Hayley Cruthers - 14u Finesse Fastpitch - TN NationalsI just read a great article on the Fastpitch Softball TV web site by John Michael Kelly titled, "Confidence: Why It Comes and Goes."  Kelly's web site, SoftballSmarts.com, is filled with valuable information about the mental side of the game.  He also coaches The Next Level 18u travel softball team, an ASA Gold & PGF team out of Southern California, which my daughter has played against.  I highly recommend checking out his web site.

Here's an excerpt from the article, "The bottom line for parent or coach is that sports confidence, particularly for a teens or pre-teens, will likely be a moving target and a roller coaster ride…up one day (or one inning), down the next. The important message is to understand that hers is not a blanket confidence or a blanket “lack” of confidence in any moment."

When she began focusing on good swings, rather than big hits, she slowly started getting her mojo back.

After you read the article, I have a couple personal examples to share with you below.  

The Dreaded Slump

During her first summer playing the PGF circuit my daughter started slumping at the plate. Her confidence was low for the first time in her life. "Results Only Thinking" as mentioned in this article made things worse.  I was at a complete loss trying to help her snap out of it.  When she began focusing on good swings, rather than big hits, she slowly started getting her mojo back.  While she was excelling defensively, the best thing that happened was the end of the summer season.  She badly needed a mental break from the game (see Breaks - Your Daughter Needs Them for more on this.)

At the end of that summer she took 2 solid weeks off from the game.  I'm talking about not even picking up a glove, ball or bat.  After the break her travel team began practicing for the fall tournaments (7 tourneys with the final one at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, FL - Diamond 9 Sun Classic Showcase).  We were also busy with the recruiting process talking with coaches and going on visits.  She committed to Ball State the week before the trip to Florida.  Although her performance in the first 6 tourneys was back at her normal level of play, she absolutely killed it in Orlando!  As a father the best way I can describe my feelings at that time is, "Yes!  My baby is back!"

Hayley and Greg Cruthers - 2012 Colorado

Teacher on the left with the student on the right.

Hitting While Pitching

She was also a pitcher until the end of her freshman year on varsity. Years later she finally told me how when she struggled pitching, it made her press while hitting. She was trying too hard at the plate, which caused her to be less effective with too many pop-ups/ground-outs. When she made mistakes playing short stop, she said it did not affect her the same as when she was pitching.  Since she told me this I've noticed many other pitchers experience the same issues.  Position players can do this too, but with all eyes on the pitcher every pitch/play it just seems to be more intense for them.

I, stupid Dad, just didn't see it at the time.

Praising Her (and Others)

It's easy to shower your daughter or a player if you're a coach with praise when they are in the zone.  It's another story when they're struggling.  Every girl handles praise and criticism differently.  I remember a drive home after a tourney when I was giving my daughter a bunch of praise for her play that day and being selected as the tournament MVP.  She interrupted me with, "Dad. Yesterday you were lecturing me about everything I did wrong."  She then turned the radio up, which was her way of telling me she was finished talking about softball for the day.  Yea, it gave me about an hour to think about things.

There were a few other times that I complimented her for good defensive plays or hits only to be stopped with, "Dad. I sucked today.  Don't sugar coat it."  And once again I had a lot of time to think about things.  On those days she may have had a really good play or hit, but could only think about an error or missed opportunity at the plate.  Don't get me wrong, she wasn't having a pity party.  She was developing her own mental routine for dealing with it.  I, stupid Dad, just didn't see it at the time.

Through the years of coaching, watching games as a parent and those countless long drives home, I was being coached by my daughter the whole time.  It took a few years, but I finally figured that out.  As they say, "The teacher becomes the student."  I also noticed how much more it meant to her when other parents, players, coaches and even umpires complimented her.  I began looking for opportunities to praise other players, even girls on the other teams.  That has become a habit now that I don't think about until somebody brings it to my attention.  A teammate's mother long ago told me, "Thank you for talking with my daughter. It really meant a lot to her, because she looks up to you.  She was so happy all night."

The bottom line is that over the years I was conditioned to be brief when talking about her play (good or bad), to stop the lectures on the drives home and to give praise to her teammates every possible chance I got.  I also learned that my daughter held herself accountable and didn't need me to do so.  She is her own toughest critic.  She quietly internalizes it, builds a bridge and forgets about it.  Then when she's ready, she asks to go to the fields to work on whatever part of her game she feels the need to.  And I do not coach her during those workouts.  Her attitude, effort and focus continues to amaze me.  A friend of mine describes it like this:  "She's completely locked in and focused right now.  Talking to her right now would be like sticking your head in the Lion's cage; Not a good idea."