The Critical Importance of "Feeling Good" on the Field

A concept that I will be covering a lot in 2014, and is an integral part of my next book (to published in the fall), is that when an athlete feels good they play better.

That may be a common sense statement but there is so much emotionally brewing below the surface that has to be in place for the "feeling good" part to happen.

Additionally the more often an athlete can be in their "emotional sweet spot" the more consistent their on the field performance will be and the more she will enjoy playing the game.

In the simplest of terms, how your athlete feels in any given moment, game or day is an absolute predictor of how she will perform.

To that end, as the messenger I'm here to tell you that all the hitting lessons and practice in the cage, all the fielding reps and all the pitching lessons will NOT guarantee your athlete will ever play to her potential...particularly when it matters most (big game, in front of college coaches) unless she FEELS GOOD.

University of Arizona Head Softball Coach Mike Candrea often says that in order for a girl/woman to play good she has to feel good (conversely boys, Candrea says, need to play good to feel good).
I will agree with Coach Candrea in that the male ego often drives male athletes to judge their performance more harshly than female athletes do theirs. However the female athlete, in my experience, brings much more emotion to the game and, as such, can more easily sabotage her game day performance if those emotions are not channeled productively.
So, more specifically, how and why does feeling good so impact game performance?
  1. Feelings are the result of thought patterns; some more intense than others.
  2. For a female athlete her emotions often reflect how she feels about herself in relation to the experience or action triggering the emotional state she is in.
  3. When an athlete is in emotional balance she is able to keep her mistakes and performances that fall short of expectations in healthy perspective.
  4. This emotional balance (feeling good) allows for heightened focus, positive energy, elevated confidence and an overall feeling of certainty and well being.
  5. A lack of emotional balance can lead to an unhealthy judgment of performance; a mental fixation on mistakes or performances that fall short (and can erode self-esteem).
  6. A lack of emotional balance creates thoughts then feelings of doubt and uncertainty; anxiety...leading to diminished focus, confidence, energy and well being.
  7. In the heat of the game younger athletes can fall prey to drastic shifts in their emotional state unless they possess the understanding and tools to shift and pivot back into a feeling good mode.
  8. Inconsistent play is the result (effect) of the emotional roller coaster (cause) ride younger athletes experience from moment to moment.
  9. Most younger athletes are victims to their emotional states because they do not possess the skills to understand the true power they actually do have over their thoughts and emotions.
  10. Many athletes easily blame their poor play on their emotions. They may be right but unless they change their mental approach to their game the results will remain the same.
What can you do as parent or coach to help improve your athlete(s) feel good state?
  1. Help your athlete by reducing the pressure you put on her with elevated expectations and being critical of her performance (you'd be surprised how emotionally impactful just one critique can be from parent or coach in the mind of a teen).
  2. Help your athlete to shift her focus from the results of her performance to the effort given.
  3. Cultivate with your athlete the power she has to control her thinking, which in turn will allow her to more effectively manage her emotional states.
  4. Encourage your athlete to revisit her goals and motivation for playing the game. Long travel seasons can wear down a younger athlete emotionally. Remembering "why" she plays the game, why she loves the game will help keep her in that emotional sweet spot.
  5. Encourage your athlete to practice some form of mental imagery to both remember past successes as well as rehearse future successes.
  6. Prep your athlete for the inevitable adversity that will hit her during a game or weekend. Her emotional response will determine her success or failure after the adversity. The more your athlete is mentally prepared for this the quicker she will pivot to the desired state of emotional balance.
  7. Encourage your athlete to practice keeping her thinking in the present moment, instead of focusing on past mistakes or the worry of future mistakes. Only in this present moment awareness can your athlete summon the focus and energy needed for athletic success.
  8. Encourage your athlete to shift her mindset from "attacking" the game to "allowing" the game to come to her (you'll need to read my new book to fully comprehend this!).
  9. Focus your athlete on the distinction between those factors in her game she can and cannot control. Be recognizing the difference she will be able to maintain emotional balance more easily on the field in times of potential stress.
  10. Encourage your athlete to explore her emotions before, during and after the game. As she becomes more aware of the different emotional states she experiences she will be more able to begin managing them.
As parent or coach start spending more time in 2014 helping your athlete to feel good about themselves and their game and you will no doubt witness more consistent and better results on the field.

Let me know what you think below! Thanks for reading.

