Coaching Secrets: Bringing practice performances to Game Day
By Greg Bach
All coaches have seen it: young players performing flawlessly in practice and disastrously on Game Days.
So what’s the secret for helping kids transfer those skills to Game Day to perform at their best?
“For me, it’s about putting pressure on in practice in terms of game-like situations,” says three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Leah O’Brien-Amico, one of the most respected softball instructors in the country these days. “That’s so important at the highest level, so why not start at a younger level? It’s so important to help players at a younger age create a positive mindset while taking responsibility for their actions, and learn how to translate that to game days.”
O’Brien-Amico is one of 50 coaches featured in our SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL COACHING book.
She conducts coach and player clinics across the country covering all aspects of the game. She also speaks to numerous groups about motivation, being the best you can be and how important possessing a positive mindset is for achieving success in the most pressure-filled of moments.
“Young athletes have to learn to constantly take ownership of what they are doing,” she points out. “I think sometimes what happens is that kids don’t want to mess up; they’re afraid to fail. And with that they don’t want to take responsibility. So I think as coaches it’s so important at a young age to teach kids that it’s OK to fail and let’s learn from our mistakes. And when you do, we learn from it and we get better as opposed to not being responsible for it and not wanting to own up to it and never growing or getting better.”
Pressure can be a ferocious foe, turning muscle memory wobbly and wedging into the crevices of a young athlete’s mind where confidence normally resides. So suddenly those smooth swings at the plate and accurate throws in the field during practice dissolve into ugly-looking swipes at pitches in games and errant throws with an opposing player sprinting down the base paths.
“I found that I would work with a team and they would do well throwing and the next thing you know I made it a competition and nobody could throw,” she says. So immediately it goes to the mindset of the players. I think that if we can start helping players at a younger age with their mindset and translate that to game days while taking responsibility for their actions, that is so important.”
It starts with sprinkling doses of pressure into the practice drills to gradually get players used to dealing with it.
“I love giving kids challenges at clinics because what you find is some kids can learn the fundamentals, but the second pressure comes on them they all of a sudden have a different mindset,” she says. “So in our drills I love giving them challenges, something that’s like a test. When I work with outfielders, they have to hit a little cone with their throws and it’s hard to do.”
But what those challenges build in players is persistence, resilience and fortitude to keep at it, as well as gradually developing that all-important confidence to make that really tough throw from the outfield in a late-inning one-run game that may decide the outcome.
“I love giving them challenges and see those players rise up to the challenge,” she says.
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery shares his practice exit strategy to help bolster players' mindsets and build confidence
The quiet eye and predictive control: how they impact performance
Understand these stages – cognitive, associative, autonomous – to help lead your young athletes to greater performances
Assessing, modifying and revising are key components of the goal-setting process. Here's what you need to know to help your young athletes