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Category Archives: Self Confidence

Keeping the Game in Check

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As we role into the Word Series of D1 NCAA softball there’s plenty of opportunity to watch elite athlete’s succeed and fail in the face of pressure. It’s make it or break it time; it’s win or go home. Athletes are facing some of the most difficult situations of their careers, everything is on the line, and they can taste that world series championship.

An Article was recently published with the title: “How butterflies and TED talks boosted Georgia’s Alyssa DiCarol”. The article sheds lights on the pressures faced by successful athletes and how they effectively keep them at bay.  (Read it here: 2019 NCAA softball tournament: How butterflies and TED Talks boosted Georgia’s Alyssa DiCarlo)

Alex Scarborough quotes DiCarol’s experience growing up, “Earlier in her career, she sometimes let nerves get the best of her. She had devoted everything to the sport — “It’s my life,” she said. “I didn’t go to prom, didn’t go to homecoming. I didn’t do anything but softball” — and the idea of not living up to expectations made her timid on the diamond.” As she points out, athletes who reach the collegiate level often miss out on other social opportunities along the way. Due to this their evaluation of their self is purely based in sport. When they fail in sport they feel like a failure overall. Sports are their entire life, so they when fail in sport they feel as though they are failing as a person. They aren’t just failing on the field, it’s much bigger than that to them. For this reason it’s crucial to give our young athletes a healthy sport-life balance. Especially when they are young, they need the opportunity to grow all aspects of who they are. They need room to discover their talents in music, school, friendships, and hobbies. They need to feel that they have value in a variety of atmospheres so when they fail in one they have other confidences to fall back on. If kids had these opportunities throughout their athletic careers the pressure to perform would be far less. (I wrote a blog recounting my experience in having a healthy sport-life balance a while back, you can read it here: Keep a Sport-Life Balance)

In the article DiCarol is also quoted with commenting on how her mental game has helped her succeed; “Being mentally tough,” she said, “keeping your emotions at bay is something I’ve had to work on a lot.” The mental game is often over looked, especially by coaches of youth athletes. They don’t have the training or the experience to teach young athletes how to use their mind to excel. Even more important than excelling, having an effective mental game can help athletes of all ages experience more joy while playing the game. Having the tools to deal with the high pressure demands that come with being an athlete keeps the negative emotions at bay and allows more room for the positive ones to flourish.

Teaching athletes mental game strategies and giving them the room to explore their other talents can help to keep the game in check. Keeping the game in check has the potential to give athletes the best opportunity to fully develop into themselves, both as a an athlete and a person.

But He Didn’t Get a Hit…

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I wanted to write a follow up article to my original “My kid is in a slump, what I do do” post. If you haven’t checked out that post yet, you can read it here: My kid is in a slump, what can I do?

I had a parent come back to me after reading this blog and discussing it with me. She described her son’s latest plate performance. ” He got two at bats. He was hit by a pitch and walked. He didn’t swing one time! He’s so timid up there and lacking confidence!”

I went to the checklist:

Did he have a positive mindset? No. She reported that her son was worried about getting a hit. Did he have strong body language? A little yes and a little no. Did he swing at the correct pitches? He didn’t swing at any of them! My next question was, how many of those pitches were strikes? The mom explained that the pitcher was young and just learning so the umpire gave him a very large strike zone. The strikes that were called against her son weren’t technically strikes. Did he swing well? N/A.photo-1490326149782-dd42fa59bd9f.jpeg

I took into account that her son is 7 and gave her a different perspective.

Her son did exactly what he was supposed to do at the plate. He was patient and demonstrated self control. He didn’t swing at pitches that were balls and got on base because of it! He reached first twice! That’s productive for his team! (As this athlete progresses, yes, they must learn to adjust their strike zone a little bit to match the umpires) At 7 years old, this at bat was a total success!

This is an at bat that can be used to boost his confidence. He helped out his team by demonstrating self control at the plate and having a good eye. He was productive! He added two base runners to the game! Using this out look consistently will naturally help him to have a more positive mindset and stronger body language because he will feel successful more often.

