Guest Post by Jen Croneberger
The top 5 mental mistakes coaches make prior to game time…
1. Expectations. Perhaps the number one killer of confidence, expectations are deadly. If you have expectations, you set your athletes up to fail. With expectations, they are in a succeed or fail mindset. If they don’t meet your expectations, they automatically see themselves as failures. This does not bode well for the rest of the game if they make a big error or strike out with a runner on third. By no means am I telling you to lower your standards. I am simply saying, use process/mini goals, or “manageable objectives” instead.
2. Putting too much emphasis on the outcome. When we focus on outcome instead of process, it causes us to not play in the present. We have to remember that we play this game one pitch at a time, anything else gets overwhelming. As a coach, it is our job to make sure our players stay present. Every at bat is a new game. Every play in the field is a new game and has no bearing on what they did in the previous inning or out. When our team is laser focused on one pitch at a time, amazing things happen. Don’t talk too much about winning or what you want the outcome to look like. Let them focus on a process goal for that game instead. So instead of a player making a goal to go 3 for 4 when the game starts, have them focus on having good at bats today.
3. Overtraining. This is something I see a lot of with travel coaches who want to run 5 hour marathon practices. Two words: TOO MUCH! The body gets fatigued at a certain point and the mind follows quickly. When this happens, the player shuts off and is now practicing skills at less than optimal levels of both mind and body. This is a pointless waste of time. Less EFFECTIVE time is always better than 5 non-productive hours. Quality, not quantity rules again here. The brain will shut off and will not function well for the big game that weekend if you spend countless hours trying to overtrain the week before. It is critical to understand this. It’s like running your car into the ground with no gas or oil or proper amount of air in your tires. Your car will NEVER run at its optimal level that way. Make sure you take care of your players properly. Rest sometimes will be more beneficial than too much practice. Clear the body, clear the mind. You will have successful players.
4. Knowing who requires what. This is simple. Your rah-rah speech simply doesn’t work for everyone. Some players need to relax and listen to meditation music with their eyes closed in the corner in order to find their peak level of performance. Others need to jump around wildly to the loudest most pump-up music they can find. You normally will have a pretty evenly split team on this. If you take the whole team and want to meditate with them all, you will put those pumped up players to sleep. If you start raising your voice and jumping around to “pump them up” you will scare the mediators into shut down mode. Know your players. Know who needs what from you. Send them off for a few minutes pre-game to do their own thing. Then bring them together to say something before they hit the field. Best of both worlds. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there is only one athlete and that one athlete happens to like or need the same things as you. Usually not the case.
5. You panic or start to use “avoidance thinking”…. Your athletes will follow what you do. Instead of telling them what to avoid, or what NOT to do (Don’t get picked off of first today, do NOT strike out looking, don’t be afraid to be aggressive on the bases or at the plate…. Etc.) Tell them what you want them to do instead. When you doubt or panic, they will too. As soon as you mention something that you don’t want them to do, they will spend the rest of the time focusing on just that. Instead of focusing on the outcome you want. It’s simple, but you need to make sure you use your words wisely. Always always focus on the positive things, and fill their heads with all the things you want to see them do. Sometimes, they may just listen then too.
Jen is the CEO/Founder of Excellence Training Camps, Inc. and has held numerous coaching positions, including the head softball coach at Unionville High School, assistant softball coach at Ursinus College and the Mental Game Coach for the (NPF) Women’s Professional Softball Team, The Philadelphia Force. Jen is currently the head softball coach at Ursinus College, and has also worked with Fordham, Drexel and Rutgers softball programs as well as some of the top travel softball teams in the region.
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