THE NEXT SENTENCE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT SENTENCE YOU’LL READ IN THIS BLOG. The response of an athlete to a good or bad outcome WILL DICTATE their future as an athlete.
If you’ve had the chance to watch the most elite softball players in the country playing in the D1 NCAA Tournament over the last few weeks, you’ll notice something striking; they NEVER show negative emotion. A pitcher will give up 6 runs in an inning, and their body language and demeanor remain poised and controlled. A hitter will strike out for the third time during the game, and she’ll hustle back to the dugout, with a pit-stop to tell her on deck hitter what pitches to look for. On the contrast, when a hitter leads off the inning with a gap shot double, she can’t control her excitement, jumping for joy at 2nd base engaging her teammates and igniting the momentum of the game for her team. She isn’t just going thru the motions, she truly is pumped that she put her team in a position for success.
How many athletes that you’ve seen in any sport control emotions in this way? The top tier athletes do, and that is no coincidence. So how do we get our athletes to do this now at the youth and high school level? Well that is easy, we start celebrating success as coaches, parents, and of course as athletes rather than continuously focus on an athletes’ weakness.
When we are finishing up instruction with our athletes, we ask them what they did awesome, and what they want to work on. If it’s an athletes first time with us, 99% of the time they start their sentence, “What I need to work on is…”. We stop them right there in the middle of their sentence and make them restart the sentence repeating after us, “What I did awesome is…”. Then they will try to replace the word awesome with “good” or “okay”. We stop them again and make them repeat after us, “What I did awesome is…”. At this point they let out a big smile and timidly tell us, emphasizing the word awesome, what they did good during the session.
For some reason today, athletes expect people, (especially coaches and parents) to want to know what they did bad first, or what they need to improve on. This tell us two things...#1 These athletes put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to please the people close to them if they’d rather focus on something that makes them feel bad versus good. #2 Somewhere down the line these athletes have been conditioned by those close to them to feel that they want to know the negative before the positive. Don’t get us wrong, it is critical for athletes to be able to identify their weaknesses and figure out how to improve them. That is the name of the game, figuring out how to get better. The concerning thing we have seen from this response is that athletes are focusing most of their energy and emotion on their weaknesses, which ultimately wears on their confidence and pulls from their strengths!
If you are a coach or parent, think about this question. How often does an athlete smile, or do a fist pump during batting practice in the cage after they hit a hard ball or make a great adjustment? We know from our experience that when an athlete rolls over on a ball and hits a weak grounder, they reset for the next pitch focused on making a change. They do this 3 more times before smashing a ball up the middle, and instead of smiling and showing any excitement, we often see a sigh with a little bubble caption over their head “ugh, finally”. As coaches, parents and influencers, situations like these are PRIME examples of opportunities to change the process around how our athletes own and experience success!
Ultimately, our goal at 360U is to empower athletes to be successful beyond their softball careers, because lets be realistic, these careers will be a small portion of their lives. We focus our energies on helping our athletes embrace their strengths while being mindful of their weaknesses. We have stations where our athletes write down what makes them an awesome, unique person. They have stations where they write down how they make other people better, and why they are good teammates. As coaches, parents, influencers and athletes, it’s time we make the shift to empowering ourselves and our athletes to own and celebrate success rather than simply expecting it.
Maria Van Abel & Laura Beyer
When we started 360U Softball in 2016, our goal was to help softball players get better. We found a lot of athletes needing instruction, and wanted to help them bridge the gap between where they were, and where they wanted to be as softball players. VERY quickly, we found that the grand opportunity in front of us was not just to teach mechanics to these young women, but FAR more importantly, to help them understand how truly amazing each and every one of them are and to find their best self.