I decided to not address his lack of mental and physical confidence at the plate because he is currently feeling very defeated in his baseball performances. This wasn’t the right time to “coach him up” so to speak. At this stage in the game, I suggested that she simply work with him to have a positive mindset and a strong presence at the plate in their next practice session. Reflecting on this past performance and making him aware that he didn’t have either of those things won’t be helpful in this moment.

Being successful at the plate doesn’t always translate into getting a hit. The younger the athlete is the harder it is for them to understand this. Keep using this checklist with them and watch their confidence grow as they begin to realize how tangible success is!

My kid is in a slump, what can I do?

Slumps are tough for kids. They begin to feel like no matter what they do they are never going to get a hit.IMG_3948 It tends to snowball into more of a mental hang up than a physical one. As parents and coaches we know dips and peaks in performance are normal, especially for our young athletes. So what can you do to help them get out of their funk before the negative mindset tarnishes their confidence? In order to help them regain confidence in their athletic abilities it is helpful if you reframe their definition of success at the plate by focusing on what they can control.

The goal shouldn’t be to get a hit because technically you aren’t in control of that. There are too many factors at play – umpires, pitchers, fielders, score keepers etc. The goal should be to have a good or productive at bat.

What does having a good at bat look like?

1. Productive mindset. This is a HUGE idea with so many ways to instill it but I’ll try to keep it simple. Explain that their thoughts need to help them succeed. They can’t just have random thoughts that wonder through their mind at the plate, nor can they have negative thoughts that hinder their performance at the plate. They need to have thoughts that will help them produce the outcome they want. Think of three things they can say to themselves in the on deck circle and in the box that will lead them to success. Have a mix of confidence boosters and mechanical cues. (Examples – 1. I’m a powerful hitter. 2. keep my hands high 3. Keep my weight back. Or 1. Step early. 2. I’m a great baseball player 3. See it and crush it.) Make sure these statements are phrased in an outcome focused manner. Have them say things they want to accomplish as opposed to things they want to avoid. (Example – Keep my hands high vs. Don’t drop my hands).

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2. Strong Body language. Strong body language is a much more tangible expectation than simply saying “Make sure you look confident at the plate”. Have your athlete practice showing strong body language and weak body language so they understand the expectation.

3. Swinging at the right pitches. Batters never get to choose which pitches they are thrown but they can choose which ones they swing at. Swinging at good pitches is imperative to having a productive at bat.

4. Swinging well at those selected pitches. They’ve chosen which pitches to swing at, now they must also swing well at those pitches. Did they use the proper hitting mechanics that their hitting coaches have been instilling in them?

Use these things as a checklist after every at bat.

Did you have a productive mindset?

Did you have strong body language?

Did you swing at the right pitches?

Did you swing well at those pitches?

You can do this with them in the backyard or at the cages to instill the habit and begin to switch their perspective on success. Practice “real” at bats with them. Before the at bat make sure to give them time to do their 3 mental statements. It may help if you do it out loud with them. Then have them step in the “box” with strong body language. After each at bat go through the checklist with thimg_3949.pngem. Use the no answers as moments to coach and improve. Use the yes answers to deliver well deserved praise!

Focusing solely on the things they can control makes success feel more tangible. When hitters, especially kids, are in a slump (on a side note, don’t use that word when speaking to them about their performance) getting a hit feels like something that happens by chance. Like all these factors have to magically align and then they can finally get a hit. They relate it more to luck than talent. By focusing on the controllable things they’ll feel more confident because they will begin to realize that they play the biggest role in their success at the plate.

WARNING. This isn’t an over night fix. Switching their definition of success takes consistency and time. I urge you to try and always use this language when talking about hitting with them. Your language will dictate the language they use in their head with themselves. By speaking this way about hitting they can use their hitless at bats as learning opportunities because there are specific things they can change/ fix. When they do get a hit (which they will because they are focusing on the process which is how hits happen) they will well up with confidence because they will know it wasn’t chance or luck. It was their deliberate hard work.

