The “comeback”…one of the great elements of sport, when momentum shifts and player or team overcome the odds and prevails in dramatic fashion. After all what’s more exciting than the walk off hit to win the game or the clutch hit, pitch or play that forever changes the course of the game!
But what is the genesis of the comeback, and when do the seeds of that comeback take root and why?
As well, we’ve all seen athletes or teams stuck in prolonged hitting, fielding or pitching slumps. What are the causes for the slump, why is it so hard to break the bondage of such a slump, and how can athlete or team get back on track with brimming confidence and dynamic performances?
Finally, why is hitting or not hitting “contagious?” Meaning why is it that when a few players start to hit the entire team joins the fun, and (think the 2014 San Diego Padres) when key players don’t hit the virus of not hitting spreads like wildfire on a team?
It all comes back to the “Comeback Mindset” (or lack of one), the “cause” of all “effects” on the field. And here is the really good news: any athlete or team can acquire and possess the “Comeback Mindset,” as it is always a CHOICE. Let me explain:
1. It all starts with the human mind; the most powerful thing on the planet! Each of us creates and experiences over 50,000 unique thoughts each and every day. This amazing fact, along with the knowledge that these massive thoughts tend to “clump together” into “thought patterns,” leads us to understand why athletic highs and lows can come so frequently and so dramatically. Because at the core of it all, how you think is how you play! Doubt can be as strong and powerful as a freight train if left unattended. It can grow deep roots that steadily undermine sports confidence and derail game performance. This is the mind’s power at work. The goal is to first recognize these limiting thought patterns, then shift the thoughts behind the emotional state to effect performance levels.
2. For a team, from my experiences on the field, there is no denying that the more energized, loud and focused team will carry or shift momentum. This collective energy, all focused on the comeback (a common goal), is not only palpable in the dugout but to the other team as well. On the other hand a team with divided energy (some “can do” and some “can’t do”…and this includes coaches) will never mount a comeback. Great players and teams often “will” themselves to overcome the odds to achieve success.
3. For an individual player the same applies. If one’s energy and expectancy for future at bats, plays in the field or next inning in the circle is for SUCCESS their body and mind should be in a corresponding calm, relaxed, focused and confident state allowing her to play her best. However, if this same athlete is bothered or awash in DOUBT her body will experience corresponding anxiousness, confusion, hesitancy in action and fleeting confidence at best. In this emotional thought state she can never perform her best and her slump will likely continue.
4. For athlete or team the development of the “Comeback Mindset” is always a CHOICE. Can the athlete/team cultivate the “belief” that their luck can change, or do they resign themselves to only what they see? This leads me to the Zen paradox of “I’ll see it when I believe it,” instead of the typical Western response, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Looking at game adversity as a challenge and opportunity to prevail is at the heart of the “Comeback Mindset.”
5. It’s all “cause and effect.” If you want to change the result, change the cause. Sounds simple (and it actually is to one who practices the process) but it takes some time to fine tune your mind and thought process to be able to make the necessary shift (minor or major). Perpetuating the same beliefs and thoughts will only bring the same results. As such, limiting beliefs must be challenged and thinking must be “by design” instead of “by default.” You always have the power to program your mind to direct your thinking, even in the toughest of times, to the “green zone” instead of the accidental “red zone.”
Here are five “action step” strategies your athlete and team can implement IMMEDIATELY to “activate” their “Comeback Mindset:”
1. Recognize that the “Comeback Mindset” is always a choice. Be the one to set the tone on your team. Be the leader who gets vocal, gets dirty and chooses to keep competing. Adopt a “never give up and never give in” attitude and spread it throughout your dugout and on the field! Your personal energy can ignite your entire team and change the outcome of the game. Remember prior successes and BELIEVE that if you have done it before you can do it again!
2. Stay in the present moment. Present Moment Awareness (“PMA”) is crucial for an individual athlete and team when trying to overcome a slump or turn the tide for your team in a game that looks hopeless. Being bothered by a past failure or mistake (“Past Focus”), or worrying about failing in the next inning or next at bat (“Future Focus”) will insure your outcome will be the same as before. In a game where the hitter has less than 4/10th of a second to decide pitch velocity, movement and location the inability to harness 100% of your mental focus in the present moment will spell predictable disaster!
3. Be aware of your own energy. I firmly believe that female athletes need to “feel good” to play well. As such be mindful of how you feel and work hard to keep those “can do” thoughts going. Run on and off the field and make noise. I have found that the simple act of making noise on the field or in the dugout can elevate focus and performance for both individual and team. Try it…you’ll feel better!
4. Understand “Controllables;” those factors you do and do not have any control over. Things like the umpire’s strike zone, field conditions, teammates play, coaching comments, hitting the ball right at someone, bad hops, etc. are out of your control. To let these things get into your head when you may already be fighting yourself mentally is a really bad plan, as it will surely only serve to accelerate negative, doubtful thinking.
So what factors can you as player or team control? Your EFFORT Your ATTITUDE (see #1 above) Your level of PREPARATION Your mental FOCUS (see #2) Your ENERGY
5. Have a super short memory. Hey, let’s face it…tough things happen to all players and teams in softball. It’s just the nature of the game. Prepare yourself for the adversity the game will inevitably throw at you by devising a mental game plan to overcome and bounce back from the bad things that happen. This preparation will enable you to build more resiliencies. If you are in a slump or your team is having one of those days let go of what happened bad and look forward to the next “opportunity” the game gives you (again, see #2)! A great way to do this is to focus more on the “process” and your “effort” than being obsessed solely with the outcome or results you get. Be mindful of your inner conversation (see #5 above) and choose “green.”
The bottom line is the “Comeback Mindset,” once cultivated, is a super powerful weapon for any player or team. A determined, enthusiastic player or team is hard to stop. And, again, activating this mindset is always a choice that can be triggered in any given moment by a shift in thinking (which in turn triggers a subtle then powerful shift emotionally).
The challenge, of course, is to be able to implement these strategies when you don’t feel great, or are having one of those days. This is why physical AND mental preparations BEFORE you step on the field are crucial to reversing slumps and turning games around for teams.
To comeback or not comeback, that is the question…that is the choice!