10 Things She Must Do to Stand Out on the Field

“The Top 10 Things She Must Do to Stand Out on the Field” Written By John Michael Kelly

As championship season is upon us the summer push to win and be noticed is like no other time of year. Whether you daughter and/or team is playing in a regional or national tournament, or one of the major summer showcases here are some proven tips for things your athlete MUST do to stand out from the crowd and be a difference maker, a game changer…someone every coach wants on his or her team.

Remember, if your athlete is looking to get recruited keep in mind that for a college coach this is their career, their job. Ask yourself the question, “Would I invest $100,000 to $250,000 in my daughter to play softball in my program…knowing that my job is on the line?”

Follow these 10 tips and your daughter will shine and stand out every time:

1. Hustle – This should be a “no-brainer.” Run from pre-game to the dugout; run on and off the field each inning; run back to the dugout after an out; and for gosh sakes RUN out every ball hit. Dive for balls….ALWAYS. If your athlete is on deck she should run to pick up the bat for the batter after a foul ball. Remember, hustle is a CHOICE and coaches are ALWAYS watching.hoover09cut-11

2. Attitude – This takes form as body language, using your voice on the field, cheering in the dugout. Your athlete, again, must be aware that her every move is being watched and any demonstration of frustration, anger or sadness is seen as a huge weakness and liability in the eyes of a coach. This falls under the heading of mental toughness…get some!

3. Intelligence – I call it “Softball IQ” and every coach likes to see a prospect show her knowledge for the game. Why? Because it will make the coach's job easier; less remedial teaching allows for more advanced teaching. Have your athlete pay attention playing the game, observing the game or watching on television. How much can she learn about the game? Again, it's always her CHOICE.

4. Superior Concentration/Focus – Softball is a game that requires immense focus and mental concentration for short bursts of time; usually less than 5 seconds. However, if your athlete cannot summon that focus the game will inevitably punish her with mistakes or due to poor decision making. In big games or bigger stages she must keep her focus in the present moment.

5. Bounce Back from Adversity – Softball is a game of failure and, more accurately, a game of overcoming failure. For your athlete to stand out she MUST be able to have a short memory and put past mistakes behind her as QUICKLY as possible. Carrying an error in the field over to her next at bat, or a poor at bat out into the field on in the circle is a recipe for disaster. Have her see a mistake as an opportunity to learn and move one step closer to game mastery instead of the end of the world!

6. Play Fearless! – Every coach wants that player who flies around the field, afraid of nothing…always giving 110% effort, trusting her decision making and her talent. Playing fearless means NO HESITATION. Coaches would prefer an athlete make a mistake as the result of playing aggressive as opposed to playing passive, unsure, afraid of making mistakes.

7. Do the Little Things Well – See #3 again. Have your athlete take pride in her game and take good leads, backup plays properly, look for the extra base, get the signs right. It is ultimately the little intangible parts of the game that only a trained coach's eye will notice that will determine how much your athlete stands out from the crowd. Do all of the little things well and good things will happen!

8. Execute – No matter how good your athlete is at performing the other 9 tips in this email she MUST be able to execute when her number is called. However, keep in mind that coaches watching prospects don't expect a pitcher to strike everyone out or every hitter to go 5-5. Execution has as much to do with showing the athleticism, precision, knowledge and effort in the execution of the various game tasks/skills than simply the result itself. So get the bunt down, hit behind the runner, hit the cutoff, and throw strike one.

9. Make Adjustments – As the game of softball is dynamic, meaning full of variables always changing, any athlete that wants to stand out must learn to make numerous adjustments during the game to give herself the best odds for success. These adjustment “opportunities” are everywhere: batting, fielding, base-running, pitching. Here is the key…if your athlete DOES NOT make adjustments she will never be able to play her best. So have her look for adjustments based on the ump's strike zone, the pitcher calling, the defensive positioning, etc. All game adjustments are easier if she follows my advice in #3 and #4.

