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!

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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"