Parent & Athlete: 5 Tips for "Big Picture" Thinking

The big picture. Sounds kind of cool, right? Today we all love "big," even outside of the great state of Texas! Bigger is always better, and the idea of big picture thinking usually brings with it positive connotations and expectations. You know, the big hit; the big play; the big game!

Today I want to use the concept of big picture thinking a little differently as it applies to you as a sports parent, coach or athlete.

You see I believe big picture thinking is one of the most powerful mindsets any athlete and their parent/coach can have to insure success on the field and success in college recruiting.

Here are five powerful tips to keep you and your athlete grounded and focused in big picture thinking:

1. For parents - The big picture means not getting caught up with micro-managing how good your athlete is today (if she is 16 or younger). Allow her development process to unfold. Yes, some days she may take two glorious steps forward and other days one agonizing step backwards. Accept it, support it and move on! She is not at 12 what she will be at 16. Your obsession with her play only causes her more pressure on the field to live up to your expectations.

2. For athletes - The big picture means remembering the game takes time to master and, thus, mistakes and game day failures should be viewed as opportunities and challenges to get take another step forward on that stairway to mastery! To build the kind of "macro-confidence" it takes to experience consistent success in a hard game your mindset must be big picture to allow you to easily bounce back from game adversity. Big picture thinking also means keeping a single at bat, pitch or play in proper perspective. In a time when travel softball teams routinely play over 100 games each year is a single at bat, game or tournament really that important?

3. For coaches - The big picture means recognizing that at younger ages your role is "player development," and at the older ages it is "college exposure." No where did I mention winning being the top priority; particularly if it means sacrificing playing time for players to just win baby! Another part of big picture thinking for coaches is refraining from putting any of your athletes into a "box," as physical and mental talents can change and develop dramatically from one age level to the next. In the big picture any of your athletes have the possibility of being much better players than they are now. Be open to that and work hard to develop ALL your players.

4. For parents - The big picture means understanding the "process" from 10 to 12, from 12-14, from 14-16 and 16-18. At each stage of her development you will have to get involved to guide, not only, her athletic development but her academic development as well. If your daughter aspires to play ball in college her academic success may mean as much as her athletic prowess. Because if you are looking for $$ for college the higher your athlete's GPA and board scores the more recruitable she will be. Develop a big picture "plan" and stick to it!

5. For athletes - Remember that big picture thinking means knowing that you always have a "choice" as to how hard you work and how good you can be. Never let anyone out-work you, out hustle you, out prepare you, outsmart you. If you want to make that college team, varsity team, top travel team or all star team you must stand out from the sea of competition. And how do you do that...with BIG PICTURE THINKING! On and off the diamond you will succeed by design, not by accident. Ultimately the only competition you have is you, so challenge yourself with big picture goals and big picture thinking!

So there it is, five cool and important tips to engage in the kind of big picture thinking needed for your athlete and team to succeed in the...big picture of things!

Thanks for reading!

--John Michael Kelly, Softball Smarts

6 Very Cool Tips to Build Her Sports Confidence

6 Very Cool Tips to Build Her Sports Confidence!

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.

Here are six tips to help boost her self-confidence when it comes to excessive expectations:

1. Stop obsessing with winning! Instead focus your energy on whether she enjoys the game, is giving maximum effort and is getting better on the field. Your athlete and her team are likely a long way from mastering the game so allow them the time ad space to do that.

2. Stop comparing her to your glory days or to another child. Your goal should be for her to be the best (insert her name here) she can be. Expecting her to be and play like an 18 year old (or someone she's not) when she's 12 is a recipe for disaster.

3. Communication. Don't assume she knows how you feel. Even with my own daughter as she got older she often "assumed" I didn't approve of her game performance as a result of all the criticism I heaped on her as a younger player. She never told me until recently and it brakes my heart than I didn't better communicate my pride and support of her as an athlete. Don't let that be you!

4. Frustration occurs for athlete, parent and coach when results fall short of expectations. Rather than focusing and yapping about the problem (results) only, work with her on finding a solution (the process) to her game inconsistencies. Maybe she needs help with her mental game or a new hitting coach, a few hundred more ground balls, or just for dad or mom to LIGHTEN UP?

5. She may well be making mistakes on the field because of the pressure she feels to please you and the fear of letting you down. And even though you may never say it she understands how much you are investing in her game and how the family may need an athletic scholarship for her to go to college; thus how important it is that she plays well.

This pressure will not improve her performance, so encourage her to chill and have fun. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. Focus her on maximizing her effort and preparation and she'll get there!

6. The surest way to destroy confidence in a younger athlete is to give up on her as a parent or coach. I've seen parents and coaches literally walk away from their daughter or team after a poor play. That behavior is a dagger to the heart and spirit of any young athlete and will surely puncture any shred of sports confidence she or they have.

Hang in there (even if you have to bite your tongue) and let her know by your actions that you're backing her AND her team 110%. She will surely thank you for it and play much closer to her athletic potential with a smile on her face!

Thanks for reading! --John Michael Kelly

**Be sure to register for my upcoming free webinar"The 4 Crucial Keys to Build Lasting Sports Confidence: How to Unleash the Awesomeness in Your Athlete or Team"

6 Proven Tips to Keep Your Athlete Motivated!

One of the challenges I hear from parents and coaches frequently is how to keep their kids motivated. This task has become even harder now that so many athletes are playing fastpitch virtually year around.

