Success or Failure...What is Your Athlete's Focus?

At Winner's Edge Kids we teach that how your athlete thinks will directly determine his level of success on the playing field. Therefore the critical question is what kinds of thoughts does he have? Does he focus her thoughts on seeing success or expecting failure?

Scientists claim that we each have in excess of 50,000 thoughts each day bombarding our minds. As with your athlete the quality of those thoughts has enormous impact on the life any of us experience. Our thoughts have immense power to create the conditions that show up in our lives, so we all must choose our thoughts wisely.

For a teenager, speaking as both a father and mental skills expert, it can be a hard sell to convince her that she has control over her thoughts, but in truth she does. If she does not control her thoughts, as I am prone to preach to my own daughter, then tell me who dies and I will have a talk with them!

If your athlete's dominant thoughts are on failure as he steps into the batters box or to the free throw line, or in a PK situation his likelihood for success is slim. You see the reality is that dominant  "can't do" thoughts over the course of a day could amount to thousands of negative thoughts that reinforce her belief system that he cannot succeed. Now imagine the power of those repetitive thoughts over a period of days or weeks or worse. We're talking about potentially 100,000s of thoughts telling his subconscious mind and body that he cannot do it.

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[Remember, your athlete may be supremely confident about certain parts of her game, but lacking confidence in other parts of her game. This post is addressing the elements of her game she worries about most and has exhibited a poor performance record with.]

This avalanche of negativity creates a virtual wall in his mind preventing him from success. And each subsequent failure or result less than desired will only reinforce his beliefs that he is not good enough or cannot complete a task successfully. His future failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Likewise if your athlete's dominant thoughts are on success she will likely have a much higher probability of achieving that success on the field. Why? The mind-body connection we all have dictates that the mind tells the body what to do. If the mind is positive and filled with the expectancy for success the body will perform optimally because the mind is in a relaxed state and focused in the present moment and on the task at hand.

If your athlete is engaged in negative thinking his mind will be in turmoil, exhibiting high levels of anxiety and fear. This chemical reaction in the body brought on by perpetual negative "can't do" thinking will show up in the body as lack of focus (engaged in future or past focus: "Oh gosh, I struck out against this pitcher last game, I'll probably do it again."), dry mouth, sweaty palms, excessive adrenalin, increased pulse rate, reduced reaction time, and reduced visual acuity. This expectancy for failure creates a dramatically devastating effect on the body and the performance results are predictably poor.

The bottom line is what is your athlete thinking? Does he focus on success (through positive thinking and mental imagery) or does he focus on failure (through negative thinking and catastrophizing)? The choice is always his, although he is likely unaware of it. As an adult you can help him to become more conscious of the power his thinking has to determine his athletic success.

10 Performance Killers You Need to Know

We all want our children to succeed in everything they do in life, don't we? Athletics is certainly an area, as parents, we feel strongly about doing all we can to insure her success. By participating in athletics your daughter has chosen to put herself out there for better or for worse. Some days the game will get her with a stiff dose of adversity or failure.

As parents and coaches we spend countless hours and dollars on our athlete's mastery of the physical side of the sport. But, in my mind, physical training alone is simply not enough to make him a consistent peak performer. The inevitable failures that each player must overcome in fastpitch can snowball into more mistakes in an ever increasing downward performance spiral unless he possesses specific mental skills mastery.

Here are my Top 10 Mental Performance Killers that can absolutely sabotage your athlete's success:

1. Lack of Mental Focus or Present Moment Awareness- Unable to adequately concentrate at the pivotal "crunch time" moments of the game. Engaged in future or past focus.

2. Fear & Anxiety- Afraid of failure, embarrassment, disappointing parents, coach, teammates or self. Unable to control anxiety, adrenalin, focus causing a drop in performance.

3. Unmanageable Expectations- Burdened by excessive and unreasonable expectations on her performance by parents, coaches, teammates or self; accelerates anxiety, frustration and self-judgment.

4. Lack of Self-Confidence- Characterized by self-doubt, negative self talk, expectations of failure versus success.

5. Results versus Effort Thinking- Focusing on results only minimizes the value of his effort and minimizes learning opportunities.

