Change, Please

Written By Aaron Weintraub

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Change, Please

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IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PROGRESS WITHOUT CHANGE, BUT MAKING ADJUSTMENTS OFTEN ENCOUNTERS RESISTANCE. CONSIDER THE TOP REASONS THAT PEOPLE RESIST CHANGES WITHIN THEIR TEAM, SCHOOL, OR ORGANIZATION (ASSUMING THAT THE CHANGE IS FOR THE BETTER):

Fear of the unknown

A great synonym for the “comfort zone” is the “familiar zone.” Taking advantage of the opportunity to expand one's comfort zone a little every day will reap immense rewards. Buyer beware: humans are creatures of habit. Not changing comes naturally to us.

Satisfaction with the status quo

We all agree that if something is not broken, do not fix it. However, “broken” can be defined in many ways. Clearly, winning once does not mean that nothing is broken. Perhaps a better definition for broken is “not as good as it could be.”

Resentment

It is often difficult to get the ego out of the way. Sometimes the brain says yes, but emotions shout, “No!” What is right is important. Who is right is not. Resentment can often be nipped in the bud by making the decision making process inclusive. Research shows that subordinates do not have to get their way to feel satisfied or accept change. They simply need to be heard.

Lack of confidence/motivation

The perception is that the cost is too high or the reward too low — what's in it for me? This discussion is only about good change, but just because the change would ultimately be helpful does not mean that everyone knows this. In fact, the future is impossible to know and it is unlikely that everyone concerned will think the change is a good idea. Buy-in comes from effective communication. Great leaders communicate their vision with clarity.

Lack of faith

The idea may be good in theory, but the people involved may doubt their ability to see the adjustment through to its positive end. Change typically involves an initial performance decline before the benefits kick-in and outweigh the costs. It takes confidence to decide to change and faith to see it through.

Fear of failure

We all worry to some degree about not being good enough. The goal is not to eliminate fear, but rather to eliminate fear's effects. It is okay to be scared; it is not okay to act scared. This takes the courage to do our best, one step at a time. When we define success as Coach Wooden does, (“The peace of mind that comes from knowing you did your best”), we can actually eliminate “failure” as a possibility by forming a plan (e.g. pre-performance routine) and executing it as best we can.

If faith and courage both exist in excess, look out world! Continuous improvement abounds.

As you read this article, you were led to think about change at an organizational level. Read the list again, this time thinking about adjustments at the individual level. The list still applies. Great adjustments come from athletes who are paying attention. Here are the specific questions of an Effective Rational Response that they are paying attention to:

What was I trying to do? (answer should be 100% controllable)
What happened?
Why?
What do I want to do next time I'm in a similar situation?
How might I best do that?

COACHING POINT

Teach your athletes to teach themselves. After all, perhaps the best way to learn something is to teach it. Plus, we all would love to have an omnipresent and omniscient coach. This perfect coach would figure out how to push us when needed and hug us just when we need that support to lean on. Someone to know when we are off track and how we can get back to our true selves. Someone to know our mechanics and the game so well that they know the key points and the “non-teaches.” Plus they give us these ideal mechanics in just the right doses at just the right times. They allow us to keep it simple, with a narrow-extemal focus during the action.

This coach is an artist, adept at balancing work with play, aggressiveness with control, a sense of urgency with patience and faith, and trying hard with detached observation. We will play on different teams, but this coach will stay with us always. Who can achieve all of this? There is only one candidate.

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Courage

By Aaron Weintraub

Courage

Courage is the strength of will to do what is difficult. Life (and softball) is so much better when you are good at it, and a huge part of being good at it is being courageous. Great athletes do this despite the risk of falling, getting hurt, making mistakes, looking bad, and feeling bad. They are dedicated to the truth and they work on weaknesses, often scheduling pain now to enhance pleasure later. Great athletes are open, comfortable in the knowledge that they are not invincible. Everyone has both good and bad habits; courageous athletes work hard to turn their weaknesses into strengths.

The word courage comes from the Latin root “COR,” which means heart. It is a common theme in softball that “you have to have heart.” Some people equate heart with fearlessness, but this is not accurate. Wrestling icon Cory Lester said, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is being afraid but being able to control that fear so you are able to perform at your highest ability. That's what makes a champion.” It's being scared, but not acting scared!