3 Steps Back, 4 Steps Forward

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I’ve noticed a common thread among the athletes I’ve had the pleasure to coach over the past year. Most of them have this fear, or inability to slow a skill down and adjust in the midst of their mechanics. For instance, the other night I had my team running agility patterns on ladders. Some of the footwork patterns are a little tricky; a few of my girls were having a hard time finding the rhythm. Over and over, myself and assistant coach advised them to slow down, learn the pattern, don’t worry about your speed, we are looking for quality, not quantity.  Even with that instruction, all my girls sped through the ladder, missing sections, and tangling the ladder around their feet. They are so focused on the outcome, and the pace of their teammates around them. They won’t take the time to adjust and learn the skill correctly, they strive merely to “keep up” with everyone else. It wasn’t until I physically stood beside them and wouldn’t let them go any faster than I did that they were willing to slow down and talk themselves through the pattern.

This same pattern presents itself when I’m giving pitching lessons. My pitchers are more concerned with throwing strikes then properly executing the mechanics. When we are working on making adjustments, their focus is on the speed and accuracy of the pitch. They don’t allow themselves to be vulnerable and change their movements which may in turn, for the moment, negatively impact their performance. I’ve spoken to all of my athletes about this, and I haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of what causes it, but I have a few theories which I believe all converge to create this insecurity of not being good enough.

Social Media: Social media has played a huge role in how our athlete’s view themselves. Their self confidence is built around how many likes their pictures receive or how many followers they have. They live, eat, sleep, and breathe this superficial culture everyday; it is constantly reinforcing this idea that they are in competition with everyone around them all the time. They must look “good” or “pretty” in order to be accepted socially by their peers. I believe this attitude has carried over to the ball field. I asked my pitcher the other night why she was unwilling to make an adjustment and possibly let the ball go sailing over the catchers head. Her response; “There’s a lot of people watching me and I don’t want them to think that I’m not good”.

Lack of trust in the process: I believe that sometimes athletes struggle to change their swing, or mechanics, because they simply don’t believe that it will make them better in the long run. Yes, your performance may suffer for a couple pitches, or a couple days, or even a week, but if they make the adjustment it WILL make them better in the long run. The athletes I’m working with don’t seem to understand this process, they view failure as a negative all the time, even if it’s improving their mechanical game. I think it also comes down to trusting your coaches. Trusting that even if your performance suffers momentarily, your coaches adjustments will improve your performance over time.

Insecurity:  Vulnerability is something that isn’t embraced in our society. In fact, it’s shamed most of the time. It makes sense that our athletes aren’t willing to be vulnerable during practice. They aren’t willing to drop their guard and try something that may make them look “silly” or different. They want to be “on” all the time.

It’s imperative for our athletes to be comfortable trying new things. They need to trust the process of taking 3 steps back if it means they get to leap 4 steps forward.

 

 

 

Fake it Until You Make it

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        Two years ago, I found myself at high school basketball game supporting a classmate of mine who was coaching. Within seconds of being there, a foul was called and a free throw shot was taken. The player shot the ball, and once she realized she was going to miss the shot she immediately hung her head and mouthed “Dang it”. IMG_2971It took her a second to gather herself before she realized she needed to be on the other end of the court for defense. I kept my eye on this player for next few minutes and noticed after every single “attempt” her body language was full of self-doubt. It was obvious she felt defeated by the physical performance she was displaying. Although I can’t speak to how well she was previously playing before I arrived, her defeated body language wasn’t aiding in current performance.

The head drop, the eye roll, the exasperated sigh; we’ve all seen it. We all know what it means; “I am unhappy with the way I’m performing”.

Fake it until you make it. We’ve heard many great coaches say this. An opponent, even a teammate, should never be able to guess at how you’re feeling on the court. A few weeks ago I got the opportunity to speak with Coach Sue Enquist from UCLA. One of the things she preaches to her players is fake it until you make it. Positive body language is such a huge factor in how you perform. If an opponent thinks you have already defeated yourself, they grow more confident in their ability to beat you.