6. Lack of Trust- Can cause hesitancy in making a decision on the field and always leads to failure.

7. Lack of clear Motivation and Commitment- A potential disconnect between player and parent; unwilling to do whatever it takes to get better.

8. Lack of a clear and concise Plan for pre-game, in-game and post-game- Having a mental and physical game plan improves self-confidence and performance.

9. Not Recognizing her Controllables- Which factors does she have control over in the game and which factors does she not? Knowing this will lower her anxiety and self-judgment.

10. Expecting Failure (Catastrophe Thinking)- The most detrimental type of thinking; truly expecting the worst case scenario every time. Can bleed into all areas of her life.

All of these Top 10 Mental Performance Killers are covered at length in my new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays (read a sample chapter). It is vitally important that you recognize that there are specific reasons for your athlete's inconsistency on the playing field. It all starts with her thoughts, feelings and beliefs about her/himself and the game.

If the game is 90% mental as some say how much focus does your athlete spend there?

Greatness Isn't Achieved Overnight

In America we love to cheer a great athlete, actor or musician. In fact our country has become quite obsessed with these celebrities. But what we often don't recognize as we carry on our mostly mundane lives is the amount of time, dedication and effort these individuals have put in behind the public veil to mastering their craft. It's true that Rome wasn't build in a day and neither is greatness.

There is a lot to be said for consistency. Great daily effort, inspired and driven by a solid plan of action, usually produces great results. Greatness is a journey not a destination and some days the journey is a tough one filled with pain, frustration and despair. I guarantee you that any top athlete, actor or musician our society reveres has had many of these "investment" days along their path to fame and fortune.

For your athlete the process is the same. The legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Being great is not a sometimes's an every day thing!" The seeds of greatness are planted every day and sprout in due time. Your athlete needs to show up and give her all every time she steps on the field without regard to how great she plays on any given Saturday or Sunday. The results of her efforts will arrive on cue.

As an adult you need to remind your athlete just how far he has come in playing the game over the years. I marvel watching the young ladies play at the high school and 16u travel level that I first coached when they were 6 and 7 years old little girls. To an outsider like me their hard work has definitely paid off. But through the eyes of a child (or teen) progress can never happen swift enough!

Greatness isn't built overnight. It requires years of patient and persistent training, both physical and mental in order to attain any level of mastery. Watching that quarterback throw the flawless 40 yard crossing route pass or the actress mesmerize you with her stunning theatrical performance are products of years of blood, sweat and tears...a continual commitment to the process of mastery.

So on those days when your athlete is frustrated with his performance and wonders if he'll ever "get there" remind him of how far he has already come on his journey and that anything worth having is worth the time and effort it takes to achieve it!

Can Your Athlete Bounce Back from Adversity?

Resiliency is a trait that is essential for your athlete to have in order to be the very best he can be. No matter the sport...the game will throw much adversity at's unavoidable. In truth his level of success will not be dictated by what happens to him but rather how he responds to what happens to him.

The ability to bounce back from failure and adversity, to be resilient, is the key. But how does she learn to do that on a consistent basis? It's vitally important for you as the adult to help her to frame the game and her performance in a way that will encourage her to use her power of resiliency.

In my team's recent games one of my players was having a difficult time adjusting to a slower pitcher. My player kept lining the ball foul, like five times in a row. She could not wait long enough to hit the ball fair. I could see her frustration mount with each pitch. I was telling her to "stay back," but her body would not comply. In one at bat, after maybe eight or nine pitches she grounded out to 3B. All she could do was shake her head all the way back to the dugout.

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Before her next at bat I continued to work on her to mentally slow the game down, to experiment with her timing a bit, and mostly to have fun with it. On her next at bat she hit the first pitch way foul again. She looked at me and I just smiled back at her. She smiled at me and proceeded to line the next pitch right at 2B for another out. When she got to first base I smile and congratulated her on a great at bat. She made the difficult adjustment and waited long enough to hit the ball but a foot away from being a hit.

If your athlete, like my player, is only concerned with the results (making an out), without realizing just what a great at bat he may have had (by making adjustments, making the pitcher throw 8-9 pitches, by laying down a perfect sacrifice bunt, hitting behind the runner to advance him, or hitting the ball right on the screws right at somebody) he may be inclined to see his results as having failed.

