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  • Writer's pictureJudy Favor

As a kid, I loved playing softball and basketball. When softball season came around, I was always ready to start practice and couldn’t wait to play games. But when softball ended in the fall, I parked my softball glove and cleats for the winter and basketball got my full attention. I worked on my shooting and dribbling skills with the same passion, commitment, and enthusiasm I gave to softball. As soon as the sun popped out in the spring, I was outside with my ball and glove again, begging someone to catch me.

Today, softball has become a year-round sport. Even in the Midwest, most kids playing competitive softball have been practicing since early January. Many started playing indoor tournaments in January or February and are just finishing up national tournaments in late July.

Some athletes will go directly into their high school softball season the minute summer ball is over. Then as soon as high school ball finishes, they jump back into their travel team for fall tournaments.

As the summer softball travel ball season officially ends this week, we need to give these kids a break. I’m not talking about a week off from playing games. I mean a complete don’t pick up a softball for at least 2 weeks break.

Whether your child is 9 or 18, she needs a complete break from softball. She needs a couple weeks to rest her mind and body before starting the whole process all over again in the fall.

Kids need a break from sport.

Burnout and overuse are alive and well in youth sports because kids are not taking any time away from the game to rest physically and mentally. As adults, we need time to rest from our daily grind at work and rejuvenate our minds. We need a VACATION. We need to get away from work, not think about the daily grind and “to-do” lists we all have, relax, and do something fun that we don’t normally do every day.

Young athletes today also need a vacation -- from a sport that often consumes every spare minute they have. After 7 months of practice, games, camps, and tournaments, they need a break. They need to recover from their jam-packed adolescent schedules and rejuvenate their minds and bodies before they start all over again.

Getting young athletes to shut down completely today is a bigger battle than it was 10 years ago. Sadly, the battle is not usually with the kids. When I explain to parents of my pitching clients that we are going take a 2-3 week break from softball, most athletes look at me with a huge “thank you” in their eyes. They’re tired.

The major battle today is with parents and travel coaches who believe their athlete or team will get behind if they take a couple weeks completely off. I’ve worked with 100s of athletes over my career as an NCAA head coach, private pitching coach, and mental performance coach. As a college professor, I’ve studied burnout and overuse injuries in youth sports. Trust me, your athlete will not get behind if she takes a complete break from softball for 2 or 3 weeks.

Instead, she will come back rejuvenated and motivated. Pitchers usually come back throwing even harder and with better pitch movement after a break because their bodies are refreshed. They learn skills more quickly because they are rested and can focus better. Refreshed athletes want to practice; thus, the quality of practice sessions improves.

College coaches want athletes who take time off because 1) they know the importance of physical and mental recovery after a long season and 2) they want athletes who are healthy and motivated, not athletes who have played 200 games every year since they were 12 and are physically and mentally exhausted and run down by the time they get to college.

Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson requires incoming athletes to look at their 12-month calendar and find at least two different times where they will take 2-3 weeks off. “Your mind and body need to recover,” she explained to athletes and parents attending the MSP Night of Champions event in Kansas City.

Mapping out weeks off on the calendar ahead of time is a great strategy. Unfortunately, high school, travel ball, and private coaches don’t communicate with each other. They also often have very different goals, beliefs, and agendas regarding time off. The result is a lack of coordination and agreement about time off for athletes, which all too often ultimately results in no time off at all.

As parents and guardians, it is incumbent on us to enforce time off for our athletes. It’s our responsibility to think about our athlete's long-term health and make sure they rest and recover after a long and intense travel ball season.

Athletes - as the summer travel season concludes, take 2-3 weeks off. If you are heading directly into fall high school ball, take at least 2 weeks off when you finish. Trust me - your mind and body will thank you for it and the quality of your game will improve.

  • Writer's pictureJudy Favor

Updated: Nov 19, 2018

FAILURE is a huge part of sport. In many team sports, athletes fail far more than they succeed. In softball and baseball, for example, really good hitters fail to get a hit 70% of the time.

Sports provide an opportunity for kids to learn how to fail successfully, an important lesson considering life isn’t always easy. Failing successfully means learning how to view and use failure as a growth opportunity -- as motivation to work harder, persevere through difficulties and obstacles, take appropriate risks, and continually improve. However, my work with pre-college athletes as a mental skills and private pitching coach suggests many athletes do not know how to handle failure.

To verify my personal experience and observations, I asked several college coaches this summer what they viewed as mental toughness gaps among their pre-college recruits and collegiate athletes.

