I was six when I first sat out on my grandmother’s porch, listening to the Phillies on her old brown radio. Staring off into space, for two hours or more, actually paying attention to every pitch. My parents knew then I knew what love of the game was. My town didn’t have softball when I was growing up, so I played little league baseball with the boys. I couldn’t get enough. I started playing softball when it was made available to us in 6th grade, and I never felt a stronger passion to compete and to retool my work ethic. It drove me, and some days, I drove it. But always, I had a deep love of the game that we all share, enough for us to coach and teach it now.
That deep love led me to diving into the side of the game that seemed almost elusive to me as a kid. I struggled with confidence, I was hard on myself, I was and sometimes am even now … a true perfectionist. But I knew that if that love stayed alive, I would find ways to dig deeper than I sometimes thought possible. And maybe to pull out some kind of strength that I needed to overcome the string of negatives that slipped from my lips. We can all relate. That is what makes the mental game so powerful. We all know what it feels like to fail. And the triumphs we share are sometimes enough to move us to tears. It’s the tie that binds us all together. It’s what I love about being a part of this game.
Everywhere I go, my first question to the athletes I work with is this: “How much of YOUR game is from the neck up?” In all of my years, all of my stops, from the 7 year olds to the 65 year olds to the professional baseball and softball players in between, to the hundreds of Division one, two and three athletes, all of whom I have worked with, I have yet to find someone tell me it’s less than 65%. That is in fact, the lowest number I have heard since I first started asking the question. And that happened to be a 7 year old who could at least pinpoint that it’s more than half.
My next question is then: “Are you spending that 65, 75, 90% of your time then on the mental game?” The answer is always a resounding “No.” That led me to studying sports psychology and realizing that this was the part of the game that really hit home with me. I could relate to that pitcher who beats herself up after letting go of the homerun ball. .. again. Or the one who walked away from the plate wondering why she swung at that last pitch in the dirt, knowing what it feels like to let her teammates down. The torture they will both put themselves through if the outcome isn’t what they hoped it would be. There is so much more than just the fundamentals and mechanics that create the player. We can relate to that, and we can understand the feeling of let down our players often go through. Because of that, two of the strongest foundations of the mental game from the way I see it, are confidence and love of the game. They will always go hand in hand for me. I deliver a program called the “5 C’s of a Mental Game Warrior” and the fifth, and most important C is Confidence. I truly believe that an athlete can change their whole outcome based on their confidence process. I spent the last year studying and researching this in fact, to write a workbook on instilling confidence in athletes for baseball and softball coaches. I realized how critically important it is to build a player’s confidence. Sometimes, it’s the most important piece. I know we all strive to be the best coaches we can for this game, for our players, for our programs. And if somehow we can remember that the confidence of these young women if often just a word away from being changed forever, we are aware of our greater power as teachers and as influencers. Confidence can be a fragile, delicate egg that we hold carefully. But the truth remains, it is what these girls learn on the field that create their paths for the rest of their lives. It is the thank you’s and the gratitude that we receive from our players long after the game is over that mean the most to us. The life-changing experiences and words we bestowed upon them reminds us of our power as coaches. Our ability to affect is so great. Really understanding how confidence works can be our greatest asset.
The second, the love of the game, is what keeps these girls coming back for more. It’s like the one good golf shot all day that makes you make another tee time when you go back into the clubhouse. It may just be one, but if you play golf, you know what I am talking about. It’s the only one that is necessary. If the love is there, it’s not as easy to give up when it gets hard. And we all know, it gets hard. So I start with these two pieces, and hope that maybe, the athletes I work with can continue to find one little thing that they can praise themselves for every day. And if their focus is truly on the process instead of the outcome, there are always small victories to be thankful for. I love the amazing growth potential our players have in the untapped power of the mind. It is so much more than just how much more weight they can lift or how many sprints they can run. The mind truly can be the game changer. I still feel the same butterflies, the same warmth, the same excitement when I step foot between the white lines. I still love to listen to baseball on the radio. And I still need a confidence boost every once in a while. And I absolutely know for sure, I still love this game.