Here are five sure fire ways you can help your athlete to frame his or her performance in a way that will build up his or her resiliency:

  • Reaffirm that their game is a difficult one in which no one is perfect. Mistakes and poor plays are going to happen; they happen to every player.
  • On the days when the game gets them he/she needs to view it as a "learning" or "investment" day to help her get better. Inevitably all mistakes provide an opportunity for growth.
  • Have her/him focus on their effort and not the outcome or results. In this way they can focus on those factors they have control over...effort, attitude, focus and preparation.
  • As parent or coach practice non-judgment of her/his performance. If they feel that you are down on their game it will be much harder for them to bounce back. Be supportive and re-read points 1-3.
  • Have a discussion with him/her about expectations. Expectations parents, coaches and he/she has for their performance, and determine how realistic these expectations are. Again, no one is perfect, but if your athlete truly believes they have to be their resiliency to bounce back from adversity will be slow forming.

Building a strong, resilient athlete requires a short memory, self-confidence and highly supportive parents and coaches. Like everything in sports resiliency will take time to cultivate on his or her journey to mastery.

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Check out my new Sports Confidence Blueprint Program. If your athlete suffers from sports confidence issues, anxiety before a game or inconsistent game/match performance you owe it to your athlete to learn more. Free confidence building audio lessons too!

The Profile of a Peak Performing Player

What makes for a great athlete, one who performs at a peak level on a consistent basis? On television we can watch these elite athletes every weekend. However, at the youth sports level...not so much. What then separates the great athletes from those who aspire to be, and how can your athlete become a consistent peak performer?

Let's look at the profile of a peak performing player to see how your athlete compares:
  • She is proactive in her mental approach and preparation for both her practices and her games filling her head with positive thoughts and statements. She recognizes that how she thinks is how she plays.
  • He has a solid pre-game and in-game physical and mental game plan that allows him to remain in the present moment on the field, rather than future or past focused.
  • She possesses rock solid self-confidence that allows her to remain calm under pressure and focus on the task at hand.
  • Because he is self-confident and does not focus on the results but rather the process he is able to overcome any adversity and looks at such adversity as a learning opportunity to further improve his game.
  • Her mental mastery allows her to play anxiety and fear free, enabling her to consistently perform at peak levels.
  • He knows that he is mentally and physically prepared each game and, as such, he expects success.
  • She possesses a deep level of joy and passion for playing the game she loves, that anyone can easily see by the smile on her face and her body language.
  • He is a poised athlete who recognizes that mistakes are part of the game.
  • She is able to manage the expectations of herself and others around her in a healthy manner, challenging herself but keeping the game and her performance all in perspective of the bigger picture.
  • He is a leader on his team and the player his teammates look to for inspiration and his coaches looks to for peak performance.
  • She can’t wait to get to the field for practice or games!
Becoming a consistent peak performer is a journey, not a destination that requires constant effort and practice mastering the same mental skills that Olympic, professional and elite athletes the world over engage in. Give your athlete time along his or her journey to develop these mental skills and the outside help it might take to do so.

Wanting Their Success Too Much

One of the traps that many parents fall into is in wanting their athlete’s success too much. It is, for you dads and moms, almost like you are playing the game yourself through your athlete; if you are coaching your athlete this challenge can be exponentially greater. When I was coaching my daughter every game was a lethal combination of pleasure and pain. I would live and die on every one of her at bats. It was as if her success or failure was mine. Does that sound familiar to you?

Even if you do not coach your athlete the challenge of wanting his/her success too much is something you should look at for yourself and/or spouse or other family members. Even if you were the best athlete of your generation it is your athlete and not you playing the game. She/he must make his/her own way which means making mistakes and not being perfect. Remember, mastery is a journey not a destination. It’s funny in my own head, when I critique my own daughter on her performance, I selectively forget how often I struck out, made errors in the field and walked hitters on the mound when I played the game. Do you do the same thing?

All your athlete needs and desires from you is unconditional support and love—whether he/she goes 4-4 or 0-4; scores 20 or scores zero; gives up two goals or gets a shutout; throws to TD passes or two INTs (you get the idea!). It’s time to stop taking your athlete's successes and failures so personally. 