Without hesitation, an NCAA Division 1 assistant coach said, “This generation of athletes has no ability to work through mistakes. They can’t deal with failure -- and softball is a game of failure.” A veteran NCAA D1 head coach added, “Not catastrophizing everything. Any little failure is a complete catastrophe.” Another NCAA D2 head coach echoed this sentiment, “these athletes need help handling failure and not thinking their life is over because they made one mistake.”

It’s important to understandthat an athlete’s response to failure is a learned response. Athletes learn how to respond to mistakes and failure by experiencing and observing how adults respond to failure – their own and the athlete’s.

Athletes who haven’t learned how to deal with failure appropriately remain stuck in the last play, associate their athletic performance with personal self worth, or learn to fear failure.

Stuck in the Last Play

Many athletes cannot recover quickly after making a mistake. Their thoughts are stuck on the last play rather than focused on the next play. All too often, this results in making another mistake.

Athletes must learn how to work through mistakes effectively and develop a next play mindset. In next play mindset, athletes must OWN the mistake, LEARN from it, then LET IT GO.

OWNing a mistake means taking responsibility, not blaming someone or something else or coming up with a creative reason why the mistake happened.

Next, athletes must quickly analyze the mistake and LEARN from it. What did I do incorrectly? What will I do differently next time?

Then athletes must LET IT GO. The mistake or error is done - and there are no re-dos during competition. Athletes must LET IT GO, clear their minds, and re-focus on successfully making the next play.

I’m a Failure

As athletes move into adolescence and begin devoting more and more time and energy to their sport(s), many develop an “athlete identity.”Who they areas human beings becomes closely intertwined, or even lost in, what they do on the field or court. When this occurs, failures in sport can become interpreted as failure as a person.

Athletes begin thinking things like “My sport performance was poor today. Therefore, I am a failure and am worthless.” Mistakes and failures can feel catastrophic when they are associated with self worth.

Having a “terrible game” from a performance perspective does not mean an athlete is a terrible person. Young athletes must learn to separate sport performance from their personal self-worth. Their value as a person is not dependent on how well they perform in sport.

Rough performances happen in sport – and rough days happen in life. How athletes learn to respond to these rough days is what matters. They can quit, blame others, or make excuses. Or, they can learn from the mistake, make a plan to improve, and get back to work to get better.

Fear of Failure

Many athletes have learned to fear failure. They are afraid to take the risk needed to make an incredible play or make the big pitch needed to get out of a critical inning. They play safe.

Athletes learn to fear failure based on how important adults in their lives respond. Young athletes don’t want to disappoint their parents or coaches. They watch parents’ and coaches’ body language after they make a mistake and hear the disappointment and frustration in parents’ voices.

Some young athletes actually fear the car ride home after they don’t play well. After working with pre-college and college athletes for over 30 years, I can assure you that your athlete is well aware he or she didn’t play well. The coach likely already provided feedback, and re-hashing their performance in the car ride home is not going to help. Encouraging effort, attitude, and response to failure – three things that an athlete can totally control – is a much better strategy.

Help athletes process their mistakes or failure by asking questions rather than telling them what to do. Questions like “What did you learn? What will you do differently next time? How might you change your strategy next time?” will help athletes work through the mistake, problem solve, and begin viewing mistakes or failure as learning opportunities.

Some athletes fear being taken out of the game if they make a mistake. Athletes with this fear in their heads will be focused on not making a mistake rather than on successfully making a play. All too often, this negative focus results in another mistake.

If we want athletes to not be afraid to fail, we must remember to praise them for taking appropriate risks; “I loved your effort in diving for that ball in the gap to try to make a huge play. Next time, you’ll make that play and we’ll be celebrating.”

Responding to a risk positively is especially important when the risk didn't turn out well because the negative result of that decision will be embedded in the athlete’s memory, causing hesitation or tentativeness the next time.

Sport provides wonderful opportunities for athletes to learn how to use failure as motivation to work harder, persevere through difficulties and obstacles, take appropriate risks, and continually improve. But we have to seize these learning opportunities and help pre-college athletes make the connections.

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  • Writer's pictureJudy Favor

One of the most fundamental mental toughness skills athletes must possess to perform at high levels is self-confidence.  Most athletes are highly confident when things are going well for them.  That’s easy. But mentally tough athletes have the ability to maintain confidence, even when things are not going well. This skill is much more difficult to learn. 