10. Love the Game – In the end your athlete will stand out simply because everyone watching her can clearly see how much she loves playing the game. Her joy, enthusiasm, and genuine desire show up in every move she makes on the diamond. Coaches love these types of players because they are easy to coach and nearly always are willing to do whatever it takes to get better and help their team to succeed. As an athlete love, appreciate and respect “the game” and you will absolutely stand out!

Well, that's it. Ignore these 10 tips and your athlete will have a very difficult time standing out. Follow them and coaches will be lining up to recruit her to their team/program!

Thanks for reading! –John Michael Kelly

The Championship Formula


“The Championship Formula” Written By John Michael Kelly

After watching another exciting NCAA softball championship season it got me to thinking what exactly determines champions; meaning what separates them from everyone else?

Championship games are always thrilling spectacles because of the endless unknown variables and the pure drama of personal heroics. Or as ABC Wide World of Sports said, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” There is a winner and a loser; the victor and the vanquished.

Two weeks ago I experienced a championship game of my own as my high school team was shooting for the school's first California section Division 1 softball championship in 16 years (the equivalent of our state championship). We started five freshmen and were playing against a senior heavy team that would be playing in their fourth section championship game in a row and were defending champions. But I liked our chances!

Winning a local, regional or national championship at any level of competition is incredibly special and takes a number of clearly defined ingredients to propel any team to play their best when it matters most.

My team…yes we won 2-1, after falling behind 1-0 in the top of the 6th. We were frustrated with our inability to hit after we crushed the ball in our 10-3 semi-final win. However, big time players step up with the game and season in the balance. Winning a championship, in the end, is far more mental than physical. Three of our mentally toughest players (one senior and two juniors) led our way back with two clutch two out hits to go ahead and ultimately close out the 2-1 championship victory. But our C.I.F. championship was no accident; it was the product of design, hard work and a formula every champion must follow.

Scripps Ranch’s Lauren Lipe jumps into the arms of Makayla Martin, center, as Kylee Brown joins in the celebration of beating Carlsbad Saturday in the Division I playoff game. photo by Bill Wechter

Scripps Ranch’s Lauren Lipe jumps into the arms of Makayla Martin, center, as Kylee Brown joins in the celebration of beating Carlsbad Saturday in the Division I playoff game.                                     Photo by Bill Wechter

So what, specifically, are the ingredients that make up this championship formula?

1. A culture of success. Champions cultivate a culture of hard work, extreme camaraderie, a “do whatever it takes” I've got your back, never settle for less than your best attitude. I call this the “Champion's Mindset.”

2. Maintain “Big Picture” thinking. Meaning as a coach, player or parent doesn't freak out about every error or loss. Champions are made and as with game mastery sometimes athletes and teams must take a step or two backwards in order to grow and mature. Your lineup at the start of the year may not resemble your lineup at the end. Allow players to develop as your team matures. As a coach understand that your team is always a masterpiece in progress.

3. Playing fearless. Champions never play with fear! Champions trust their abilities because they ultra prepare for their ultimate success. Fear = Doubt + Hesitation…a guaranteed formula for failure or, at best, mediocrity on the diamond. Playing fearless means being unafraid of making mistakes; focusing on their effort and the process of mastery instead of simply the black and white results.

4. Keep the pressure on! Champions are always on the attack. They keep the pressure on their opponent all the time in every facet of the game. Why? Champions believe they are always the better team and make you play their game at their pace on their terms. Champions force their opponent outside of their comfort zone which leads to mistakes, errors in judgment and doubt (see #3 above).

5. Focus on the details…all of them. Champions know that the consistent and successful execution of small tasks will eventually lead them to the winner's circle. These small, but crucial, tasks include focusing relentlessly of the mental details of the game: looking for any strategic edge they can gain as a player or team to increase their probability for game day success.