In a future blog I will cover the importance of your athlete’s ability to recognize the factors she/he has and does not have control over. Well I would say the same thing to you…you have no control over how your athlete performs on the field. Sure you may spend countless hours working with him/her on their game, and that is admirable. However, when he/she puts the uniform on and crosses the white lines (or whatever the analogy is for your athlete's sport) it is far more healthy for you and for him/her if you can “let go” of injecting yourself into his/her performance and allow him/her to be the athlete, not you.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, and believe me this has been a hard one for the old athlete in me, but your playing days are over! Let him/her have his/her day in the sun without you willing every outcome in the game to go their way.

If you can remain calm and a somewhat impartial observer at your athlete’s games (good luck with that, right?) both you and he/her will enjoy the game a whole lot more. Sure it’s exciting and tremendously fulfilling to see your athlete succeed, but what about when the emotional roller coaster dips when he/she fails. How does that feel for you? Wanting your athlete's success too much can begin to make the game unpleasant for both of you. So enjoy watching your athlete play and achieve success on his/her own without feeling the need to will it for him/her!

How Belief Determines Success

We're all aware of the virtues of positive thinking, although I would venture to guess that few of us actually practice it on a regular basis. However when it comes to young athletes the power of positive thinking and personal belief can do wonders to accelerate or damage your athlete's on the field success.

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, "Either you think you can or think you can't and either way you are right." Over one hundred years removed from that quote Mr. Ford was right; the power of our minds to determine our success is indisputable. One's belief in his or her ability to achieve a specific goal or intention lays the rock solid foundation for it's attainment.

For a young athlete, particularly in a difficult sport like softball or baseball, his or her ability to develop a strong sense of belief in his or her on the field success is paramount to that outcome actually happening. Positive self talk is a great way to start your athlete on the right track for bolstering his or her belief system.

Positive self talk is success programming that the subconscious mind gladly accepts and acts upon. It is an easy skill to teach your athlete and one that he or she can practice and refine to improve every part of his or her game (as well as grades!).

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Because softball and baseball (as do all sports) throw so much adversity at an athlete his or her ability to bounce back from mistakes is crucial to both his or her mastery of and enjoyment for the game. Negative self talk after a poor play or mental mistake will only serve to perpetuate his or her poor performance as this kind of "past" focus will rob your athlete of the present moment focus required for success.

A rock solid belief in his or her success by your athlete is a journey that will take time to cultivate and master. Positive self talk practiced on a daily basis will help to accelerate that mastery. Here are some baseball/softball related positive self talk "trigger statements" your athlete can start using today to improve his or her game (I'm sure you can adapt and create some positive trigger statements for your athlete's sport):
  • I love to hit and can't wait to get in the batter's box!
  • I may have missed that last grounder but I'll get the next one!
  • I am a good player that enjoys the game regardless of the results!
  • I know I struck out three times last game, but today I get the opportunity to start fresh!
  • I love pitching and know I'm going to do my best today!
  • Maybe I'm not the best player on my team, but I'm going to keep working hard to get better!
  • I believe I'm going to have a great game today!
  • I believe I'm the best player who ever lived!
  • I love playing the game no matter what happens!
If you notice I have put an exclamation point after each positive trigger statement. I did so because each positive trigger statement should be accompanied by joy and conviction.

Instilling the power of belief for success is a great gift any parent can give his or her child, whether for the ball field or the classroom. Positive self talk is a great place to start building that rock solid belief and "can do" attitude!

Why Physical Training Alone is Not Enough

As a game coach I fully recognize the enormous value of physical training. For most young athletes any sport is difficult to master and, as such, physical drills and adequate repetitions are required to become proficient at the game.

However as a mental skills coach I also recognize that without similar time and energy focused on understanding then mastering the mental side of the game no athlete will ever truly reach his/her full simply is not possible.

As I cover in my new book, How She Thinks is How She Plays, at a certain level of competition you will find that most of the players are physically sound and know how to play the game. By 15 or 16 most players at the elite travel or competitive levels of any sport have pretty much mastered the physical side of their game. After playing the game for ten plus years these players have had enough physical training to allow them to play the game well, even very well.

