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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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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