The Relentless Pursuit of a Softball Dream

In coaching for the first time at the 18u and 18 Gold level this fall I've had an up close look at the "end game" in the travel softball world: players verballing or signing with their dream college. I get to see the relief, joy, and relaxation of the post signed player; no more pressure...just enjoying the game of softball!

Coming from the world of 14u softball, where the road can sometimes seem endless to achieving the dream of college softball and a lucrative athletic scholarship, I have a single but powerful bit of wisdom for players, and parents alike:

Live the dream every day!

Let me explain. Our mind is such a powerful thing and immense attractor of circumstances. Too often a younger player gets frustrated with her performance or weary of late and long practices, early weekend mornings for endless games and struggling to maintain any semblance of a social life amidst the softball grind.

My simple suggestion for athletes (and even parents) is to see the end game NOW:
  1. Pour over college and athletic department web sites of target schools (see yourself playing at that/those schools).
  2. Be realistic as to a good fit academically
  3. Make a list of exactly what you want in a college experience (including academics, geography, social scene, school size and quality of softball program).
  4. Start reaching out to target schools that fit your list: send emails and let coaches know where you'll be playing (visit target schools if possible).
  5. Make an honest list of your strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan to improve all areas of your game (including strength, speed, quickness, softball IQ).
  6. Live the dream every day in your mind.
Living the dream every day means immersing yourself in the journey. Have fun with it. But more importantly prepare yourself mentally for the "end game."

Get excited about it. Visualize it..daydream about it. See yourself wearing the college uniform of your choosing, playing on ESPN, walking around campus having a blast!

The truth is the more your athlete steps into her dream each and every day the more likely she is to achieve it. Just five minutes upon waking in the morning and five minutes before retiring at night contemplating, seeing, living every exciting detail of her dream will have amazing organizing power to make her dream come true.

It is the relentless pursuit of her softball dream!

Thanks for reading, and have a spectacular holiday season :-)

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Your Athlete Chooses How Good She Wants to Be

This fall I have the privilege of coaching with our 18 Gold team. Having been with first year 14u teams the last four years it is quite interesting to watch how the 18 Gold girls approach their game.

At the 14u level I have talked endlessly to my players about their effort and their attitude, both of which are ENTIRELY within their control. Often, if only in my head, I would question many players' effort; particularly in comparison to other teammates or players we competed against.

My take was often wondering how much these kids really loved the game and whether they truly grasped what the end game was (playing softball in college with a partial or full athletic scholarship, and what it took to get there)?

Now on the other side of that question I am coaching kids now that absolutely love the game and know exactly what the end game is; many of whom have already verbally committed to a college. Their effort and attitude, for the most part, is excellent and their level of play reflects that.

But here is the question you should be asking your own good does she want to be? What is she willing to do to get there, both physically and mentally?

Does She Stand Out? 

As I now attend showcase events I get to observe firsthand how these young athletes are put on display before the critical eyes of college coaches who watch their every move on and off the field; before, during and after the games.

As collegiate softball becomes bigger and more competitive, which is happening from coast to coast at a rapid pace, coaches are under more pressure to recruit the right players. Each program has a strict budget and scholarship limit as well as the burden/opportunity of high expectations for on the field success each spring.

In other words college softball programs today can't afford to make a mistake with the players they recruit.

Ohio U. player giving her all!
Because of this college coaches scrutinize players they scout to be sure they are "the one." They are looking for girls who stand out from the crowd, and often it's not the 250 foot home run or 65 mph rise ball...but an athlete's hustle from the dugout to the field, how verbal they are in the field or dugout, their willingness to lay out for a ball that gets the college coach's attention.

Again, because effort and attitude are choices your athlete, by design or by default, chooses how good she wants to be. And often your athlete will only get one opportunity to make a great first impression on a college coach, enough so to make them want to come back and watch her play again.

Here's the bottom line...if you hope to get your daughter into college with a softball scholarship you need to know just how competitive the process is. I have stood or sat next to college coaches as they watched games and I see how the little things get their attention.

In reality most college softball programs will likely change your athlete's hitting, pitching or fielding mechanics to the way they want them to be. However, more than one college coach has told me that they can't teach effort or attitude. Meaning if an athlete 15, 16, 17 years old doesn't have it and show it on and off the field they likely will never do it at a higher level.

So encourage your athlete to give it all she's got every time she steps on the diamond. If she loves the game, show it! The bar is getting higher and higher each year for performance as softball becomes an increasingly competitive sport all across America and beyond.

The good news is she can be as good as she wants to be!

