cumulative cause and effect" I talked about earlier. Is she doing ALL she can to get better, to master a difficult game....does she take massive action?
  4. Does she enjoy the game? Ultimately for your athlete to reach her fullest softball potential she must enjoy the game enough to put in the consistent time and effort to achieve greatness. Remember what Tony Robbins said: "The difference in the results that people produce comes down to what they’ve done differently from others in the same situations."  For your athlete to stand out from the crowd she needs to have passion and joy for the game...a  pep in her step that others notice.
  5. Does she expect success? Here is the mental ignition that can absolutely propel or limit your athlete's game day success level. Having the expectancy for success allows an athlete to bounce back from mistakes or bad games because she knows that she has done all the right things with her decisions, actions and choices and, thus, deserves success. 
In the final analysis you don't need to be a fortune teller to predict your athlete's game day success level. It is the sum total of her actions that will define her greatness or lack thereof. It's simply the Law of Cause and Effect in action.

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The Confidence Battle in Softball

As I have written many times before the game of fastpitch softball is a tough one to master. It is full of cliffs, ledges and pits to fall off or fall in every game.

I have come to the conclusion after 11 years and over 1,000 games of coaching that the absence of a high and consistent level of self-confidence is the single biggest cause of poor game performance for every athlete.

For most younger players maintaining confidence on the field is an ongoing battle. At times the confidence is low as a hitter but high as a fielder (or pitcher). Other times the hitting confidence is soaring while fielding (or pitching) confidence goes in the tank.

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The bottom line is that self-confidence can be fleeting at best for most younger athletes. It's the roller coaster ride that drives players, parents and coaches nuts!

But like everything else in sports and in life there is a clearly definable cause that dictates confidence levels in a younger athlete. And more often than not player, parent and coach rarely focus on what that cause is and how to change it. You see if you change the cause you can change the effect...meaning low or inconsistent levels of self-confidence on the field can be changed more easily than you may think!

girls softball game
 To change a player's confidence level requires pinpointing exactly what factors are causing the problem. Invariably it gets down to an athlete's thinking; particularly at the "point of attack" as a hitter, fielder, pitcher or base runner.

Change the thinking and you change the results.

Here are but a few "causal factors" of low self-confidence I have discovered in the athletes I work with:
 1. Past experiences. Looking at past failures as a predictor of future performance. This is very dangerous for a young athlete to engage in this type of thinking because it will limit performance potential and create a self-fulfilling prophesy for future failure and further self-confidence erosion.     

2. Expectations for perfection. In a game where no one is perfect a young athlete can easily get down on herself after a poor at bat or error in the field. Negative self talk can ensue after a mistake puncturing self-confidence quickly and swiftly.
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3. Being results only focused. Every young athlete needs time to learn the game. Mastery does not happen overnight in such a difficult game. Focusing their thinking only on game results (hits, errors, walks) can lead a younger athlete down the wrong path. Once she can become "effort" or "process" focused she can start seeing her mistakes as part of the process of getting better and as a challenge to take back into practice. Self-confidence can flourish with this kind of thinking.

4. Excessive external expectations. Parents and coaches can often make or break a younger athlete's self-confidence. All kids seek to please their parents and mentors and, thus, seek approval for their performance. Criticism is the quickest way to damage self-confidence. Far too often parents and coaches expect too much from someone so young and inexperienced. Once an athlete is allowed to blossom in the sport over time, often needing to take a step back before taking two steps forward, her confidence and game performance will soar. Unconditional support, not perpetual criticism is the answer to increased self-confidence. 

5. Poor focus or concentration levels during the game. In softball laser focus is essential to success. When a younger athlete gets distracted from the task at hand game performance must suffer. If a player is worried about failing, nervous about letting parents, coaches or teammates down her performance will drop. Over-thinking at critical moments can cause doubt and hesitation, leading to failure. A confident athlete trusts in her ability and decision making and reacts while an un-confident athlete lacks trust in her ability to succeed and waits before reacting...usually losing the play on defense or failing at the plate.
Self-confidence will always be a battle for a younger athlete, but a battle she can win once the cause of low confidence can be identified and eliminated.