However, at this stage of a player's career (and sometimes a year or two younger) many of them peak; meaning their game doesn't get any better. In short these players have advanced as far as they can with physical training alone. So where do they go next?

At this stage of an athlete's career the only place he/she can turn to is mental skills training. So often I see elite "physical" players who are not yet elite "mental" players. These are the athletes who can't seem to play at a consistently high level from week to week or from game to game. These are the athletes who tend to choke in the big game or big at bat. These are the players who the recruiters look at and say "wow" one day and "whoa" the next!

The bottom line for your athlete...physical training alone is simply not enough to insure that she/he will become the very best they can be; the consistent peak performer that top coaches want on their team. To focus solely on the physical and ignore the mental is a game of Russian Roulette you really don't want to play with your athlete's future.

To reiterate I am 110% on board with as much physical training as it takes for your athlete to master the physical side of the game. Drills, private skills lessons, speed, agility or conditioning training I absolutely support. Why? Because a young athlete needs it to master the game!

Unfortunately focusing on physical training alone is like painting a portrait in black and white; the true colors of your athlete's potential will only come out on the canvas if he/she also focuses on their mental training.

As a game coach and mental skills coach I often connect competence with confidence. I believe the two are intertwined in a sort of cause and effect type relationship. I believe that confidence breed competence. I also believe that competence breeds confidence. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? You can't have one without the other.

Well I believe the same concept is true with both physical training and mental training...your athlete needs them both to be optimally confident and competent. And the great thing about mastering both the physical and mental is that your athlete will quickly become a far more consistent performer who actually loves playing the game. Her/his confidence and competence will soar and recruiters will be lined up at your door!

Winning the Confidence Battle

For most any athlete, even professional athletes, playing with confidence is essential for success to occur. But for young athletes inadequate self-confidence not only damages an athlete's performance but it can also seep into other parts of their lives as well.

Of all the subjects I cover on mental skills training I get the most interest and feedback on the area of self-confidence, and for good reason. For a teenager playing sports confidence is almost as important as oxygen (and texting!) to insure his/her success and happiness!

With youth sports being as competitive as they are today self-confidence is the elixir of champions. Without it the game can eat a young athlete alive. With it  a young athlete can achieve greatness far quicker than you can imagine. Here are 5 tips for winning the confidence battle:

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1. Believe It - if an athlete has conviction that he/she will succeed she/he is well on their way to massive success. Self-confidence is a result of "can do" thinking, which emanates from a powerful belief that a task or goal can be achieved. If, on the other hand, an athlete questions their ability to succeed their core belief is telling her/him that she/he "can't do" it. Limiting thinking always starts with distorted beliefs. Once the athlete truly believes it he/she can achieve it.

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2. Don't Expect Perfection - Let's face it, in any sport a young athlete is going to make errors and mental mistakes; it's simply an inevitable part of the game. As such your athlete cannot expect to be perfect. No one who ever played the game or will ever play the game has been or will be PERFECT. An athlete's ability to frame her/his failings as a learning opportunity on their path to game mastery will allow him/her to maintain strong self-confidence in the face of adversity.

3. Parental Support - this may seem a non-issue for you, but first consider the expectations you place on your athlete for his/her on the field performance. Excessive expectations can cause your athlete difficulty because she/he so wants to please her/his parents, and any perceived "failure" on the field can increase her/his stress and anxiety levels causing further declines in his/her performance. Even worse if she/he hears negative comments during or after the game from you about his/her performance it will serve to erode his/her self-confidence even more. Your athlete needs your 110% unconditional support to build and maintain the level of self-confidence it will take for her/him to succeed at a difficult game.

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4. Leaving the Comfort Zone - for your athlete to be his/her best and develop the rock solid self-confidence necessary to become a consistent peak performer he/she will need to abandon comfort zones and trust her/himself enough to grow in the sport. This is why so many players look great in practice but can't seem to perform at the same level come game time. Practice is typically low stress, while games are higher stress. Building self-confidence in game situations requires that your athlete trust her/himself enough to try new things, new mechanics, new approaches...and understand that in the short run she/he may experience a few bumps in the road until he/she is more comfortable with the new way of doing things. Every sport requires adjustments to achieve sustained success and unless your athlete is prepared to leave old ways of doing things he/she will never advance in the game and his/her self-confidence will sputter too.

