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"Building Mental Toughness: Strategies and Tools for Cultivating Confidence"

In a sport filled with failure, adversity and imperfection - we need to prepare our athletes with the right tools and strategies to respond to failure, to create a positive environment for them to practice failing in, and to re-define their overall expectations of what "success" and "failure" is for them.

Mental toughness is this week's focus at 360U. Over the last 15+ years of administering private instruction, coaching athletes at all ages and levels, and having a wealth of experience also playing these sports, we've learned that we can not spend enough time on the mental side of the game, specifically when it comes to helping create mentally tough softball and baseball players who bounce back from failure quickly and effectively.

Creating Realistic Expectations Early

We've all heard the saying "even the best hitters get out 7 of 10 times" and that amount of failure is NOT something that our athletes come into the game equipped to deal with - this is something they need to practice and learn. It's our job to educate our athletes about this and to help them define what "success" actually looks like in this sport.

Make time at home and at practice to help your athlete create realistic expectations that match where they're at in their developmental journey and make sure those expectations are not all 'results' oriented (which is VERY difficult and takes a ton of discipline as coaches, parents and adults to make sure we're rewarding 'process' driven outcomes and not just the obvious successes.) In turn, doing these things will automatically improve our athletes' mental toughness because now they're not always 'failing' when the outcome of the pitch, at-bat, or play isn't marked in the books the right way. They'll start to find small wins at practice and in games, which will create more and more confidence in them, ultimately leading to the types of successes they want to see on the field.

"1-10 Confidence Scale"

How do you do this? Your athletes (your child or the players on your team) need to be able to communicate openly and honestly with you about what they're feeling, when they're feeling it, so you can help them build mental toughness. "Shake it off" and "you're fine" don't always quite cut it when an athlete isn't performing their best. Healthy communication takes a culture built on trust and collaboration which opens up those doors to have discussions on your athletes' mindset. To get into the thoughts and mind of an athlete isn't always as simple as asking them a question and listening to their answer, but actually takes consistent, repeated efforts and dialogue on these topics so that the conversations you're having with your athlete are genuine, meaningful and productive (and that you're not just getting generic responses from your athletes).

At 360U, we often refer to our "1-10 Confidence Scale" to check in with our athletes on how they're feeling at any given moment. The scale simply measures their level of confidence in themselves and "how they're feeling" when they're stepping in the batter's box, getting ready to pitch, or as they await a ball on defense. A 1 on this scale is the lowest, and a 10 is the highest. We've seen it all in the responses we get from our athletes - decimals, negatives, and fractions - but most of our athletes we start with are consistently hovering right around a 5 or 6. From there, we have a HUGE opportunity in front of us: help them identify what gets them to their 10 and then help them stay there. But be careful here - everyone's "10" will look different and that's okay! Your best players expectations should be a little different than your least experienced kid on the team, therefore their expectations and definition of a "10" will also be different!

It amazes us how this simple tool can be so effective in helping us understand what exactly it is that the athlete needs on any given day. Now we have a way to connect with the athlete on their mindset to 1. keep them feeling in control and mentally tough all season long and 2. to continue showing them that the mental side of the game is important to us. If your athletes knows that you're putting time and energy into cultivating a culture that includes helping them become their most confident self, that alone will go miles in helping them become the best player they can be.

The BIGGER Takeaway

We see a HUGE opportunity here with developing this intangible skill of being mentally tough in sports and it's relevance in our athletes' lives outside of the game. For all the same reasons that this game is so hard to love, we all leave the game better because of the growth we experience during the ups and downs, trials and tribulations. When we can look at this sport as a vehicle to help prepare our athletes for their lives after sports (college, jobs, relationships, etc.) it truly will change the way you see things (and probably help you win more games too.) We certainly understand the importance of being competitive, winning games, etc. but if we aren't placing enough emphasis on helping our athletes mentality and mindset, we're leaving some really good stuff on the table and doing them a disservice to all of the great things this sport has to offer.

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