6. Have a plan. The focus on details in #5 really looks like an intense commitment to Herculean preparation. I believe the harder practice and training is for any athlete or team the easier the actual competition will become. All preparation, whether physical or mental, should have a definite purpose, best achieved by the development and execution of a detailed plan.

7. Playing in rhythm. All champions level athletes and teams play with a clearly visible rhythm that allows their immense talent to flow without mental or physical resistance. This rhythm is what propels certain athletes to reach almost unimaginable heights of athletic dominance in the biggest games (think Michael Jordan, LeBron James). Playing in rhythm brings any athlete's and team's joy for playing the game bubbling to the surface. In this mindset the game is fun, easy and far simpler to succeed at.

8. Expectancy. Champions play with an unquestionable expectation for good on game day. This expectancy for success, for greatness is the direct and cumulative results of every other key ingredient of the championship formula in this post. It is an undeniable, rock-solid confidence earned through hard work and prior successes. This is why it is said that “champions are made not born.” This expectant mindset for success means that no victory is out of reach, no challenge too daunting, no goal too steep.

So whether you are a coach, parent or athlete follow these eight key ingredients and your team will skyrocket the odds in their favor to become champions. It's the same formula I used for my championship high school team pictured above.

Remember, there are no shortcuts to success, but success can be achieved with a proactive plan properly executed one step at a time, one day at a time, one pitch at a time!

Thanks for reading!

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5 Crucial Decisions For Softball Success

5 Crucial Decisions For Softball Success

“5 Crucial Decisions For Softball Success” Written By John Michael Kelly

As the spring softball season approaches, whether high school, travel or recreational I'd like you to pause for a moment and consider all the decisions your athlete has to make during the course of a game, and how little time she really has to make those decisions and react to ball, pitch or play. A typical batter has less than 1/2 second to determine pitch velocity, movement of the ball and ultimate spot to place the barrel of the bat each swing. No small feat! The same crazy quick time pressured decisions are true for fielding and base running.

Ultimately your athlete's or team's level of on the field success is dictated by the decisions she/they make. And these decisions are a product of many factors, most all of which are found within her head.

Behind every action is an emotion; behind every emotion is a thought. So how can you insure that your athlete or team thinks and feels optimally so that she/they make good decisions on the field?

1. Decide to play in the MOMENT. – Dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future ones makes focusing on the task at hand impossible. “Be Here Now,” and watch decision making improve immediately.

2. Decide to NOT make any one mistake/at bat or play more important than it needs to be. – The athlete decides in her head how much power she gives any one “event” on the field. The more power she gives it the bigger it gets in her head; the less power she gives it the sooner the mistake fades away.

3. Decide to always practice with a clearly defined PURPOSE in mind. – Building confidence and making good decisions is the result of proper preparation, for competence breeds confidence.

4. Decide to focus on the PROCESS of getting better instead of your batting average, ERA, fielding % or wins and losses. – Learning to focus on EFFORT and refraining from self-judgment is always the best recipe for a quick bounce back after a mistake on the field.

5. Decide to take RESPONSIBILITY for your thinking and emotional state on the field. – Success happens by design, not by accident so come into a game with a plan, ready to face those adversity demons head on!

In truth so many poor decisions on the field are due to doubt and hesitation, a fear of making a mistake. If your athlete or team can implement these five decisions and you as parent or coach support them you will soon see infinitely better game decision making, better performance levels and a greater joy for playing the game!

Thanks for reading!

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10 Key Softball Resolutions For 2015

John Michael Kelly

“10 Key Softball Resolutions For 2015” Written By John Michael Kelly

It's the end of yet another year and a great opportunity for athlete, coach or parent to do the mental work in both reviewing 2014 and planning for 2015.

Before we get on your softball resolutions for 2015

let's review 2014 with some key points and questions to contemplate:

1 – It's important as parent, coach or player to honestly assess the progress your athlete or team made in 2014. Write down areas that player/team excelled in (acknowledge progress), and those that still need improvement.