How Parents and Coaches Can Kill Athletic Performance

As sports parents and coaches we undoubtedly want the best for our athletes/daughters. However, for many their best intentions turn into game day actions and behavior that end up hurting athletic performance rather than helping it.

Let's look at the types of things a parent can do to diminish or even kill their daughter's game day performance, and worse...their love for the game:

1. Yelling instructions to their daughter during a game. This is probably #2 in my list of worst things a parent can do to kill athletic performance (we'll get to athletic enemy #1 later). Now I know that many of you are former coaches, but whether your daughter is playing at the rec, All Star, high school or travel level yelling out instructions (no matter how well meaning) only serves to confuse your athlete, take her focus away from the task at hand and, in many cases, undermines the instruction given to her by her coach(es).

In my experience as a coach last minute instructions during a game don't work. The time to instruct is during the week, before a game, or carefully critiqued after a game (see my "60 Minute Rule" post).

Additionally younger female athletes end up being highly embarrassed by a parent who is constantly yelling at them through the fence (if you think I'm wrong ask your daughter).

2. Stalking. If you are the kind of parent who can't stand to be more than 10 feet from the dugout every game STOP. I once had a parent of one of my players who even went to the extent of pretending to take photos right next to our dugout at Nationals just so he could just stand there all game and "spy" on us. Now if you think that is acceptable or mentally stable behavior it's time for a long look in the mirror!

If you were a former athlete...get over it. If you were a former coach...get over it. Let go of your need to control or be involved during your athlete's games. If your daughter is at the travel level of softball you are likely making a significant investment in her game via team dues and private lessons. It's time to DETACH yourself from her performance during ALL practices and games and trust her coaches to do their jobs.

It's only a game brother!
3. Bad Mouthing. Yes, the #1 enemy of all athletes and coaches. This is the parent who can't keep his or her mouth shut during a game; always second guessing the coach's lineup and strategies; never happy. Usually only focused on winning. Even worse they will talk poorly about players on their own team. These parents are POISON and a VIRUS on a team as they infect other parents, players and even their own daughter to question her coaches and teammates. They are dividers that should be cut from any team their daughter plays on. These parents live in a fantasy land of myopia where their child is the best player in the Universe. They utilize verbal abuse and sports "bullying" to attempt to coerce coaches and parents (and sadly their own kid) to see things their way.

This type of parental behavior absolutely kills athletic performance because it creates a constant negative mindset in their daughter. In one national tournament one of my parents barked at me during a game because I pinch hit for his daughter during a pivotal part of a game. For the rest of the week I could see his daughter shut down to any joy of playing or hanging with her teammates. It was sad to watch, but predictable.

Let's look at a couple of coaching behaviors and actions that can also greatly damage athletic performance:

1. Yelling at Players. This type of coach is almost always obsessed with winning, and is "results only" driven. At our recent national tournament I watched a game (yes...always scouting) and witnessed a coach acting like a caged lion in the 3rd base coaching box; pacing back and forth relentlessly, approaching the umpire aggressively on every questionable strike; verbally instructing and criticizing his batters before and after on EVERY pitch (with a booming voice). His body language mirrored his verbal tirades and his players cringed after a failed at bat as he approached them on their way back to the dugout, in their face.

Does this coach actually believe his actions and gross behavior are helping his girls to play better? And yet in this guy's heart he surely wants the best for them. If you have a coach in your world like this guy (or even close), you need to pull him or her aside to discuss their actions or get the heck out of there!

Old school coaching tactics!
Female athletes, in my experience of twelve years of coaching, do not respond well to verbal abuse (or call it aggressive criticism). In fact they usually shut down, lose all respect for that coach, and will NEVER play remotely close to their potential on that team. Verbally criticizing any player in front of her teammates is a major no-no, as girls hate to be embarrassed in front of anyone!

2. Over-Coaching. As a coach it is hard not to over-coach during a game. We want the best for each of our players but sometimes (or always for some coaches) we verbally instruct too much during at bats or with our pitchers. Again, the time for mechanics instruction is during practice not the game. At best I will give my hitters one or two verbal cues if I see them doing something with their swing or I need them to focus on keeping their hands back for a slower pitcher. But far too often I see coaches barking endless batting or pitching instructions to their players.

Keep this in mind, a hitter has about 1/3 of one second to determine pitch velocity, movement and location and whether to swing or not. It requires the ultimate level of concentration and mental focus (think the Olympic platform divers who take sometimes 30 seconds or more to focus themselves prior to their dive). If she is being verbally barraged by both coach and parent what possible chance does she have to focus her thoughts on the task at hand?

