Slowing Down The Game

Slowing Down The Game

Slowing Down The Game Written By John Michael Kelly

Often I see younger athletes' performance levels tumble as the game gets faster; whether moving up to an older age level, or simply playing against better competition. As the game speeds up most young athletes reach a mental tipping point where they can no longer make effective game decisions, leading to indecision or poor choices on the field or court give way to increased mistakes followed by a steep emotional nosedive.

What can your athlete or team do to get back in the saddle and perform optimally even when game speed reaches warp speed? The answer is to slow the game down inside your athlete's head…but how?

1. It all gets back to mental focus. Like I teach my athletes, “You're not throwing 80 pitches today; you are throwing a single pitch 80 times.” You see if an athlete can break down the game into a series of “single moments” of decision making those moments (and decisions) can be more easily managed than the overwhelming state an athlete can find themselves in by focusing too much on past mistakes or future worries.

2. It's all about P.M.A. (Present Moment Awareness). If an athlete is so worried about making mistakes he or she will have a hard time focusing intently on the task at hand. “Future Focus” or “Past Focus” (upset or regretful of past mistakes) are very common and both spell doom when the game speeds up. I can remember playing basketball in high school and completely crumbling against an aggressive full court press. For me the game got too fast and each successive turnover causes me to panic, fearful of the worst.

3. I say this often, but when the game speeds up it is imperative that your athlete not be so consumed with her or his “results,” but rather focuses solely on their “effort” and the “process” of getting better. Game mastery takes time and mistakes made provide an awesome opportunity and challenge to learn from those mistakes…get back to practice and grow to where those specific mistakes aren't made as often or ever again. The truth is that every athlete goes through this process. It can be extremely unpleasant (if parents or coaches are yelling or judging performances too harshly), or a healthy positive “teachable moment.”

Encourage your athlete to breathe! As humans as we move emotionally into “stress” we tend to take short, choppy breathes which can rob the body of the necessary oxygen to maintain peak mental focus and physiological performance. Plus, in simpler terms, deep breathes help to calm the mind and body down…so in any moment when the game gets too fast have your athlete take a few deep, cleansing breathes. This will fairly immediately begin to calm the racing thoughts and elevated pulse…moving her or his emotional state back into the green zone. 

Help your athlete to come up with a simple “positive trigger statement.” This is a short affirmative statement (like “I can do this”) that can be used in those moments on the court or field when stress, anxiety or doubt take root inside your athlete's head. Because the human brain cannot focus on more than one thought in a singular moment it's critical that your athlete come up with one or more positive trigger statements that can be utilized on demand to “push out” unwanted negative, fearful or confusing thought patterns. Since the mind can only focus on a single thought why not “program” the mind to the thought patterns that will relieve stress, improve confidence and elevate game performance levels? 

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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