Remember, a younger athlete needs time to develop critical game skills. As a parent or coach your unconditional support and patience during the process of mastery will allow your athlete to build self-confidence in all areas of their game and reach their true softball potential on game day!
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Top 5 "Must Have" Ingredients for Her Success

With the 2012 fall season underway I'd like to share with you five "must have" ingredients your athlete MUST have to reach her fullest softball potential on game day.

As a mental performance expert and game coach of nearly 1,000 fast pitch games these are the absolute essentials I have found any athlete must possess and demonstrate for both skill development as well as to stand out in front of scouts (be they college or whatever level your athlete aspires to).

Here's the thing...these five "must have" ingredients are all interwoven together. They are interdependent on each other to truly propel an athlete to greatness.

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Here are the 5 "must have" ingredients for her success:

1. Preparation - There simply are no shortcuts to success. Exceptional preparation...following a clearly defined plan for both physical and mental preparation...will lead to the rest of these five "must have" ingredients being fulfilled. Without adequate preparation game day performances will be inconsistent at best...a roller coaster ride of mediocrity.

2. A Relaxed Mind - It's cause and effect...the more relaxed an athlete plays the more confident they play. And the more prepared, both physically and mentally a player is the more relaxed they will be come game time. A relaxed mind comes from both physical and mental preparedness and the cultivation of an expectancy for success each time an athlete walks on the field.

3. Self-Confidence - Truly the foundational ingredient for any successful athlete in any sport. A high level of self confidence leads to a high degree of mental toughness and an ability to bounce back from mistakes. Self-confidence emerges as game mastery progresses. Self-confidence also stabilizes when an athlete becomes effort or process focused rather than simply results focused.

4. Focus - A highly confident athlete will be far more able to exert the necessary mental focus and concentration to succeed in a very difficult game like fastpitch. Lack of focus, in my experience, is the single biggest cause of game day mistakes and failure. Without a relaxed mind or confidence focus can be nearly impossible as the mind wanders to both past focus or future focus rather than focusing on the task at hand.

5. Purpose - Without a clearly defined purpose your athlete will not be able to summon the motivation and desire necessary to cultivate the other four "must have" ingredients. Purpose looks like why she plays the game; what her goals are (short term and long term), and how she plans to achieve her goals. Having appreciable "fire in the belly" is necessary to become your best in a game where failure is more prevalent than success.

These five "must have" ingredients for your athlete's game day success are all a matter of choice and effort. Like I always say to the athletes that I coach..."You can be as good as you want to be." If your athlete can truly cultivate these five ingredients her softball future will look bright indeed!

Be sure to read more of the over 100 articles on this blog for more mental performance tips and strategies.

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Reflections from ASA Nationals

Having just returned from the ASA 14u National Championship tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota I thought I would take this opportunity to share some random thoughts and reflections from my week at Nationals.

1. I came away from the week extremely impressed with so many players and teams from places I did not expect to be impressed by!

2. The people of Sioux Falls are some of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met.

3. The organizers of the tournament did an incredible job running the tournament!

4. I saw a lot of burned out corn fields on my drive from Omaha to Sioux Falls and back. It was a tragic and surreal scene.

5. As a softball coach or softball fan you couldn't be happier than to see so many girls and teams so enthusiastic about playing the sport they loved, and having the opportunity to play on the biggest stage in their young careers!

Melissa Sue Gerrits / Argus Leader
6. Umpiring can be bad outside of southern California too!

7. The bigger the stage the greater the pressure. For a lot of these girls, my team included, it was the first time they had college scouts watching them play.

8. One night all nine games got suspended due to weather and several teams, with the help of a boom box on the back of a pickup, found themselves dancing in the rain in the parking lot at 10pm. These are the memories I think are the coolest!

9. Lots of bad parent behavior, unfortunately. I guess when you pay more for the trip you have the right to yell at players and coaches more.

