Game Fear: 5 Tips to Fix It

Game Fear:  5 Tips to Fix It

Game Fear: 5 Tips to Fix It Written By John Michael Kelly

At one point or another every athlete, yes even the pros, experiences some level of fear before or during a game. This fear may take many forms, including: anxiety, worry, doubt, hesitation, frustration and many more, all emotional states that lead to huge drops in confidence and game performance levels.

For a younger softball player the game is filled with moments when feelings of fear can torpedo self-confidence and game performance.

As adults we must remember that our daughters and players do not possess the experience or cognitive development to perceive the world as we do. As such, often younger athletes jump to conclusions in their minds propelling fearful thoughts and the uneasy feelings that ensue.

I like to use the acronym F.E.A.R. when it comes to explaining fear to the athletes I coach. What does F.E.A.R. stand for? It stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. Since younger athletes use their special brand of “kid think” I know they are likely to employ “false evidence” to base their fears on. Through their eyes the risk and pain associated with performing a sport related task (like sliding, diving for a ball, facing a fast pitcher) is real and thus so is their fear.

So how do you as coach or parent go underneath the “hood” inside your athlete’s head to cure her fears? Here are five tips that work for me every time!

Recognize the distorted thinking your athlete may be engaged in. Ask her questions about “the whys” of her fears to uncover her perceived reasons and likely “false evidence.”

Understand that fear is always associated with “risk.” In other words, the greater her perception of “risk” (and the pain associated with it, including embarrassment, the feeling of failure and unworthiness, letting teammates, parents or coaches down, tanking in front of a slew of college coaches, and the potential for real physical pain) the less likely action will be taken decisively, confidently and willingly. It is normal for humans to avoid pain, if only the perception of it. As the adult you need to minimize her perception of risk by walking her off the ledge.

I walk the kids I coach off the ledge by posing to them the “worst case scenario.” I let the athlete tell me what is the worst possible thing that could happen to you if the outcome you fear actually happens? Again, as humans we all too often fear the worst when, in fact, researchers have proven of the 10 things we fear most 8 never happen and the 2 that do end up being far less severe than we made them out to be in our heads. Likewise for a younger athlete once she accepts that her fears are over-blown and a little irrational her logic can take the front seat over her emotions and the fear can subside.

Another great way to minimize or eliminate that pesky fear is by the use of “rewards.” Let’s go back to the perception of “risk” for a moment. If the perceived “reward” is greater than the perceived “risk” an athlete is far more likely to push through her fear for the sake of obtaining the reward. Likewise if the perceived “reward” falls short of her perceived “risk” no action will be taken, or it will be taken reluctantly. Think about crossing the street on foot. You can take a short cut to save time, however the risk is you might get hit by a car. You must assess (as your athlete does many times during a game) whether the risk is truly worth the reward. Another example is speeding. Is it worth the five minutes you save on the road to risk a $200 ticket?

Rewards can also look like the “carrot” or the “stick.” Dangling an ice cream after the game if she swings the bat can work for a nine year old, while a new iPhone may be the reward necessary for hitting .400 at the high school level. Either way those “carrot” rewards motivate the athlete to push through her fears and take action. Using the “stick” can also be effective, although I don’t prefer this method. With the stick you can motivate your athlete via negative reinforcement. If she does NOT take action you withhold the ice cream, the sleepover, the iPhone. In this case the “fear” of losing the “reward” becomes the motivator to take action.

In most cases once the athlete confronts her fears and takes the desires actions (dives for the ball, swings on the full count or takes that extra base) she will realize her fears were misplaced; that the process wasn’t that scary after all. And as she climbs the stairs to mental and physical softball mastery each new fear will last less, paving the way for exciting new successes on and off the diamond!

John Michael Kelly

John Michael Kelly

John Michael Kelly: John Michael Kelly, America’s Sports Confidence Coach, is known for skyrocketing the self-confidence and game performance levels for thousands of youth athletes and teams from coast to coast by reducing the stress and increasing the joy for playing the game! John also coaches travel softball with the 18u and 18 Gold teams for The Next Level (“TNL”) organization in sunny San Diego. You can follow John at and

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