5. Expect It - today most young athletes put an enormous amount of time into their game. Your athlete should consider that time an "investment" in her/his game. And like any investment he/she should expect to get a "return" on that investment. Expecting success on game day means believing he/she is worthy of success. So often players do not feel worthy of success. They feel they aren't fast enough, strong enough, athletic enough or simply good enough to succeed. They feel inadequate in relation to teammates or opponents. This inadequacy looks like lower self-image, lower self-esteem and, of course, lower self-confidence. Once your athlete begins to expect that his/her hard hard should and will yield positive results on the field she/he will begin to cultivate greater self-confidence.

Remember, winning the confidence game is a process that may take some time. For youngsters self-confidence can be a "here today, gone tomorrow" proposition. To be sure he/she is on the right path guard against feelings of frustration and anger when things don't go her/his way on the field of play. Have a serious conversation with your athlete to discover what his/her core beliefs are about him/herself and their sport. You might be surprised!

Review these five tips with her often. If your athlete can properly frame the game and him/herself in the game she/he should be okay. However, if he/she starts developing distorted thinking (the result of distorted beliefs about her/himself and the game) you will need to step in as this kind of thinking will absolutely limit his/her self-confidence and game performance.

As a self-confident athlete the sky is the limit. I wish your athlete success in winning the confidence battle!

Check out my new Sports Confidence Blueprint Program guaranteed to skyrocket your athlete's game/match day confidence and performance level with 9 specific causes of low sports confidence and 9 specific strategies to build "rock solid" sports confidence! 

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Top 10 Life Lessons Sports Can Teach Your Athlete

We all know that sports mimic life, don't they? Some days glory, most days not; some days smooth sailing and some days a grind. But what are the real, enduring life lessons your athlete gains from his or her participation in youth sports?

Here are my Top 10 Life Lessons sports teaches your athlete:

1. Teamwork  - Teamwork requires cooperation and putting your athlete second behind the collective good and goals of the team. This includes supporting their teammates even when he or she is having a tough game.

2. Determination and Perseverance - In your athlete's game he or she will need to learn to overcome adversity through sheer determination and perseverance some days. Never give up and never give in no matter what the score or what the count!

3. Patience - With perseverance comes patience; patience for teammates and their attitudes and personalities, patience for their parents who too quickly judge their performance; patience for themselves...recognizing that mastery of this game is a journey that some days requires taking one step back to go two steps forward tomorrow.

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4. Hard Work - Your athlete's game requires them to get dirty, to make the investment necessary week in and week out to become an elite player. It requires pain and sacrifice of getting up early and home late. To be the best they can be requires a phenomenal work ethic.

5. Accomplishment - Nothing is more fulfilling for your athlete than the feeling he or she gets after a job well done. Sports allows athletes to work hard and then see the results of their efforts. Priceless!

6. Self-Reliance and Personal Responsibility - In the big picture of life self-reliance means he or she will be able to motivate themselves to get the job done, whatever it is. Getting to practice and games on time, completing practice drills effectively and taking responsibility for their equipment, etc. are all fabulous life lessons.

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7. Taking Direction - Sports teaches your athlete to take direction from his or her coaches in both learning the proper way to play the game, but also picking up the signs during the games. Succeeding at this game also requires they be a good listener to as to minimize mental mistakes.

8. Concentration - Playing sports allows your athlete to cultivate his or her power of concentration, particularly in high stress situations.

9. Detachment - Detachment is necessary for your athlete to learn as an effective means of letting go of past mistakes and being able to focus on the task at hand with present moment awareness.

10. Goal Setting - Of course one of the greatest life lessons sports teaches your athlete is the importance of setting both personal and team goals to strive for. Perfection may never to achieved, but the striving to get there is the lesson that lasts a lifetime.

The result of participating in youth sports is enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence; self-reliance; fitness and friendships plus a lifetime of great memories of good times and tough ones. As adults, for many of us, our youth sports experiences have shaped the people we are today.

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