10. It was great having the opportunity to meet several college coaches and have conformation from ALL of them of the vital importance mental skills mastery plays into being recruited and achieving college success.

11. Traveling today is a royal pain. My trip to South Dakota took 17 hours, and my trip home took 20 hours. No, I did not drive...I flew American (last time). I now know every nook and cranny of both the Dallas/Ft.Worth and Omaha airports! I did meet some interesting people though.

12. Nothing was cooler for me all week than watching the full moon set over the cornfields of Iowa at 3am on my drive up to Sioux Falls; the incredible array of stars in the South Dakota sky; or the solemn moments before an 8am game (of course I was at the field at 6) watching the sun rise while the grounds crew watered the diamond.

Enjoy your brief softball respite before we all crank things back up in a few weeks!

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The Comeback Win

My team just finished winning our second straight tournament last weekend, this time in dramatic fashion...erasing 4-1, 6-4 and 7-6 deficits to win 8-7 in our second tie breaker inning.

What was more interesting to me was how my team responded in this game, having not yielded a single run in our seven previous games.

The drama of a comeback win is hard to beat in sports and there was certainly an air of high excitement in our comeback victory to be sure!

However, it was the "how" that propelled the win that I'd like to focus on in this post.

I have recently come to believe, as a game coach and sports performance expert, that a team's energy plays a huge part in their Game Day performance level. In fact I would say that a team's energy level is, perhaps, the single biggest predictor of their success on Game Day. Let me explain:

Team sports are unique (unlike tennis or golf) in that the dynamic is a group one involving many people. This "group dynamic" can either propel or hinder performance. It is the collective energy within a dugout or on the field that often ends up being the deciding factor between victory and defeat...particularly in a close game.

Negative or "can't do" energy can infect a team and doom it to failure. This is the team that never has a comeback win.

Positive or "can do" energy will uplift a team to perform at higher levels than it probably should. This team is never out of a game.

But it goes deeper than this.

A team's energy is the result of a team "mindset" of how they approach the game. Because we know that fastpitch softball is a game built on adversity, how a team responds to the inevitable mistakes that it makes will define their collective energy and the way they play.

Early mistakes, coupled with a critical coach, can spiral a team's energy and performance downward; particularly if they focus on game results only and are not armed with enough individual and team mental toughness. In other words...a solid game plan to deal with adversity.

On the other hand a team with a healthy view of the game, with their focus placed on the process and effort and not solely the results, has a much better chance of bouncing back from mistakes and adversity during a game. This leads to more focused and inspired play, which leads to increased energy levels in the dugout and on the field. For this team comebacks are the rule rather than the exception.

This comeback thinking works in every sport at every level. Comebacks are never spontaneous, but rather the result of some mysterious cause...a shift in momentum. I firmly believe it is an attitude...which is always a player's choice.

As a coach I feel it is my responsibility to set the tone, or lay the mental foundation for my 14u team to follow. Ultimately it is their energy, their choice that activates the comeback. I try to take the pressure off of them by getting them to focus on their effort, their attitude, their energy from the first pitch.

Give them the belief that anything is possible if they keep up their effort and energy! This leads to a vocal, energetic group that believes in themselves. Remember...never give up!

So in the end the "comeback win" may be more predictable and less random than previously thought. Of course the best way to avoid the pressure of the comeback win is to stay in front!

Good luck to all in whatever regional or national tournament your athlete plays in over the next month.

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We're Going to Nationals!

Just a quick shout out to my TNL Blue '98 team for a 5th Place finish in the SoCal ASA State Tournament this past weekend and a berth to ASA Nationals! Quite an accomplishment for a first year 14 team. We'll be heading off to scenic (?) Sioux Falls, South Dakota to compete in the ASA 14u National Championship tournament July 28.

Great job ladies! I couldn't be prouder of you. 


The Real Secret Behind Alabama's Softball Title

Winning a National Championship is never an easy feat and it certainly wasn't so for the Alabama Crimson Tide softball team this week in Oklahoma City. After going down in game one fairly convincingly against the hottest pitcher and team in the tournament, Oklahoma, Monday night Alabama was just seven innings away from another disappointment at the NCAA Women's College World Series.