The same goes for pitchers. If putting a round bat on a round ball (given the incredibly challenging parameters I described earlier) is the hardest thing to do in sports (as broadcaster Bob Costas often says) then pinpointing a softball within a target the size of a shoe box from 43 feet away may be the second most difficult! Any lapses in concentration caused by over-coaching will cause a clearly diminished return on performance by any pitcher.

In the final analysis it is often best for us adults to just let our kids play. When I was playing as a kid parents rarely said a word during a game other than positive cheering. I never remember my dad even being involved with my baseball as a kid. It was clearly about the kids and the kids ONLY. Today the parents are involved big time and they carry, in my opinion, excessive and unhealthy expectations for their athlete's performance.

Yes, I understand the investment and stakes are higher these days in softball, but if your intention is for your athlete to perform her best my suggestion is to take a step, or several, back and let her coaches coach. And for gosh sake let her enjoy playing the game by respecting her effort. Let go of your need to critique every game, every play, every pitch. If she is 11, 12, 13 ,14 she is still in the developmental phase of a very difficult game, so let her develop at her, not your, pace...and just enjoy the ride!

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Athletic Success or Failure is Like a Magnet...Find Out Why

As a kid I used to marvel at the magic of a simple magnet; the power and strength it has to attract or repel other objects to or from it. In fact a magnet produces a magnetic field around it that makes it super easy to attract non-magnetized metal objects and repel the polar opposite end of other magnets.

The stronger the magnetic field the more powerful the magnet's ability to attract. The weaker the magnetic field the more difficult it is to attract.

In the very same "magical" way your athlete or team attracts or repels their success on game day by the power and strength of their very own magnetic field; their perceptions, their thoughts and their emotions.

Success or failure on the field or court is always a cause and effect dynamic. Like a magnet success or failure are predictable outcomes based on the athlete's mindset (or magnetic power).

A magnet has no choice but to attract or repel based on the quality of it's internal magnetic field (that dictates the result)....which is, thus, totally predictable. In the same way your athlete or team's game day performance results are also totally predictable based on the quality of their cumulative mindset (the sum total of past experiences and the perceptions, beliefs and thoughts about those experiences).

Let's take a look at the "magnetic" mindset that attracts and produces athletic performances that consistently meet or exceed potential:

1. A mindset rooted in confidence (based on perceptions and beliefs about previous successes).
2. Process, not results driven (the recognition that game mastery takes time).
3. Expectancy for success ("can do" thinking).
4. Exceptional preparation (physical and mental) and a clearly defined plan (desire to be the best).
5. Laser focus (poise when it matters most).

Now let's take a look at the "magnetic" mindset that attracts and produces athletic performances that are consistently below potential:

1. A mindset rooted in doubt (based on perceptions and beliefs about previous failures)
2. Solely driven by results (elevating anxiety and frustration levels).
3. Expectancy for failure ("can't do" or "I'm not sure" thinking).
4. Average preparation (physical, likely no mental) and no plan.
5. Low or sporadic level of focus (caused by feelings and thoughts of doubt, focusing on past failure).

Torrey Pines H.S. - C.I.F. Champions
Cultivating the magnetic mindset for consistent athletic success takes time for any younger athlete. However as a parent or coach you can look for clear signs your athlete or team is attracting or repelling success. Here are a few of the signs you might observe that indicate success is likely:

1. An excitement to practice or play (high energy).
2. Decisive actions on the field or court (no doubt).
3. A calm, relaxed confidence before and during the game.
4. Extremely coach-able; always looking for ways to improve their game.
5. Great body language; particularly after game adversity hits.

Here are a few of the signs you might observe that indicate success is unlikely:

1. A lack of desire to go to practice or work on the side (low energy).
2. Body language on the field or court that indicates frustration, anger or sadness; particularly after a mistake.
3. Higher levels of anxiety before the game or at pivotal moments of the game (a fear of failure).
4. Defensive posture when approached by coach or parent about performance.
5. Indecisive actions during a game (doubt - an unwillingness to swing or shoot or pass).

So how can you as parent or coach help your athlete(s) to magnetize success rather than failure on game day?

A mindset that attracts athletic failure is full of doubt, false perceptions and erroneous beliefs about ability and possibility that lead to thought patterns of failure. An expectancy for low performance is inevitable in this scenario. 

