Championship season requires a super high level
of mental focus and poise to achieve success!

Preparing Your Athlete for Championship Season!

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As the month of May is upon us so too will soon be the regional and national championship tournaments teams, coaches and parents look forward and work towards all spring season! Whether high school, recreational or travel this is the time of the season everyone loves. There is usually some travel involved, hotels, sightseeing and a ton of softball being played!

Of course with the championship season come the inevitable pressures of performing on a bigger stage, in front of more people (and possible college or travel scouts), and in more meaningful games.

Come championship time the elite players rise to the top because they are exceptionally prepared mentally to handle and even thrive under the pressure of the "big games." 

I have seen endless players who look great when it matters least but fail miserably when it matters most. Why is this? Championship season tends to push players out of old comfort zones and thrusts them into new less comfortable zones. While one player may thrive in a less stressful "comfortable" type of competition once that comp level rises doubt, anxiety, self-consciousness and fear can creep into the player's head leading to diminished game performance.

Remember a softball player hitting at the 14u level or higher has about 1/3 of one second to determine pitch velocity, movement and ultimate location in the hitting zone...and of course whether to swing the bat or not! No problem, right?

Add the pressure of championship season and that same player killing it a week before can let stress and anxiety drop her focus levels making it nearly impossible to react quick enough to be an effective hitter, fielder, base runner or pitcher. In a game as quick as fastpitch softball hesitation (brought on by doubt) is a killer!

So how can your athlete properly prepare for championship season, to insure she plays to her fullest potential when it matters most? Here are six ideas worth following:

1. It all starts with Confidence. Elite players have a thick skin and teflon confidence "shield" that gets them through tough moments and big games. Remember, adversity will hit every player. How she responds to that adversity is all that matters during championship season! Big time players know that have put in the investment time and expect their success!

2. Mental Toughness is the result of great mental "preparation." Elite players have a mental " game plan" to help them cope with the added pressures of the big games. Visualization, proper breathing, an expectancy for success, positive self talk...all help these athletes to maintain their laser focus, propelling their game day success.

3. Proper Perspective. The game should always be fun first. Many times a younger athletes starts to get anxious or "psyched out" simply because of all the attention a big game or tournament brings with it. The key for any athlete is to "play within themselves;" meaning don't elevate expectations for performance simply because the stage is bigger. Play the championship game the same way as any other game...loose, relaxed, and having fun (I know that is far easier said than done!).

4. Be the Adult. If you are a parent and/or coach it is easy to change how you communicate and react to your athlete and her team during championship season, isn't it? If you make the games bigger, and the expectations for performance levels higher your athlete may well feel the weight of that added pressure come game day. Treat championship play like any other game and your athlete will be better off for it.

5. Stay cool under pressure. In 2012 the University of Alabama claimed both national football and softball championships. These two posts I wrote about these two amazing teams should help: Football; Softball.

6. Play every game as if it's the championship game. I often tell the girls I coach to play every game with the expectation that the bleachers are filled with college coaches watching your every move. Elite athletes have a higher standard for their performance, which is almost always traced back to a higher standard for their physical and mental preparation. If your athlete is always playing at 100% speed both mentally and physically the "real" championship game will be a breeze!

The bottom line is that for every athlete the championship season can be an amazing opportunity to shine at the plate in the field or in the circle while playing against the best. Likewise it can be a draining emotional nightmare season where every mistake and mental blunder is magnified beyond belief.

Remember...the game should always be fun first. Your athlete can't maintain both a happy and stressed emotional state simultaneously. Follow these 6 tips and Championship Season will be a blast!

If your athlete (with your support) follows these suggestions her game day performance will soar on the biggest softball stages of her life. Keep it fun and enjoy the 2013 championship season ride!

**Check out these 3 FREE Audio Lessons to skyrocket your athlete's sports confidence.
Remember, thoughts are choose them wisely!

I invite you to forward this email to a friend who also might find this information valuable for their athlete!

Thanks for reading!

John Michael Kelly
Softball Smarts
John Michael Kelly Sports

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About John Michael Kelly

As a sports parent, championship game coach, mental performance expert, former youth league Board-member and former two sport collegiate athlete John brings a unique perspective and voice to the world of youth sports. John has been coaching youth sports since 1996, including soccer and baseball, and exclusively fastpitch softball since 2003. John currently coaches at The Next Level travel softball organization in San Diego.

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