At the younger ages of 8-12 athletes most often play because they like the sport and don't really need much motivation beyond that. They also enjoy the social aspect of the game and that can be a main motivator as well. In my travel organization we often call kids at this age "little robots" because they will virtually do whatever mom, dad or their coaches tell them to do!

Once the child gets to 13-14 she plays because she's played the game for years and mom or dad drive them to practices, lessons and games. They are still in the "robot" stage, but not for long. Sure the child usually wants to play but often the social component now shifts to friends and activities outside the game. This is normally when the first signs of grumbling and not wanting to get out of bed for those early Sunday games.

At the high school age often burnout can set in unless the athlete truly has her goals clearly in sight and her motivations in high gear. At this age the social sacrifice being made is tremendous and the obsession and pressures of achieving a college scholarship can accelerate burnout.

Here is one of the main challenges with lack of motivation: depending on her personality type your daughter may not tell you she is tired of playing (as my daughter didn't tell me for over a year) for fear of disappointing you. Since you probably aren't a mind reader I have some help for you!

Here are five tips to keep her motivated and fired up for those 8 am Sunday games!

1. The Conversation - Sit down with your athlete at least every six months to reassess her commitment for the game and all that goes with it. Don't "tell her" rather "listen to her," and be open to her feelings about where she is at and what she wants to do. At the heart of all motivation issues is your athlete, at some point, has to start playing for herself instead of for you. The sooner she makes that shift the better.

2. Internal Motivations - Ideally your athlete has internal or "intrinsic" motivation; meaning she is "self-motivated." Her goals are clearly defined and she is fired up every day to achieve those goals. Whether it is to make her varsity team as a freshman, play for a better travel team, make the All Star team or get an athletic scholarship to play ball in college. When these motivators are clear and present your athlete should maintain her fire in the belly; although there will be times when you will have to remind her! Keeping visual reminder of her goals is a great tool to help her as well, like pictures of college softball players, or of her dream university!

3. External Motivations - If the internal fire isn't burning as brightly as you would like try external or "extrinsic" motivators. This is the classic "carrot and the stick" method. Create tangible incentives or disincentives for her; meaning create a reward for playing or working harder or a penalty for not. I've heard of parents offering iPhones, or cash for achieving athletic goals (or something as simple as ice cream after the game for swinging the bat for the younger kids!). A penalty might be no sleepover, taking away phone privileges (ouch!), cutting out private lessons, etc.

The best motivators ultimately are perceived as either bringing pleasure or pain. As humans we naturally seek to avoid pain at all cost. So I'm either motivated to "do" something because it brings me something I really want or it brings too much pain by not doing it (physically or emotionally). Or I'm motivated to "not" do something because I perceive it will cost me in time, pain, embarrassment, etc; or it will bring me pleasure (more time with friends, sleeping in, etc). It's simply a risk versus reward assessment.

4. Explain "The Why" Behind It - Part of the conversation you need to have with your athlete to keep her motivation going and, more importantly, make it as personal to her as possible is to talk about "the why" behind it all. Meaning why does she play the game; why are her goals important to her; why everything she does (or needs to do) will prepare her to achieve her goals; why would it matter to her two years from now (pick your time frame) if she doesn't achieve her goals? The more you can get her to buy into the "why" the more invested and engaged she will become. This is her life, so the deeper she understands the implications of her actions towards the ultimate achievement or failure in reaching her goals the more she will embrace "the journey" it takes to get there.

5. The Takeaway - As parents our job is always to "frame" the situation and explain how her decisions will impact her future. Often I hear of an athlete being burned out after a long, hot summer season and wanting to quit the game. I always counsel the parent to sit down with the child, determine what she likes or loves about playing the game (leave the negative stuff out of the conversation) and whether she is truly prepared to walk away for that. Often what comes up is how much she will miss playing with her friends, the thrill of competition, the feeling of a big hit, big strikeout (as a pitcher), or big win (Personally I miss the smell of freshly cut grass). If you can get your athlete to see what she might be missing by leaving the game it will likely motivate her to work harder.

The other ultimate takeaway and external motivator is no college. With the cost of college spiraling up by 10% each year securing an athletic scholarship may legitimately be the only way your athlete is going to college. Don't be afraid to use that card (not at 12, but certainly by 15). A little dose of truth and reality can do wonders to ignite motivation!

6. Detachment - Ultimately, as I had to do with my daughter, you must let your athlete do what she wants to do; you must let go and detach yourself from the way "you" think it should go. Now this is not to say you don't spell out her options and help her to make a rational, well thought out decision. But, by all means, include her in the conversation. After all, it's her life!

I have found, though, if you employ "big picture" thinking, keep things positive and connect the dots for her she will be motivated to work harder. Often, emotionally, a younger female athlete doesn't believe enough in herself and, thus, does not think she is capable of reaching her goals so what's the point of trying. Continue encouraging her, without criticism.

Remember, we ask a lot of our young athletes these days, especially for a teen. Part of her maturation is being able to make her own decisions, so let her. In my daughter's case she finally found the courage to tell me she no longer wanted to play the game when she was 15. She wanted to focus on her academics. It was hard for me, but I supported her. The end game for her...getting into a great private east coast university with ample academic aid. It's all good!

Thanks for reading!  --John Michael Kelly