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!

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 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!
**Check out my new Sports Confidence Blueprint Program to drive your athlete's sports confidence and softball performance through the roof!

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  1. Excellent article, John. Lack of confidence hindered my son in high school baseball, and I see it with some of my daughter's friends in softball. While the article is targeted toward girls, boys/men need confidence as well. I call it mental clutter. They need to get everything negative out of their heads.
    PLEASE, coaches, do not make things worse by telling players -- boys or girls -- things like, "If you don't get a hit here, you won't play any more." (Yes, a direct quote from my son's coach.)
    This is not just about playing sports, but rather it's a great life lesson about the true power of positive thinking.

    1. Agreed Guerry. Coaches and parents can do more to destroy a kid's confidence than they know.

  2. So many girls psyche themselves out before they even get on the field. They think "I can't hit off that pitcher" or "We can't beat this team" and they walk on the field defeated. Every game starts 0-0!


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