How Emotions Can Destroy Her Game Day Performance

Let's face the facts...all the hitting and pitching lessons you can afford, and all the ground balls and batting cages swings in the world won't matter a lick if your athlete folds under the pressures of the game.

I have seem countless players look fantastic in practice only to come unraveled during pivotal moments on game day. Why is that? There are certainly a number of contributing factors, all found between the ears. However, in today's post, I want to focus on how your athlete's emotional state can and will destroy her game day performance.

girls softball player losing her poise
If you are a parent or a coach we all grapple with the weekly emotions of our teenage daughters/players, don't we? Teenage girls in general can be a handful, but add the stress, pressure and expectations of a softball diamond into the mix and these young ladies can quickly become their own worst enemies in a heartbeat!

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The diagram below illustrates the impact your athlete's emotional state has on her performance. Your athlete has the choice of how she reacts to a "game event" by her "thoughts." Her thoughts (positive or negative) will trigger an emotional reaction. This emotional reaction will have a direct impact on the quality of her overall game day performance.

If the "chain reaction" of event / thoughts / emotions (feelings) is a positive and healthy one a domino effect of high performance will ensue. However if that "emotional" chain reaction is negative and limiting the domino effect can create a continual stream of poor performance during subsequent game events (or plays).

Here is an example of a negative emotional "chain reaction" that can destroy game day performance:
  • An athlete makes a crucial error in the field and immediately engages in negative thought patterns that question her ability to succeed. She starts internal dialogue like, "I can't believe I missed that ball. I suck at shortstop."
  • As these negative thoughts continue and compound the emotional reaction ensues. The athlete feels frustrated, angry or sad based solely on her reaction to her game event and the negative thoughts that bombard her head as a result.
  • Now her emotional state is heightened in a negative and destructive way, including the inability to focus on the present moment and the task at hand.
  • The athlete, as many do, takes her mistake in the field and carries it over to her next at bat. Unfocused with diffused energy and "can't do" thinking she strikes out and walks away with an even more elevated emotional instability as her frustration may now turn to anger. Her failure at the plate only serves to reinforce her own conclusions in her head that she "can't do it."
  • For the remainder of that game (and perhaps several games that day or weekend) the athlete's emotional state prevents her from playing at an optimal level nor from enjoying the game. Her game day performance is dismal...far below her true softball potential.

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Let's look at an example of a positive emotional "chain reaction" that can propel game day performance:
  • An athlete strikes out with the bases loaded at a pivotal time in the game. Rather than engaging immediately in negative thought patterns she recognizes the pitcher made a great pitch and she can't wait for the challenge of hitting against her next time.
  • These positive and healthy thought patterns lead to a healthy emotional reaction whereby the athlete is still disappointed in her strikeout but the overwhelming feelings are ones of excitement and determination to do better next time.
  • Because of her positive and constructive emotional state she is able to remain focused in present moment awareness and is ready to attack the next task at hand.
  • Any future game events will likely be approached with a "can do" attitude, minimizing the chances for adversity.
  • For the remainder of that game and likely many more to follow this athlete will perform more near her true softball potential, while greatly enjoying the process of playing the game.
The solution to insuring optimal game day performance for your athlete lies in her ability to properly frame the results of a game event. If she expects perfection or is burdened by excessive external expectations (from parents or coaches), or simply lacks self-confidence a less than optimal game event can cause her emotional state and game performance to spiral downward rapidly. If she can frame the same game event positively and productively (as in "mistakes are part of the game and opportunities to learn" and "I see that opportunity as a challenge") then the potential negative impact from the game event will be minimized and game day performance can be optimized.

Simply stated your athlete's emotional states can expand or limit her game day potential for success. Here are three steps she can take to turn that frown upside down after a mistake:

1. Recognize how she is responding to the game event (what are her emotional habits?).

2. Acknowledge that she has a choice as to how she reacts to the event (taking responsibility for her emotions).

3. Frame the event more positively, focusing on the effort and process rather than simply the results (keeping it all in perspective).

Remember, how your athlete responds to adversity is always her choice. Help her to develop the mental tools she needs to dominate on game day!

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She Needs to Focus on What She Wants! Find Out How

It's amazing how many people in the world are dissatisfied with the quality of their lives. And yet if they took the time to analyze the quality of their thoughts they would likely find that they are focusing on all the things they don't want instead of all the things they do want!

As humans we have in excess of 50,000 unique thoughts each and every day, as do our kids. And like their parents young athletes can tend to focus their thoughts on what they don't want...especially when it comes to their sports.

When your athlete is in a hitting or fielding slump her thoughts tend to drift to the dark side as she likely focuses on "not striking out," or "not making an error," or "not walking any batters." In reality all the subconscious mind hears is "strike out," or "make an error," or "walk batters." You may think I am crazy but this has been scientifically proven. When your athlete uses the words "don't" or "not" she is perpetuating her poor performance.

To break free from this negative thought cycle and the boomerang effect that can occur your athlete needs to develop the habit of doing the following 5 actions:

 1. Recognize how she currently thinks. Be mindful of the negative focus and the language she uses, and how those thoughts can dominate her head before and during the game; particularly in the key, high stress moments.

2. Begin to develop clarity on the exact results and goals she wishes to see. Without knowing exactly what she wants it will never materialize for her.

3. Start using visualization or mental imagery before going to bed or first thing in the morning of game day to literally start "seeing" the results she wants in her head.

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4. Develop positive self talk and positive "trigger statements" that she can use in the batter's box, in the field or in the circle to maintain positive "can do" focus.

5. Remain super aware of where her focus and thoughts are throughout the game. While on deck or going out to play defense or walking out to the circle flip on the switch to thinking and seeing the exact results she wants. This will create laser focus and tremendous positive energy, and produce a much higher level of game day performance and joy in playing.

The bottom line, as long as your athlete continues to focus her thoughts on the results she doesn't want she will keep getting those exact results. To use an old zen saying, "What you resist persists."

Once she can employ the habit of focusing her thoughts, focus and energy on all the things and results she does want, while building the daily habits in this article, those exact results will start showing up for her with much greater frequency!