But something magically happened overnight to the Bama team and they came out in game two a different team.

As I say often...success is a choice and so, apparently, is winning a National Championship.

In addition to some tremendous on the field adjustments Head Coach Patrick Murphy and his staff employed the Bama girls brought an incredible energy, enthusiasm, focus and a skyrocketed expectation for victory.

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As Alabama had been close several times before in the OKC the team's motto for the season was "Finish It!" And finish it they did in jumping out to an 8-1 lead in game two against a virtually un-hittable Keilani Ricketts (the NCAA Player of the Year).

Almost as exciting was Oklahoma's last inning five run comeback to make it close. Alabama won it all with another comeback in game three winning, arguably, the most exciting softball championship series ever.

So what is to be learned from both Alabama and Oklahoma?

1. Both teams never gave up and never gave in. They got to the championship series because of their talent and their character. Champions simply never stop competing.

2. Alabama made critical adjustments in the batter's box that served to take away one of Keilani Rickett's main strengths...the outside corner on her devastating curve. All great players and teams must make constant adjustments to maintain their edge and give them the best shot at victory.

3. Alabama got incredibly noisy on the bench. Their energy became contagious and absolutely spilled out onto the field and got into the Oklahoma players' heads. This energy literally shifted the momentum back over to Alabama's side and was the outside emotion of the inside thoughts (cause and effect).

4. I guarantee you that inside each of the Bama players' heads were nothing but positive, "can do" thoughts. Their internal conversation was all about "finishing it" and the expectancy for success. Their ultimate success was not an accident. It was the result of design...including incredible mental toughness and rock solid self-confidence.

5. There was an absolute absence of doubt on the Alabama team, starting with their coaching staff. I would suggest that immediately after game one Coach Murphy was already minimizing the loss and framing it as but a challenge to be overcome. Alabama played hard and lost. Game over...let's make some adjustments and come out tomorrow and win (one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time). This is a huge reason why the Crimson Tide came back, and one your athlete needs to learn. Any adversity she faces can deflate her or pump her up to rise to the challenge like Alabama did.

In the end Alabama refused to lose. They willed themselves to victory against a tremendous opponent. They chose victory...this is the Alabama Advantage.

In the bigger picture each of the players on Bama won something much greater than a National Championship...they learned a life lesson they will never forget: If you work hard enough, keep believing long enough and never give up dreams can and will come true!

Congratulations to both teams for putting on a phenomenal show of effort, competition, sportsmanship, drive and passion. They demonstrated for three days what makes the game of fastpitch softball so great!

Your athlete and her team can use the Alabama Advantage whenever they choose to. Remember, success is a choice!

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The Game Day Report Card

Sport mimics life certainly. For younger athletes sport also mimics school in so many ways. One way is in the comparison of report cards. In academics the student who comes to class most prepared for an exam will likely receive a high score for their test performance.

Likewise in softball the athlete that shows up on Game Day most prepared has a much greater likelihood of achieving a high level of performance success on the field.

Both the exam in school and competition on the diamond will equate to a report card, a progress report of sorts, to assess where student or athlete is in terms of subject/sport mastery.

So now that I have made that correlation let's dig a little deeper into the softball Game Day report card, and what determines an "A," to "F" grade.

Like any subject in school an athlete must spend the required time to learn how to perform their best on Game Day. This effort must include both physical and mental preparation. An athlete preparing only on their physical game (and not their mental game) would be akin to a student studying only the text book and never going to class to hear the teacher's lecture and taking appropriate class notes. Ultimately the student would not be prepared enough to excel in the class and would likely receive less than an "A" grade.

Game Day Success = Proper Physical Preparation + Proper Mental Preparation

Here is what your athlete's Game Day report card might look like if she fell into the green zone ("A" grade), yellow zone ("C" grade), or red zone ("F" grade):

With extraordinary physical and mental preparation your athlete has the right to, and will likely achieve, consistent and sustained Game Day success found in the "green zone" and even "A" grade!