Courage can be divided into two categories: physical and moral. Having one does guarantee having the other. For example, NHL teams are made up of athletes with high physical courage.

All the players have the toughness to play through pain or risk injury. We know this because we can count the average number of teeth per player. However, that same team will have a normal distribution of moral courage. A couple individuals will be high, a couple low, and most somewhere in between.

Moral courage also requires a risk of significant pain, but it is emotional rather than physical. It is the ability to do what is right even if that goes against social norms or peer pressure, or risks embarrassment, discouragement, or adversity. Here are examples of moral courage

Saying no to pressures to do things that are counter to your own values (alcohol/drugs/cheating!etc.).

Striving for perfection, knowing that you will fall short.

Facing the unknown and giving your best effort even though you have no idea if that will be enough to win or make others happy. What you do know is that your best is all you can do and you have faith that your best is always good enough, not necessarily to win, but to produce success.

Victims of crime who testify against their attackers.

The anorexic or addict who seeks help and wins the fight.

The athlete who recognizes how her personality keeps her from leading or performing effectively, so she changes what comes natural and creates a new habit.

Courage is seeking the truth at any cost and having the motivation to use what you find, for knowledge without action is useless. When courage and motivation are combined, mountains will be overcome one step at a time, then look like molehills in the distance behind you. Without courage, even a molehill is insurmountable. With courage, an ingrown toenail becomes irrelevant during competition. Without courage, the injured athlete loses focus, intensity, and balance. With courage, adversity is good and mistakes are viewed as critical components for growth and happiness. Without courage, adversity is bad and mistakes represent the end of the road. With courage, we can identify and change bad habits, making excellence itself second nature. Without it, we can make excuses. Without courage, the fear of failure debilitates, but with it, that same fear gives us juice to help us reach new heights of personal and human achievement. Courage reveals fear and pressure for what they really are: the shadows of great opportunity.

All of this is why Winston Churchill said, “Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning.” If motivation and courage are sufficient, you will find a way! You will ‘win' the mental side of the game and perform up to your potential when you have the courage to say (and act out), “I will give my best effort one step at a time and accept whatever happens!”.

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Is Too Much Confidence Possible

By Aaron Weintraub

Fastpitch Radio Network Fastpitch Softball Website

Is Too Much Confidence Possible

TALENT IS GOD-GIVEN; BE HUMBLE. FAME IS MAN-GIVEN; BE THANKFUL. CONCEIT IS SELF-GIVEN; BE CAREFUL.

Once an athlete finds herself having a peak performance, she will want to stay there as long as possible. Unfortunately, inherent pitfalls are waiting for her at every turn, trying to bring her back “down to earth.” While she is in the zone, she is, by definition, extremely confident. This confidence is good. However, it is easy for her to to become overconfident at this point. When she is confident, she is tempted to think that she can do no wrong. She seems invincible, but if she is smart, she knows she is not. When she goes over the edge and becomes overconfident, she actually believes that the game is easy or that she is in some way invincible. Reality will bite her in the backside for this mistake, usually sooner rather than later.

YOU EXPECT SUCCESS. YOU RESPECT FAILURE.
-GREG NORMAN, GOLFER

The overconfident softball player makes assumptions and loses her edge. A hitter swings at everything, the fielder forgets to watch the ball into her glove, or the pitcher assumes that this pitch with two outs and nobody on and the nine-hole hitter up 1s less important than other pitches. It is appropriate for the pitcher to have confidence that she can have a 1-2-3 inning, for the fielder to expect to catch the ball, or for the hitter to expect to hit it hard, but there is a limit. Knowing where that delicate balance lies is a tightrope act. With humility and alertness, awareness of how to avoid a bad fall can be acquired. It is all part of her learning process for approaching potential.