To break the cycle of self-sabotage and "catastrophizing" you need to challenge your athlete's beliefs about themselves and help them to maintain more PMA (present moment awareness) and not dwell on past mistakes or failures. Help them to remember past successes, and reinvigorate their goals and reasons for playing the game.

As a point of comparison a mindset that attracts athletic success is full of energy, confidence and PMA that insures the necessary relaxed game focus to play at a consistently high level. Athletes with this mindset have clearly defined goals and a passion for the game.

So how is your athlete or team using their internal magnet? 

As always, success is a choice that always begins between the ears! Remember, knowledge is power, so help your athlete(s) to understand the power of their thoughts to dictate and predict their level of success on the field or court.

Invest in her mental game today, with The Game Changer Program and Sports Confidence Blueprint!


5 Keys to Being a Superstar at Nationals

As national fastpitch softball tournaments around the country approach in late July every team, player, coach and parent sets their sights on winning a championship...or at the very least playing their best ball and representing their team, organization, league or state well on the biggest stage of the season.

If your athlete is playing at the 14u travel level or above she will likely be playing in front of numerous college coaches scouting players looking for the very best athletes they can offer scholarship money to.

As well, parents will make their biggest financial investment of the season to attend these national tournaments.

In other words the stakes couldn't be higher for every athlete to play her best when it matters most! Well, if that is the does she get there?

In my experience in coaching over 1,200 fastpitch softball games the outcome of most every game is decided on six or so pivotal pitches or plays over the entire game. That's right, only a handful of moments decide the outcome of any game, any time.

Therefore the players and teams that can execute and perform their best during these pivotal moments will be the most successful. Make sense?

We've all seen it, haven't we? The bobbled ground ball with two outs that lets the winning or go ahead run score. The based loaded opportunity late in the game for a hitter that ends up in a strikeout (or for a pitcher an 0-2 count that turns into a three run double on a poorly located screwball). These are all moments that define success or failure for team or player every time they hit the diamond.

Boost her self-confidence for Nationals here.

Here are the 5 essential keys for your athlete and her team to shine during their upcoming national tournament (ignore them at your own risk!):

1. Prepare - Since it seems like every national tournament is located in some far flung hot and dry/humid location prepare for extreme weather. Hydrate a few days BEFORE the tournament. Adjust to time zone changes and get plenty of rest. Try to keep the same sleep schedule as at home (hard I know). Nationals can also bring numerous games and long, long mentally prepare for it. Remember, success lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity; and since opportunity is always present the player and team most prepared will likely prevail!

2012 ASA 14u Nationals in Sioux Falls, S.D. 
2. Business as Usual - At national tournaments it's easy for players, teams, coaches and parents to get caught up in the hype and ceremony of the tournament with opening parades, larger audiences and teams from all over (not to mention the sightseeing opportunities). Keep it business as usual for your athlete and team. Sure...have fun, but make game preparation and games the same as always. Remember, the bases are still 60 feet apart, the ball optic yellow, the dirt brown and the grass green. The "bigger" the adults make it the more anxiety and stress your athlete and her team are likely to feel. And playing tight is no recipe for success on the diamond.

3. Lower Expectations - Sometimes in big tournaments the best players try to do too much and their performance suffers. This is why seemingly every year the World Series has an unsung hero (remember Bucky Dent?). If parents and coaches can refrain from expecting more from their players than they usually give, again, the stress level will remain low and performances can excel. Besides the added pressure from "external" expectations many athletes elevate their "internal" expectations for themselves (If your athlete is a perfectionist you know what I mean), again causing unnecessary anxiety.

4. Hyper Focus - On the biggest stage the perils of distraction are everywhere (both on and off the field; see #2). In any sport the athletes than win those pivotal moments (think Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Reggie Jackson) have been capable of extreme focus and the incredible ability to stay "in the moment." Present Moment Awareness (PMA) is essential for your athlete to possess to play her best at Nationals. Often, with all the social time a player and team has during their week at Nationals finding focus come game time can be challenging.

5. Being Her Best - At Nationals if your athlete can really dive into the fun, joy, challenge and privilege of playing the sport she loves in a new, exciting place...and bring an expectancy for success she will have every opportunity to shine. Fear is always the absence of Faith. The athlete that expects to play well (because she has done the physical and mental preparation) likely will. Remember prior successes in big games and meditate and visualize that success. Feel it, see it and live it!