With a lower level of preparation and commitment to being her best your athlete will fall into the "yellow zone" or "red zone" with the appropriate Game Day results and grades.

In short the game of fastpitch softball is just too hard to take the ultimate physical and mental preparation necessary for granted. There is no question that there are days and moments when the game will "get" your athlete. The only question is how frequently, and how well she will bounce back from that Game Day adversity.

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Bouncing back from the inevitable mistakes and adversity is far easier if your athlete can frame her Game Day performance in terms of a report card; meaning, like school, a report card (or progress report) tells student and parent the weaknesses and areas that need improvement to improve the student's grade.

Likewise the "game" will always give your athlete a daily report card on the areas she is both strongest and weakest in, and areas she needs to work on to improve her Game Day grade. Game Day failure or adversity always offers within it a tremendous opportunity to go back to practice, motivated by the challenge of turning a weakness into a strength!

The achievement of consistent and sustained Game Day success is difficult but possible for every athlete if she is willing to put forth the effort to prepare both her mind and body for the rigors of the game.

So after your athlete's next game encourage her to give herself a report card on her performance, to be honest about what the game told her she needs to work on, and to take her next step on the ladder of softball mastery. Hopefully she will look at the process as a challenge and opportunity as she continues to show up on Game Day in the "green zone" eager to get another Game Day "A."

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Why Does Your Athlete Play the Game?

Why does your athlete play the game?

Seems like a simple question, doesn't it? And yet my guess is that few teenaged athletes ever ask themselves that question today, yet they sweat and toil 10-12 months each year to master their sport with hopes of glory.

It all starts with an honest assessment of your athlete's motivation and desire  for playing their game. For without the proper motivation your athlete will not possess the burning desire necessary to do what it takes to elevate their game so he or she can dominate on game day and stand out from the crowd.

Your athlete's sport is likely a difficult game that will only get more competitive the older he or she gets.

As a coach it baffles me when kids have been taught to do something a certain way in practice again and again, yet come game day they completely forget how to do it. How can that be?

I have come to the realization that it all comes down to an athlete's motivation and desire. How bad do they want the success they work so hard for?

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Today's adolescent athlete is different than I and my peers were a few decades ago. Our motivation for playing was all ours, it was pure, and we worked our butts off to be the very best because we had a burning desire to succeed, to play in college or the pros. We didn't know any other way.

Girls Softball All Star GameToday's athlete needs to find out why he or she plays the game, hopefully for more than just pleasing mom or dad, and it all starts with determining, specifically, what motivates them.

So let's start with understanding a little about motivation. There are two types of motivation:

Intrinsic Motivation - a personal interest or enjoyment in performing an activity or task (internal).

Extrinsic Motivation - the performance of an activity for the sake of attaining a specific result or incentive (external).  

If your athlete loves the game and would play it 24/7 if they could he or she has sufficient "intrinsic" motivation to be great.

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If your athlete doesn't really love the game he or she needs to attach their daily sports effort to specific "extrinsic" motivations, whether it's an iPhone, professional contract or just the drive to be the best.

I used the example in my team training of "what if your parent offered you a new iPhone if you got an "A" in Geometry? Would that motivate you to get an "A" in the class?"

Most all of the 35 teenaged softball players I was speaking to agreed that a new iPhone was sufficient motivation to work hard to get the "A."

The great connector between motivation and achievement are goals. Goals quantify the desired outcome or incentive and create a specific calculable process for their attainment.

Without clearly defined intrinsic or extrinsic motivations and a clearly defined path to get there (goals) your athlete will not possess the desire and overall blueprint to get where he or she wants to go with their sport.  

On those long, hot, exhausting days when your athlete wonders if it's all worth it remind them of their goals, the incentives and rewards they decided they wanted out of playing the game. 

Their constant connection as to why they play the game will serve to get them through the toughest of times and propel them forward to truly being the very best they can be. 

My suggestion is to take the time to sit down and have a discussion about motivation, desire and goals with your athlete and get them laser focused on why they play the game.

It might just make all the difference in the world!