WHEN YOU'RE ON TOP OF YOUR GAME, YOU DON'T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED.
-SAMMY SOSA, BASEBALL PLAYER

While searching for the balance of appropriate aggressiveness, an athlete can help maintain a peak performance by excusing mistakes as part of the normal process of learning her boundaries. The hitter's poor swing decision, swinging at a ball or a pitcher's pitch with less than two strikes was bound to happen at some point, so she should not let that mistake bother her. She should certainly learn and adjust, but if she is bothered, she is likely to lose that zoned-in feeling. The emphasis of the mistake in her self-talk creates a feeling of concern, which is the opposite of the feeling she has when she is in the zone. Instead, she should maintain the fantastic, confident attitude that brought her to this point by focusing on what she learned and all the things she is doing correctly. Ultimately, she wants to maximize confidence – more is always better- without becoming cocky. She achieves this by respecting the difficulty of the game of softball.

THE KEY FOR KEEPING SUPER HIGH CONFIDENCE FROM EVER BECOMING COCKINESS IS RESPECT FOR THE GAME. IT IS NEVER EASY TO DO YOUR BEST TO CARE BUT NOT TOO MUCH

Olympian Scott Hamilton said he learned to approach his “most important” performances with “refined indifference.” This was his form of freeing himself from any worry about outcomes. With the hard work of preparation successfully completed, an athlete can enjoy those moments of high competition and have an intention. She knows what she wants to do, and she knows she is controlling everything she can, thus maximizing her chances for positive outcomes. She does not need to wait for these outcomes to occur to feel like a success because she defines success as Coach Wooden did: the peace of mind that comes from knowing she did her best. She is successful because of her process, not because of the outcomes that her behaviors lead to. She is detached, intentionally, from worries about the outcome. This perspective is the “green light” balance that some athletes struggle mightily to find.

Developing refined indifference or intentional detachment, like all mental skills, can be practiced. The athlete must get away from expectations. Avoiding the words “should” and “supposed to” is a great start. Then she might say, “I don't care” over and over. She could add phrases to make sentences like “I don't care what my dad thinks” or “I don't care about things outside of my control.” She might even get to the rare level of maturity that allows her true freedom from worry: “I don't care what happens in the game as long as I earn the peace of mind that comes from giving my best effort.”

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU STARTED THE SEASON OR, AFTER A LONG LAYOFF FROM THE GAME, RESUMED GOLFING BY SH0011NG A SCORE THAT WAS BETTER THAN EXPECTED? -SAM SNEAD, GOLFER

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We Can Stop Our Muscle Fibers From Contracting

By Aaron Weintraub

We Can Stop Our Muscle Fibers From Contracting

Tension is literally the contraction of muscle fibers. Relaxation is the absence of tension. Awareness is necessary for adjustments to happen. Therefore, if an athlete doesn’t realize she’s too tight, she won’t fix the problem. Learning to relax is a three step process (like learning anything, really): know where you want to be, know where you are, and figure out how to get from here to there.

How do we know where we want to be? We need clear goals. “Clear” means we need to know what we have to do that is totally within our control to achieve the goal. Pay attention when you’re doing well so you can repeat. Pay attention when others are doing well so you can imitate. Ask the right questions constantly. Paying this much attention to life, including muscle tension, is too much for a majority of people, but it is normal stuff for champions like you!

How do we know where we are? Check. Right now, check the tension in the back of your neck. You probably are carrying more than you need simply to keep your head from falling forward, but without checking, you didn’t realize this. Does this mean we should check for tension before stepping into the batter’s box, engaging the pitcher’s rubber? It depends… if tension has a history of keeping you from giving your best effort, then yes. Is this making your preparations to perform too difficult and complex? No. Isn’t a goal to keep it simple? Yes, during the performance — not before it. You can add this check for tension into your pre-performance routine and practice it over and over again, making it routine, or no big deal.

How do we figure out how to get from here to there (tight to relaxed, in this case)? Experiment. Make your best guess, try it a few times, and then decide if it seems to help or hurt. Here are some ideas to experiment with:

Take a deep breath (down in your belly) and just let the tension go during the exhalation.

The breathing exercise below.

Contrast strategy: tighten the muscle group as tight as possible, then breathe in and release it on exhalation.

Massage.

Shake it out.