Earlier this spring, I was working on confidence with a group of female middle school and high school athletes from several different sports. As part of our discussion, I asked these young ladies to think about 2 or 3 things they don’t do very well or need to work on. 

Every single athlete started writing immediately. I was surprised, and a bit alarmed, at the long list most of these young athletes generated in only a couple minutes. Then I reversed the task and asked them to think about 2 or 3 things they are good at and do really well. This was much more challenging. A few looked completely bewildered and really struggled to think of anything. 

What I learned from this activity is that these young female athletes were obviously spending way more time thinking about all the things they don’t do well than they were spending thinking about what they are good at. No wonder their confidence plummets so easily during competition. Focusing all our thoughts on what we don’t do well does not help us become confident athletes. 

If you follow men’s basketball, KU sophomore Malik Newman had a pretty average regular season in 2017, considering his talent level. But he was incredible during the Big 12 Conference Tournament and NCAA post-season. When reporters asked about this surge in performance, Malik explained just how important confidence is in peak performance, “Confidence is at an all-time high right now, and I’m just out there having fun. ... That (confidence) just comes from my teammates talking with me, Coach Self meeting with me, me having just little talks with myself. I think everything is going down the right road right now.”

In athletics, confidence can go up or down quickly, usually directly dependent upon how well as athlete is playing.  But there are ways parents and coaches can help athletes develop self-confidence. With practice and additional some additional mental skills, athletes can learn how to sustain confidence, even when facing adversity. 

Here are three simple ways youth coaches and parents can help young athletes develop and sustain confidence. 

1. Create Good Lists

As the female athletes in my recent mental skills clinic demonstrated, athletes are often quick to point out and dwell on what they don’t do well.  On one hand, this seems normal because sport skill development is about continuous improvement.  As coaches, we tend to be improvement and deficiency focused. On the other hand, however, athletes need to know what they do well to sustain confidence.

To help young athletes develop self-confidence, have them identify and write down 5 things they are good at in their sport and 5 things they are good at outside of sport. Ask them to review both lists each night before bed.  Because memories are consolidated at night during sleep, reviewing these lists before bed will help these “good lists” be embedded in memory, thus enhancing the probability of remembering these strengths and being able to call upon these memories when things aren’t going perfectly, either in sports or life. 

 2. Use Cell Phone Video Positively

 The ease with which we can take out our cell phone and easily record video has resulted in an almost irresistible urge to video everything our athletes do. However, self-confidence is often eroded when this video is used for frame-by-frame critique after every game or practice.  

I have seen continual video critiquing result in athletes who are constantly worried about making a mistake during competition (and having to relive it over and over again later) rather than being confident in their abilities and ready to make the a play. Instead of constantly showing your young athlete what she doesn’t do well, use video to show her what she does really well. Even better, create a highlight video that shows your athlete doing several skills well. Viewing these images will improve confidence and help her visualize what success looks like. Why do you think college teams use awesome pre-game highlight videos before introducing the starting line-up? 

I am not suggesting that video should never be used constructively with young athletes. As a coach, I use video periodically when I work on physical skills with elementary and middle school athletes, but only to specifically help an athlete actually see exactly what she is doing physically or mechanically and explain why I want her to do it differently. However, if I video a young athlete doing something incorrectly, I try to make sure I also video her doing it correctly before we are finished so she can see the difference and improvement. 

3. Help Athletes Understand Mistakes Are Part of Sport

Last but not least, help athletes understand that mistakes are part of playing sports. Young athletes, especially, often completely lose their confidence after they make a mistake. This lack of confidence can quickly lead to what I call the tornado of destruction. 

We’ve all seen the tornado of destruction in youth sports. It happens when one mistake quickly becomes two or three or when a mistake in one aspect of the game affects all other aspects of an athlete’s game, as well.

To regain confidence and be mentally tough, athletes must understand that mistakes are part of the game and learn to forget and move on quickly.  Being able to quickly remember things an athlete does well and focus attention on those positive memories is an important first step. 

Confidence is a core mental toughness skill and critical component of success in sports and life. To learn how In the ZONE Training can help your athlete improve self-confidence and other mental toughness skills or to register for a Mental Skills Clinic go to

Check out our new Summer Mental Skills Programs in Kansas City - Starting June 4th!

  • Mental Toughness for Pitcher

  • Mental Toughness for Hitters

  • Pillars of Mental Toughness

Have a question? Contact me at or 913-626-6751

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