2 – Do a “SWOT” analysis, listing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; “opportunities” might mean areas of growth, a new team, a new position, a new physical or mental training routine. “Threats” might mean the downside of a weaknesses if not improved (loss of position, being cut or not playing, not being actively recruited), areas of an athlete's or team's mental game that continue to plague them (Remember, insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over yet expecting different results!). 

3 – Assess your athlete's motivation during the year. Did she do all she could to improve? Did she show the commitment to justify your family's time and money invested in her game? If not, have a conversation with her to gauge where her head is at.

4 – Have a discussion with player or team to get her/their perspective. How do they think they did? What areas of their game do they feel good about and what areas do they think need work? This will build “ownership” in their process of improving going forward.

5 – Assess your athlete's current team. Has it been a good fit? Is she getting optimal development and/or college exposure opportunities? Is she getting reps? Is the team/parent chemistry supportive and a fun environment to be around? Are the coaches communicative and supportive, or harsh and overly demanding?

Looking forward to 2015 here are some key points and questions for you to consider:

1 – Set some measurable goals for the New Year. They could be performance goals; however I would suggest you focus on the “process” rather than the “results.” As such your/her goals might be the development of a definitive physical or mental training plan (which can be as simple of taking x number of swings per week, or pitches, or ground balls, or various strength and conditioning hours). Use a chart to track progress, as this can be a great visual motivator for athlete or team!

2 – Be honest about the weaknesses of your game, whether athlete or team and commit to putting in the focused time to turn those weaknesses into strengths!
Make every practice count, whether team or individual. Always practice with a purpose and practice with the same intensity, focus and energy as you would put forth during a game.

3 – Pitchers should develop a well-defined “bullpen” regimen, particularly if only able to work indoors the next few months. Mastery of six different pitches takes time, so why not focus on a single pitch each week and throw nothing but that pitch? 

4 – Work on shifting your mindset as athlete or team to what is possible, instead of what you know? In other words next year can be the same as last year if your mind isn't open to the possibility of more. Get outside of limiting comfort zones and dream a little. How good do you want to be? Great…devise a plan to get there and GO FOR IT!

5 – In truth, 2015 can be the very best year your athlete or team ever has. But it will take a conscientious effort to get there. These 10 resolutions offer a great place to start! Thanks for reading and may 2015 be your best year yet! –John Michael Kelly, Softball Smarts

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6 Ways Fragile Confidence is Nurtured or Crushed

6 Ways Fragile Confidence is Nurtured or Crushed

6 Ways Fragile Confidence is Nurtured or Crushed Written By John Michael Kelly

I like to compare a younger athlete's sports confidence to that of holding a new born baby. Of course extra caution is necessary due to how fragile the infant child is. 

How any parent or coach handles their athlete(s) is no different. In truth how you “hold” your athlete's confidence matters, for it too is exceptionally fragile. One wrong move and BAM her confidence can shatter, or at the very least develop a large bump on the forehead!

In any given moment with every word spoken, body language gesture or facial expression (after all 90% of our communication as humans is non-verbal, according to a recent UCLA study) your athlete's sports confidence, like that baby, is either being nurtured or damaged.

As a parent or coach you get to decide whether that precious cargo of “confidence” you are holding, and have so much power to shape, will grow steadily or erode steadily. Here are 6 tips to consider:

1. Are you really being critical or supportive? If you are harping on results or expecting her to do more than she is capable you will damage or stymie her confidence.

2. In the same way you speak praise and support to a toddler attempting their first steps, or a child's first bike ride your athlete's confidence needs praise, not criticism or judgment. Words can be very damaging to a young person's confidence, self-esteem and self-image. Use your words carefully!

3. So often I see and hear parents and coaches getting down on their athlete(s) after a mistake on the field, almost as if the athlete was trying to screw up. I can assure you that your athlete is likely doing her best to master a very difficult sport. Allow those mistakes to be the springboard for learning and growth; not events she is terrified of because of the nasty comments, looks and body language she expects from parent or coach.