Positive self-talk to take the pressure off and increase confidence

(all mental skills training is designed to help with this issue, so keep practicing your mental skills)

a. “I’ve done this many times before.”

b. Imagery practice of your P.P.P.P. (Personal Past Peak Performance).

c. “My best effort is always good enough.”

d. “Just do my job, not more or less. It’ll work out.”

e. “They’re in trouble.”

f. “Do what I do.”

Use your routine to promote full preparedness and comfort, and to help you get lost in the process of what you’re doing.

Yoga.

Pay attention to your body during stretching.

Progressive Relaxation.

EXERCISE:

Dialing your hype number down.

Breathe deeply, getting the air down towards your belly. Breathe smooth and steady, trying to connect the
breaths (smooth out the transitions).

Inhale confidence Inhale relaxation Inhale enjoyment
Exhale negativity Exhale stress Exhale worries
(Inhale confidence)

Long Version (before competition):

Do each pair 5 times (5 breaths)
Then do each pair 3 times
Then do each pair once
Finish by inhaling confidence one more time

Short version (during competition):

Do one breath for each.
Practice the long version to increase the effect of the short version.

Use your mental skills to find the words and images that best bring in and get out the ideas listed. For example, don’t just say “confidence” while inhaling. Rather, picture your P.P.P.P or remind yourself that you’ve executed this skill many times before. Enjoyment reflects not only having fun, but also being fully present in the moment. Exhaling worries is releasing both worries about the future and regrets about the past. You might prefer separating these two with an extra breath.

Achievements in Softball are Fun..and So Are Setbacks

By Aaron Weintraub

Achievements In Softball Are Fun... So Are Setbacks

In a discussion of attitude for optimal performance, it would be difficult to overstate the importance of having fun. Having fun is a foreign concept to no one, yet athletes often forget to do it. Fun happens when the athlete is in the moment. She does not arrive at fun. She is either having fun or she is not. Letting go of concern for outcomes allows enjoyment to happen.

Enjoyment, practice, success, pain, “failure,” winning, losing, and achievement are all part of the athlete”s process of finding out how good she can be. The process can simultaneously be tiring and fun, exciting and fun, nerve-wracking and fun, even painful and fun. It would be difficult, however, to have fun while being frustrated, impatient, lethargic, annoyed, angry, stubborn, or resentful. Softball should almost always be fun so athletes must work on their skill at avoiding these negative emotions.

Practice should be fun. Augie Garrido says, “Enjoy building the ingredients of success.” Short periods may occur in which it is not loads of fun, but generally speaking, athletes should have a good attitude about working at their task. Some drills will certainly be more fun than others, but if every athlete reminds herself why she does them, she can learn to enjoy them all. Frequent reminders to maintain an enthusiastic attitude may be necessary. Very short-term goals help when the going gets tough. For some, learning to love a challenge takes a bit of time, but it can be done.

Consistently giving best effort performances at practice and in games is difficult. Difficult and fun do not typically go together. However, it is good that it is difficult because in softball, for one team to win, the other has to lose. As the proverb goes, “if you want to get things that others won’t get, you have to do things that others won’t do.” Most teams do not consistently practice at the edge of their ability levels both physically and mentally. They do not embrace challenges and stay positive through adversity. Most teams will sweat and bleed, but most do not know how to ‘win’ the mental side of the game every day. They do not have the courage to give their best effort one step at a time, accept whatever happens, and do it again.

Quite a few athletes only have fun when they get positive outcomes. This perspective is not healthy. Of course it is more fun to do well than to do poorly, and it is fine for enjoyment to increase when outcomes are superb. However, the game should be inherently fun. “I love making a diving catch,” or “I love the feeling of hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely,” is much better than “I love softball.” Inherent enjoyment of softball allows the athlete to create the fun attitude before she has any positive outcomes to lean on. The athlete who needs to play well to have any confidence and enjoyment is doomed to inconsistency.