Thanks for reading!

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Why Your Athlete Really Fails on Game Day

In sports there is a super fine line between success and failure on game day. In a long tournament weekend sometimes that line becomes blurred and as parents or coaches we struggle with why our athlete and team don't play consistently and seem to reach such highs one week then such lows the next.

From a recent experience with my own team I believe I have discovered why so many elite, or travel level athletes and teams fail to achieve their true potential on game day.

If you study, as I do, athletic competition at every level you will find that an athlete's or team's "mentality" before, during and after the game is the X Factor that determines winners and losers.  From professional to elite Olympic, amateur and college athletes alike how you think is truly how you will play. With most teams and athletes at the highest levels of competition being fairly equal in ability it becomes the mental preparation and mental response to game day adversity that becomes the deciding factor.

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However, I have discovered for younger athletes the dynamics on the mental side of game day success are far more complex and far more troubling.

Keep in mind that my assessment is a generalization; that your athlete or team may not suffer from these dynamics. I do, however, highly encourage you to look honestly at your athlete and team to see if you can chalk up game day failure to what I'm about to say:

1. We place our kids in a highly competitive sports environment where the bar for achievement and game day performance is high. They may really want to do this or just follow along because friends do it or parent say to do it, or that's just what everybody does.

Poor baby...only went 3 for 4?
2. We invest $100s or $1,000s into our athlete's game in an effort to keep up with the other kids and, presumably, give our athlete the best possible chance to succeed and play at the next level.

3. We tell them where to play, when to play, and how to play.

4. We drive them to kingdom come and game for practice, games, private lessons.

5. We drag the entire family to far flung places for games, packing coolers with goodies for our athletes between games and the reward of  "drive thru" on the way home.

6. During games we cheer loudly and after games either soothe our athlete's tender egos and feelings or quickly critique and criticize their efforts because we have a right to expect a perfect performance for the money and time we're investing.

7. Because of skyrocketed expectations from parents, coaches, peers and self the athletes are easily impacted emotionally when game day adversity hits...with heads down, tears and diminished attitude and effort.

In short the younger athlete has become a "robot," incapable of making decisions; incapable of producing the fire in the belly necessary to see adversity as opportunity; quick to pout and emote after adversity. 

Instead parents coddle these athletes, leading to mental softness instead of mental toughness. Some bizarre form of ADD takes root in these athletes as they appear to listen intently at practice, yet are incapable of applying what they have been taught on game day...making the same mental mistakes over and over again.

To the modern youth athlete as long as things are going well on game day they smile and play close to their potential. But at the slightest mistake or criticism from coach or parent they crumble emotionally, are quick to make excuses, or just finish out the game in a mental tailspin.

In my opinion many of these kids are cursed with an entitlement mentality, unaware or unwilling to do what it takes physically and mentally to be the best; to see competition as a challenge.

As a parent or coach my suggestion is to sit your athlete(s) down and clarify their motivation and desire for playing the game. Why do they play the game? What do you and them hope to get out of their playing the game at such a competitive level? Do they enjoy playing? Do they enjoy the competition, the challenge? Do they love the game?

To me, the bottom line is how bad your athlete and their team wants success. As I often say success is not an accident; it is an orchestrated effort of clearly defined physical and mental preparation. But more than that it is a burning desire to succeed, to play your best, to meet the challenge that playing sports at an ultra competitive level offers.

As former UCLA softball Head Coach, and winner of 11 National Championships, Sue Enquist told me, "The team that stops competing first will lose." It's just that simple. Unfortunately today many kids and their teams never start competing on game day! They go through the motions...robotic.

Playing youth sports at the highest levels has never been more competitive. It requires no less than everything a young athlete has to give both physically and mentally. I didn't make the rules...that's just how it is today.

Remember, mental toughness, effort and attitude are always a choice. As such game day success is also choice; but so is game day failure.

If your athlete is a robot maybe it's time to pull the plug and see if there truly is any fire in their belly to play the game at this level. If not, maybe chess is the answer?

Let me know what you think?

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