Remember my formula for game day success:

R + C + F = CS

Translated...a Relaxed athlete is a Confident athlete able to play the game with laser Focus, leading to Consistent and optimal Success on game day!

My best wishes for a memorable nationals experience for your athlete, team and family this July!

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The 3 Secrets to Game Day Success

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As Memorial Day looms around the corner every softball player from coast to coast will start playing more meaningful games very soon...all leading up to State and National Championship tournaments.

As the games and the stakes get bigger will your athlete be ready to perform her best in the moments and games that matter most?

Will she stand out from the crowd...particularly in front of college scouts?

Here are three critical factors that will absolutely predict her success or failure during championship season:

1. Proper Preparation - I always tell my players that they can truly be as good as they want to be. If they are willing to do the work both physically and mentally the sky's the limit as to their performance level on game day. What are some of the ways your athlete can properly prepare to insure her success?

a. Recognize her strengths and weaknesses in her game and actively work on improving the weakest parts of her game. This may also include improving speed, strength and quickness. For pitchers this might include developing a better change or rise and working harder to achieve pinpoint location. On defense this may mean more work on the backhand or for catchers more practice on quick release throws to 2nd or 3rd.

Give her the gift of rock solid sports confidence today!

b. Have a mental game plan to properly prepare for each game, each at bat, each pitch on defense or in the circle. Softball is a game that demands all players make timely adjustments. By paying attention during the game any player can gain an edge that will enable her to more easily make adjustments (like recognizing the umpire's strike zone or the pitch sequence tendency of the opposing coach/team). if your athlete is a pitcher she MUST develop a consistent pre-game routine to insure her mental and physical readiness for the game.

c. Being properly prepared physically and mentally prior to stepping on the field builds a strong sense of self-confidence. If you know you've done the work and all you can do to prepare for battle it is far easier to play free of doubt and anxiety. Confidence is the critical foundation all elite athletes share. With it any success is possible on game day, while without it the game can be a nightmare roller coaster ride of disappointment.

2. Having an Expectancy for Success - With rock solid self-confidence comes an ironclad expectancy for success. Imagine this expectancy for success to be an armor against the inevitable stress and pressure of bigger games and pivotal moments within those games. Having an expectancy for success looks like an individual and team swagger that makes the game fun.

Alabama: 2012 National Champions...Expecting to Win!

Last season's NCAA Softball Championship series between Alabama and Oklahoma was a phenomenal example of two teams and 45 players breathing the expectancy for success. I guarantee you each batter on both teams couldn't wait to hit, and this against the likes of Keilani Ricketts and Jackie Traina...two of the nastiest pitchers around!

In a game built on speed where each player has so little time to make a decision there is a razor fine line between expecting success and expecting failure. Cultivating the expectancy for success takes some time, but it will ultimately mean the difference between success and failure on the biggest softball stages!

3. Rebounding from Adversity - In a game where failure is more common than success a young player's ability to bounce back from the inevitable kicks in the stomach the game will surely administer is critical. Proper preparation and having the expectancy for success and foundation of rock solid self-confidence are essential elements, but to be able to consistently rebound from mistakes and game day failure requires a far different mindset. Here are a few tips to help your athlete more quickly bounce back from a tough game or play:

a. Understand that failure and mistakes are part of the game and no one who ever played the game has been immune to game day adversity. In other words even the great players have gone through tough games!

b. See mistakes as an opportunity to grow and get better. Although it sounds weird mistakes allow each player, if framed properly between the ears, to see which part of their game needs work. I tell my girls that the game will always give them a report card that tells them exactly where they need to get better.

c. Focus on the process and not the results. Softball mastery takes years and years. No matter how old your athlete is and what level she plays at she will still need to climb the ladder of mastery for many more years to come. In the interim if her focus is on getting better and not worrying (and judging herself) solely on her results (this means you too parents and coaches!) your athlete will be able to bounce back from mistakes and poor at bats far quicker. Her confidence will more likely stay in tact and her "slumps" will be shorter.

As championship season approaches if your athlete can focus on these the "secrets" her game day performance will soar and her joy for playing and competing in the biggest games will be something she looks forward to rather than dreads.

Like I said earlier...your athlete can be as good as she wants to be. It just requires having a good game plan and sticking to it!

What better way to prepare your athlete and team for championship season than a total immersion in two of my most powerful performance boosting programs...The Game Changer and The Sports Confidence both 45% OFF!


Sports Parents: Part of the Problem or Solution?

