Q: I coach a 14-and-under baseball team and several of my players really get down on themselves whenever they strike out or fail to get on base during their first at-bat in a game. And what I see happening quite a bit is they lose confidence and their remaining trips to the plate that day usually result in a poor effort and more outs because they’re dwelling on what happened on that first at-bat. I can see it with their negative attitude and bad body language. How can I help my players be mentally tougher, be positive and focus on the moment – instead of dwelling on a past negative experience?
A: There are a lot of reasons to consider why some individuals would react that way and some that are beyond your scope as a coach to become involved with. I would suggest looking at yourself first for the answer, as the team looks to its coach as its leader and will emulate what comes from him or her.
Are you invested in the team, or the win? Do you conduct yourself in a way that gets these kids to “buy in” to the overall goal? Oftentimes we are so fixated on the end result that we lose sight of the small things that make up the process. It's the PROCESS, however, that makes or breaks us. If your team is OUTCOME driven, then the only thing that matters is the win. If they are PROCESS driven they focus on bettering themselves, which lends itself to overall team development and better outcome potential.
If they are dwelling on that poor at-bat, when they return to the bench discuss it with them and acknowledge that feeling, then work with them to take what a bad at bat feels like, and think about what a good one will feel like. A game is nine innings, not one, so “feeling out” the pitcher is an angle you could use to help get them through the first at bat, and then discuss any mechanics, etc., that you think should be improved.
Remember, everyone is different, so your approach to these situations in a team setting and an individual setting will vary.
In practice, shift the focus to making them better in individual skills, mechanics and communication within their team. Have meetings to go over performances; always highlight positives and address negatives, but always provide solutions to those negatives – otherwise they will be taken as sharp criticism. Also, teach them that "failing" is ok; it's how we learn from the mistakes and persevere to succeed.
It takes "10,000 hours” of practice to master a particular skill, so we all have room for improvement and they must trust the process. If you do not have a process, then your efforts will be futile, as children at that age are typically far from developing strong emotional intelligence and need the guidance and direction. You should emphasize positive self talk and imagery and perhaps even practice those as a team.
Remember, it all starts with YOU.
Ryan Mallett is a personal trainer and coach who has worked with athletes and individuals at all levels. He frequently speaks on topics ranging from sports psychology to nutrition and physical fitness. For more information visit www.coachryanmallett.com; and follow him on Twitter: @CoachMallettProcess Outcome Communication Improvement Positive