Practice vs. Games: Bridging the Performance Gap

November 7, 2023

Does your athlete need help bridging the performance gap between practices and games?  

During practice, she might take more risks, swing harder, and seem more carefree and loose.

But she’s more measured, quiet, tense, and reserved during games, leading to poorer outcomes. 

As a mindset coach for female athletes, I see this a lot when coaching teams and individuals. But there’s a simple, 3-step process that can solve this common problem. 

Learn about my 3-step recipe for bridging the performance gap below.

Step 1: Awareness

Before you can help your athlete become more consistent between practices and games, she has to become aware of the root of her challenge.

So, ask your athlete: “Where are you struggling? Where do you feel there is a gap in your training performance?”

Take Rachel, for instance. She excels in hitting during practice but struggles during games, highlighting the gap in her batting performance.

Why is she able to crush it at practice by not during games? She’s obviously capable.

Next, we must identify where Rachel spends most of her training energy. She gets about 500 reps off the tee weekly, so batting practice isn’t the issue. 

There has to be something else impacting her performance, right? As her mindset coach, I discovered that the real gap is a fear of failure, lack of confidence, and intense pressure to perform.

Rachel doesn’t spend enough time on her mindset, causing her to choke during games. 

Now that we’re aware of the root cause of her problem, we can move on to our next step: action.

Step 2: Action

You’ve heard the adage, “You reap what you sow,” but I believe you also reap where you sow. If you aren’t spending your time in the appropriate places, you won’t get the results you desire. 

Clearly, Rachel needs to spend more time on her mindset. 

In my experience, athletes who give their minds at least 15 minutes of breathing room – quiet time to do inner work – have far better performance outcomes than those who don’t.

And there’s data to back this up.

A 2022 mixed-methods study of 43 experienced athletes, coaches, and sports professionals sought to develop a “conceptual model for mental health and performance of North American athletes.”

The findings? 

“Seven clusters emerged from the data: Stress Management, Mental Skills, Self-Awareness, Managing Setbacks, Intentional Practice, Team Relationships, and Social Support. Though all clusters were rated as important to mental health and/or performance, the Managing Setbacks cluster displayed high importance ratings for both mental health and performance.” 

This study clearly indicates that mindset training is an essential component of athletic performance. 

If you’re looking for a supportive, encouraging community of female student-athletes that includes weekly mindset lessons and monthly training led by professional mindset coaches, check out The Players Portal. 

Related post: Anxiety is Not the Problem

Step 3: Affirmations

Now that you and your athlete have identified her performance gap and taken action to remedy it, it’s time to build her up through positive affirmations.

Frequently, athletes are incredibly hard on themselves, so encourage your daughter to talk to herself like she would to her best friend; combat thoughts that involve shame by creating new beliefs around the areas she’s working on.

Several studies indicate that positive self-talk helps improve performance. Take this one, for example:

In a recent study on self-regulation strategies in sports psychology, researchers explored whether young children in primary school can benefit from self-talk techniques. 

The study included 88 students, with three groups assigned to an elbow plank task: motivational self-talk, instructional self-talk, and a control group.

The results showed that motivational self-talk was significantly more effective in improving performance compared to instructional self-talk and the control group. 

The willingness to continue the elbow plank was also notably higher in the motivational self-talk group. This study highlights the effectiveness of motivational self-talk in enhancing the performance of young children in sports.

Obviously, positive self-talk has major benefits. Here are 6 positive affirmations you can encourage your athlete to try: 

  • “I am capable of hard things.”
  • “My failures do not define me.”
  • “I am enough.”
  • “I am strong.”
  • “I’m becoming my best self.” 
  • “I am dedicated to my progress.” 

Ask your athlete to repeat these to herself or out loud when she wakes up and at bedtime.

Wrapping Up

With these 3 simple steps, your athlete will find more consistency between practices and games. 

The 3 steps are:

  1. Find Awareness
  2. Take Action 
  3. Create Affirmations 

Looking for more resources like this? Does your daughter need mindset training to help her become her best self on and off the field? 

The Players Portal includes monthly mindset trainings, weekly pep talks, and a supportive community of fellow female athletes to cheer her on. You can check it out here.

Your Mindset Softball Coach,
Coach D

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