Regardless of the sport, the gender, the age group or corner of the country on any given Saturday millions of sports parents will be dissatisfied with their son or daughter's coach(es) and/or team.

With the expectations for performance so visibly sky high for all youth sports in 2013 is it any wonder that parent/coach conflict is the norm rather than the exception?

As a coach and sports parent myself I ask you this question: Are you part of the problem or the solution?

Now I fully understand that there are numerous situations where, as a parent, you may be fully justified in being upset, bewildered or disappointed in how your athlete's coach runs their team or handles your athlete's playing time, etc. And you certainly have the right to expect an acceptable level of competency and decorum from your coaches during practices and games.

On the flip side you might be the kind of parent expecting nirvana, perfection, an idyllic season where your athlete, team and coach do no wrong in your eyes. Be often has that happened before at any level? Being realistic of your athlete and their team's potential is critical for any sports parent.

So let's look at what being part of the problem or the solution looks like. Which category do you fall into (or your spouse)?

Here's what being a part of the problem looks like:

1. You keep track of game statistics and each players participation time to justify that the coach isn't treating your athlete fairly. Furthermore you will go out of your way to throw these stats at the coach to intimidate or manipulate his or her game day decision making.

2. You stand behind the backstop or in the stands verbally bad mouthing your athlete's coach or, worse, other players on her/his team; whether about his/her game strategy or player usage. This type of behavior is the worst kind of poison because it serves to undermine team unity, respect and support for team and coach; particularly if these verbal snipes are within eye shot of players, other team parents and coaches.

3. You share your displeasure with your athlete's coach with your athlete in the car from a game or at home. This serves to undermine the coach's efforts and plants the seed in your athlete's mind that his/her coach is incompetent or purposely treating her/him unfairly. She/he may then share your views with their teammates and team unity is then shot...leading to poor effort and game day performances.

4. You say nothing but are constantly pacing during the game or hovering by the dugout or bench in an attempt to hear what the coach or coaches are saying to the team. You are the proverbial fly on the wall, the pest the coaches can't wait to avoid at all costs (I have even seen players cut because of parent behavior like this).

5. You put your athlete on a pedestal, myopic to his or her true athletic ability. You can't understand why she/he isn't playing over Tommie or Tammie because she/he is clearly better than them (when the truth and stats clearly don't support your position). You maintain "small picture" thinking, without regard for team or individual player development.

6. You publicly confront your athlete's coach(es) immediately after a game in a quasi emotional rage making a fool of yourself in front of fellow parents, players and other teams...causing extreme embarrassment for your athlete and team, and risking permanent alienation with his/her coach(es).

Here's what being part of the solution looks like:

1. You express your frustration or disappointment in your athlete's coach(es) in a constructive, non-emotional way.

2. You approach your athlete's coach(es) at an appropriate time when neither of your emotions are high; at practice or in a private meeting set up by phone or email. You might find your athlete's coaches far more approachable and far less defensive if you proceed in this manner with any questions or problems you have. If you can cultivate a relationship of mutual respect with your athlete's coaches you'll likely be heard a whole lot more. Remember the old saying..."sugar catches a lot more flies than vinegar."

3. You communicate positively, but realistically to your athlete regarding her/his coach(es). You might say something like this, "Even though we may not agree with some of your coaches strategies (or you playing time/position) we need to respect his decisions. You can't control what your coach does (other than the player seeking out the coach to discuss concerns) so don't let it affect your attitude or game performance."

4. Maintain "big picture" thinking. You recognize that your athlete's coach(es) may just have a longer range plan for player or team development that you are not privy to. At the bare minimum maintain the perspective that it's youth sports: that where ever  your athlete and their team are today is not where they will be in a year or two. Comparing their performance to that of professional athletes and teams is silly and psychologically destructive to all involved...most notably your own athlete.

5. Because you do maintain "big picture" thinking you keep your emotions in check before, during and after your athlete's games. You give your athlete and her/his coaches "room" during games keeping your physical and verbal distance.

6. You recognize that coaching is not an easy job. So much more goes into what a coach has to do on the field or court than what any parent sees during a game. Coaches are constantly evaluating their athlete's during practice for effort, attitude and skill mastery (far more closely than you are able to observe). A good youth coach is always doing his/her best to put the team in a position to play their best while being mindful of each player's game and emotional development. Having to deal with irate parents in the stands should not be part of the job description!