4. In truth confidence and competence are tied together. As parent or coach work hard to help your athlete to get better in all facets of their game. Give them the constant encourage and time it takes to improve. The more competent she “feels” she is the more her confidence will naturally grow. If she knows that in your eyes making a mistake isn't the end of the world you will be amazed, and I say this from personal experience, how much better she will feel about herself…and how much better she will play!

5. Remember that confidence in one area of her game doesn't guarantee confidence in all areas. By on the lookout for cracks in her confidence and address them in the most supportive way possible. Remind her that she doesn't have to be perfect (no player is).

6. Enjoy the journey. Her softball days will end someday. Why not be more focused on the creation of great memories for both of you instead of making endless mountains out of mole hills that both erode her sports confidence and drive a wedge of frustration between you both.

My daughter recently left for college and I would do anything to take back so many of the harmful things I said to her out of frustration over the years of her playing softball.

Commit to being different. Focus on what you are “for” instead of what you are “against.” Develop a positive, supportive, nurturing mindset and watch your athlete(s) blossom on and off the diamond!

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Does She Believe In Herself?


Does She Believe In Herself? Written By John Michael Kelly

After coaching girls’ softball for over a dozen years I have found the female athlete to be amazingly determined, wildly passionate, fiercely loyal yet emotionally fragile.

This emotional fragility is heightened by parents and coaches who don't understand the uniqueness of the female athlete.

A young woman's self-esteem, self-image and self-beliefs need to be nurtured and respected, particularly as athletes in a game as difficult emotionally as fastpitch softball can be.

For an adolescent female athlete her self-belief on the field is everything. I marvel at how many players I see, work with and coach have issues with their self-confidence. I have come to realize that it's just not easy being a young woman in a world obsessed with physical perfection and often expectations for flawless behavior.

In truth your athlete or team will only go as for in their skill development and on the field performance as they believe they will. These often limiting self-beliefs can greatly impact her motivation and desire, for if she really doesn't believe she is good enough why is all that extra work really worth it?

On the field I witness an epidemic of “self-doubt;” athletes afraid of making mistakes for fear of letting down parents, coaches, teammates and self. I see so many young ladies searching for their identity on the diamond and having to cope with the inevitable emotional roller coaster ride that fastpitch is.

Then I see parents, usually Dad's, and coaches berating an athlete or her entire team after a mistake or poor game and I cringe knowing the damaging they are doing to their athletes' self-esteem and self-confidence.

In the world of sports psychology it's called “self-efficacy;” one's belief in their ability to perform a task successfully. From psychologist Albert Bandura:

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

–View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered

–Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate

–Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities

–Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:
–Avoid challenging tasks

–Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities

–Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes

–Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities

So how can you help your athlete or team to build up this self-efficacy, the self-belief that “she can” be successful?

1. Support her and nurture her self-esteem, confidence and sense of self; particularly after a tough day on the field (or classroom).

2. Suspend your judgments, criticisms and need to be right around her. Step into her shoes and her world for a few minutes. I assure you that the amount of pressure she feels today in ALL areas of her life to excel is far greater than you experienced at her age.

3. Respect and honor her for her effort, her talent, her loyalty, her love for her teammates and the game.

4. Listen. As adults (yes I am often guilty of this with my daughter) we feel the need to talk too much when often all our daughters want us to do is put our arm around her and listen!

5. Continue to challenge her limiting self-beliefs and always encourage her to get better on the field (as in every area of her life). Start seeing her as having unlimited potential for greatness and watch her start to believe the same.

In truth the greatest gift we can give our daughters and those young ladies that we coach is the gift of confidence that propels their self-esteem, self-worth and their own belief that they can do anything they set their minds to in a sometimes difficult world!

Thanks for reading. –John Michael Kelly

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