You can usually pick the better players out by how they carry themselves. If you watch pre-shot routines, those that display more confidence usually have better technique in their shot, even if they don’t actually make the basket.  Confidence is a huge predictor to your level of play. If you don’t have it, fake your confidence! Even if you aren’t feeling confident, pretend you are! Be an actress! Keep your head up after an error even if you want to throw your fist through a wall. It can actually affect the way you feel and play. Positive body language can change the hormones in your body, and literally make you feel more confident. Yes, it’s true. It can also affect how your opponents play against you; it is harder to beat a confident team. It can also affect how your teammates play next to you. Your body language affects them just as much as it does your opponents. Always keep your head up!

The first Step to Improving Your Mental Game: Awareness

The first task on your athlete’s journey to strengthen their mental game is to increase the awareness of their thoughts. Instruct them to notice if their self-talk is hindering them or helping them achieve success. It’s crucial that your athletes notice when their minds are working for them and when it is working against them. Their focus is to recognize patterns of when it’s easy for them to stay motivated and focused, and when they struggle to do so.

5308196-success-failure-green-road-sign-illustration-on-a-radiant-blue-backgroundTheir goal should be to listen to their “strong” voice and ignore or smother their “weak” voice. Their strong voice is the voice that fills them with confidence, allows them to take on challenges, and helps them to stay positive when the going gets tough. This voice is the voice that talks them into sprinting their hardest even though they’ve already run 10 suicides; this is also the voice that encourages them to throw another rise ball even though the last one was just hit over the fence. Athletes need to recognize their strong voice and buy into it while simultaneously pushing out their weak voice.

How to work awareness into your coaching:

  1. When practice starts: Remind athletes to work on mentally preparing themselves for the upcoming practice. Which voice are you listening to today? Are you talking yourself into working hard at practice, or are you simply going through the motions dragging yourself along praying that practice will end soon?
  2. Watch their body language: If you see an athlete looking or performing like they are defeated, remind them to find their strong voice and smother their weak voice.
  3. During instruction: If you are working on critiquing an athletes form, make sure to include what they should be reciting to themselves in their head.
  4. When an athlete is struggling: Bring to their attention how their mind could be playing a role in their frustration. Is their weak voice taking control and beating themselves up inside or is their strong voice talking themselves into making the next play.

How Stress Can be Helpful!

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Anxiety, we’ve all felt it. It’s the cringe in your stomach when you step up to the plate. It’s the feeling of clammy hands making it difficult to grip the club on the last hole. It’s the shortness of breath before taking a free throw shot. nervous-sweatingIt’s excessive perspiration ruining a shirt before a big speech. It’s a pounding heart as the starting gun sounds. It’s the body kicking into overdrive stimulating the fight or flight response.

The field of sport psychology has developed multiple approaches and strategies to fight the negative side effects of competitive anxiety. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation aim to quiet the mind and the body, decreasing the heart rate and in turn quieting the racing mind.

However, a simple change in perception can be just as beneficial to controlling those pre-game jitters. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, is known for taking research and turning it into easy useful methods for the everyday person to utilize. In her latest Ted Talk she speaks about how to view stress in a positive manner. I found her approach to work very well, especially in preparation for competition.

Most of us interpret the above stress syndrome as negative. We think, oh no I must be really nervous for this performance. But what if we started to view that stress response as helpful? If we thought, oh my heart is pounding and my breath is quickening my body must be revving up for competition. lacrosse-games-beginThe pounding heart just gets more blood to my muscles which helps them perform more efficiently. The increase in breath rate is helping to increase the oxygen in my bloodstream to help my body work harder. Researchers found that this simple change in perspective actually changed the physical stress response in participants. They still felt the pounding heart and the sweaty hands, however, their blood vessels didn’t constrict as they did previously. This allowed for better blood flow throughout the body and was actually a helpful response!

Next time you are walking up to the plate for an at bat and feel your stress response kicking in, view it as a positive thing! It is helping your body prepare for competition, embrace it, and use it’s power!

For more information watch the “Making Stress Your Friend” Ted Talk

Quote of the day: Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one” Hans Selye

Baring it all

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One Game, One Love.

Coaching perspectives and life lessons of a Sports Psychology M.A.

Live Love Sport

Improving your mental game

Secret Life of a Startup

Some things you can't complain about at work

M I Initiatives

Belief in Human Potential

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