The bottom line is your athlete and his/her team is comprised of kids who are, by nature, works in progress. Their coach or coaches may be volunteers or minimally paid individuals who, like their professional counterparts, are prone to making mistakes in strategy and judgment from time to time.

Now, that being said, there are bad coaches out there...absolutely. I am certainly not going to defend them. But even bad coaches deserve your respect for their effort; even if you don't understand or like the outcome. If they are verbally or physically abusive (like the Rutgers coach who was just fired) you have every right to confront your athlete's coach(es).

In any difficult situation in sports or in life you can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. The key is in recognizing which behavior leads to which result. You can be in a perpetual state of aggravation and frustration over your athlete's coach(es), spreading your venom where ever you go on game day...or you can be the adult and find a way to affect changes that might result in a positive solution to your problem (which might even include accepting the situation or even changing teams). But beware of "team hopping" because of your dissatisfaction with your athlete's coach(es); the grass isn't always greener on a new team and your athlete's being ripped away from his/her comfort zone may adversely effect performance.

[If your coaching issue is involving a high school coach I understand that transferring schools is likely not an option so, again, if you have no control over it why fume? If need be express your concerns to the school Athletic Director or Principal. High school coaches can be stubborn, especially if they also teach at the school. At least travel or competitive coaches know that if you aren't pleased with their performance you always have the option of leaving.]

Soon enough your little athlete will be out the door to college (whether playing ball there or not), so enjoy watching him/her play while you can. These are precious moments that will never come again. Do your best not to spoil them with misplaced anger and ego. the solution not the problem!

What do you think? Share your thoughts or coaching/sports parents stories with me below.

Thanks for reading!

Every athlete needs a high level of sports confidence to be successful on game day. Does your athlete have it? Take her sports confidence to the next level with the Sports Confidence Blueprint program...a proven step by step formula to skyrocket game performance and game confidence!

Visit me at John Michael Kelly Sports!


Travel to High School Transition Tips

As the 2013 high school softball season is upon us many players must make the transition from their travel team to their high school team. This can be a difficult process for some as the dynamics between the two are quite different. Here are 5 Tips to make your athlete's high school season as productive and enjoyable as possible:

1. Practices - In most cases high school practices aren't as rigorous or structured as travel practices. If your athlete has been used to tough practices continue to give the "travel" effort and focus during high school practices. The great thing about high school softball is your athlete has five days each week to work on her game (particularly if she is a pitcher). So utilize this time to work on weaknesses. The high school season offers over 100 hours of cumulative practice time, so DON'T WASTE IT!

2. Team Dynamics - In travel ball most every girl aspires to play softball in college. They are typically very purposed and driven to succeed. Your athlete's high school team is likely made up of a mixture of travel and non-travel players, so motivations for playing will vary. The key is achieving a balance where your athlete can continue to play the game at the elevated level she expects without getting frustrated with teammates who are just out there to participate in a high school sport.

3. Coaching - Although many high school coaches also coach travel in my experience most high school coaches are a step or two behind in practice preparation and game management. As such your athlete (and you) needs to recognize and respect the differences between her travel and high school coach. Their coaching philosophies may be far different. Participation may be more important than winning to some. Your athlete may be asked to play a different position simply because she is the best athlete on the team and her high school team has a hole at a certain position she must fill. The key here is patience and a willingness to do whatever is best for the team! Remember, college coaches rarely scout high school games.

4. The Joy of the Game - All too often in travel softball the game looks more like a "job" than a "joy." The high school softball season is the time of the year your athlete can relax a bit and enjoy the game a little bit more. Pressure can breed a disdain for the game, with a constant worry of mistakes, judgment and failure. At the high school level the game is much the same: 60 foot bases, optic yellow balls and three strikes. However in this environment, your athlete's attitude and mindset can be much different if she chooses. Without pressure her performance can soar and her enjoyment for playing the game can skyrocket!

5. The Big Picture - The main difference between travel and high school softball is the honor of representing your school and playing with your school friends. After all the early mornings driving to far flung places for travel, and playing with teammates you never see outside of travel high school softball offers a "kinder and gentler" experience for your athlete; an opportunity to relax a little and enjoy Sundays off and team bus trips to away games. So rather than you and your athlete being frustrated with the talent level or coaching deficiencies at the high school level look at it for what it is: a three month break from the pressure of travel and an opportunity to get five days per week to sharpen her game while hanging out with friends in the process.

The transition from travel to high school can be a great experience or a frustrating one; it's all in the thinking. Remember, effort, attitude and preparation are always a CHOICE.

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