Earlier this week I was talking to a guy who I only know through passing, his daughter was doing a hitting lesson at Universal. As we chatted a little about softball, his team, our team and his daughter. He mentioned that she was struggling to drive the outside pitch so he wanted to make sure he got her in for a lesson. As I watched her crush every outside pitch her instructor tossed, I said to him, “it looks like her hitting is fine to me.” He agreed, and went on to say that’s one of the frustrating things, he knows she is a great hitter, especially the outside pitch but lately he can’t seem to get her to hit the way she knows how.
This conversation had me thinking about how many parents and even coaches give time, money and attention to the technical part of why a student athlete may be under performing but ignore the mental reason for why a player may be struggling. I appreciate and agree that technical things do happen and need correction, and sometimes the only way the athlete knows it is when a coach or instructor points it out. This is true from an 8-year-old all the way up to the old timers who play slow pitch and every professional athlete in between. Sometimes a technical reminder by way of a lesson is all you need, but most of the time (90% is mental) it is not the physical part of the game, it is the mental part of the game that need a Coach, parent or accountability partner to help with the mental part.
So, let’s think about it this way, between the time this kid was hitting the outside pitch in the gap to her current struggle, did she get physically worst? Did she get weaker, probably not? Did she get slower and less athletic; I would guess not. So, what transpired to cause this good hitting student athlete to struggle hitting the outside pitch. Well, first, it is softball, so ups and downs are par for the course. The other thing that happens to athletes, especially baseball and softball players are peaks and valleys when it comes to hitting. But here is what the elite athletes know, that all things being equal, 90% of their success is above the shoulders. See, the 1% who get the big-time scholarships and go on to have great careers have the tools to get them out of the slump.
Instead of one more lesson, parents and coaches must support their student athletes to develop the mental tools that set them apart from the other 99%. At the highest level of athletics, there have been players who had as much or more talent than everyone else but because of their lack of mental tools they didn’t make it or they never reached their full potential.
Being great starts with a belief that you can. Too many times I hear coaches say “focus” or we need to be “mentally tougher”, but those same coaches are not showing the athlete what that means or how to do it. That’s like telling a young softball player to “get the bunt down” but never showing them how to hold the bat, or how when to turn to bunt, yet having an expectation that they will lay the bunt down.
Coaches, our player’s mental development should be intentional and parents one more lesson will not change what’s going on in your student athletes head. Doing well is the result of feeling good about themselves. When they learn the life skills that I am talking about they not only become better players now, they gain life skills that support a healthy self whose better prepared to deal with whatever life throws at them. I personally know when young athletes have the mental tools to go with their physical ability they get through the peaks and valleys and end up as graduates of some of the best colleges in the country, they are also better prepared for life after their playing days are over.