Finally, when an athlete comes to the end (of the game, season, or her career), she should enjoy the last performance most. It is what she has prepared for. Her preparation included almost immeasurable hard work. It also included the pain of setbacks, the challenges of adjustments, and the satisfaction of achievements. It would make no sense not to enjoy the culmination of such an effort. Some people may perceive enormous pressure and forget the joys that this moment holds, but the mentally strong athlete will not. Whatever outcomes lie ahead, this performance will define how good she can be at this point in her life. If she has no regrets about her preparation, then she has already succeeded. Hopefully, this peace of mind and her natural ability will be enough to provide the outcome that she has dreamed of, but either way, she is a winner in the eyes of mature observers, herself the most important among them. The entire process of approaching her potential has been fun, but no experience could be more fun than this culminating moment. When you arrive at the mountaintop, enjoy the view!

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Mental Toughness is the Elite Athlete’s Edge

Aaron Weintraub

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Mental Toughness is the Elite Athlete's Edge By Aaron Weintraub


Mental toughness is the ability to do what needs to be done right now. Mentally tough competitors get more satisfaction from their time at practice and in competition than others because they know how to enjoy the game and its challenges. Their consistency makes them a coach’s favorite and somebody their teammates can rely on. They are team leaders who always give their team a chance to win.

Tough athletes have the courage to do what is difficult and the confidence to be comfortable in a situation that would make others uncomfortable. They do not allow themselves to get frustrated because they will not accept those major ups and downs that most (overly emotional) athletes have. They find a way to keep their mind and body close to their ideal performance state. They find a way to do their job!

So how do you acquire mental toughness? You have to know your job to do your job and no one is born with all the details. You must look for answers and be willing to guess so you can find out what works. Every time you take action with positive expectations (even through the inevitable adversities) and give your best effort, you are practicing your mental skills and improving your mental toughness.

There are no shortcuts. However, there are many tools for your mental skills toolbox that can accelerate progress, like the word “opportunity.” Listen to the top professional athletes in interviews after they did well and you will find this theme. They were thriving on the opportunity.

How mentally tough are you? Do you know how to imitate the thought patterns of the greatest athletes in the world? Do you know how to move beyond normal, move beyond trying hard to consistently giving your best effort? If you are going to get rewards from softball that most other girls will not get, you are going to have to do things that most other girls are simply not willing to do!

Performance comes from the combination of your physicals skills and your mental skills. Physical skills include speed, strength, genetics, and mechanics. Mental skills is an umbrella term that includes everything else that affects performance such as attitude, focus, courage, teamwork, strategy, imagery and confidence. How important is the mental side of the game? Most professional athletes say it is at least 80% of the equation. Whatever the number, you know that your ability to deal with “failure,” be in the moment, and trust your stuff is a difference maker. So here is an important question: how much time do you spend… how much of your attention in training is dedicated to improving your mental skills?

If you are normal, you are spending most of your time thinking about mechanics, training physically, and you are missing out on some opportunities to train your mental game. Perhaps you are not building your mental toughness as quickly as possible because you have not been exposed to the details about how to do it. If so, it is time to take the bull by the horns and find out how to get what you want from the game that you invest so much into.

You improve your mental skills when you work smart. Many people practice their drills, run their sprints, and lift their weights. Very few people are willing to pay attention to the details so they can figure out more about themselves and more about the game.

Even fewer will do what it takes to apply everything they learn. Simply put, it is great news that both trying hard and giving your best effort are difficult, because this allows you to get an edge by being willing to do what others will not do!

One of the first principles to remember is that, “All you can do is all you can do” and “All you can control is all you can control.” You cannot control other people, the weather, or the past. Getting upset about a mistake by yourself, a teammate, or an umpire is normal, but it is not useful. What you can control is yourself, including how you respond to challenges, what attitude you practice and perform with, and how fast you learn. Are you learning to be relaxed, confident, ready to go, committed to the plan, and focused one pitch at a time? You can be if you will think like a scientist does by experimenting for answers and making learning more important than your results today. You can leave normal far in the distance behind you by making it a habit to give your best effort one step at a time.

Rate of learning is critical. Every opportunity on the diamond can teach you more about what works and what does not. Because you are mentally tough, you are not merely going through the required motions, you are testing your hypotheses and paying attention to the results. Obviously learning more means that over time, you will win more than others. Your consistent hard and smart work through all the adversities of life (er… softball) is your edge. Stay relentless in your pursuit of excellence by doing common things like running, throwing, catching, and hitting in uncommon ways. Enjoy your job, learn your job, and do your job!

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