• Haylie McCleney

Watch and Learn

When I was growing up I remember sports always being on our TV. It could have been football, basketball, or baseball and chances are it was on at my house. As a young athlete I wanted to mimic everything these college and professional athletes did. My favorite team to watch was the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball squad coached by the late great Pat Summitt. I would watch their games and literally at halftime would go out, put into practice what I saw in the first half, and come back inside for the second half. We all know how this dream of mine turned out... I stopped growing and ended up playing softball and being really good at it. But, this watching and learning and practicing became important for my development as a player. I began to do this with baseball and softball games, too. I would mimic the swings of great softball players like Jessica Mendoza, Laura Berg, and Caitlin Lowe. I would watch MLB games and try to swing like Ken Griffey, Jr., Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez.

I am absolutely STOKED that so many college softball games are back on because now girls playing softball all over the country have a chance to emulate and strive for what they are watching. Every weekend and even most weekdays, you can catch elite athletes competing at a high level. If you are an up and coming athlete there truly isn't a better opportunity to improve at the mental visualization aspect of your game.

If you are a young athlete, here are some things to look for when watching elite athletes that can help take your game to the next level.

Situations. When tuning into the action, visualize yourself in your position in the situation that is developing on the field. A lot of times when we are actually playing the game, it can be difficult to slow the game down and think about our approaches in certain situations. Put yourself in the moment on defense. Put yourself in the clutch at-bat in the later innings. What are you saying to yourself? What are you saying to your teammates and how are you encouraging them to be their best in this situation? Where are you going with the ball if it's hit to you? What pitch are you throwing in this count? What pitch are you trying to hit at the plate? The opportunity of watching is such a great time to get all of these mental reps. This will help you tremendously when your opportunity comes up in an actual game on your own. Preparation breeds confidence. Let watching these elite athletes become a part of your preparation.

Successes. What is making an athlete that you are watching find success? Was it their approach? Their mechanics? Was it their mindset? We can learn a lot from when people succeed. We can also learn a lot from failure. When an error happens on the field or someone has a bad at-bat, is there something you would have done differently? How could you encourage a teammate that has just failed in that situation? Or how can you keep the momentum going when your teammate finds success? Can you show MUDITA (being just as happy for a teammate when they find success as if you did it yourself)?? Another layer, visualize yourself having the same success that you see players having. What does that feel like? Picture yourself in the jersey, in the game, in the specific spot, getting the job done. Notice the ins and outs. Try to pick up on leadership tactics. If you don't get the job done what are you saying to the hitter behind you?

Skill-Sets. Respect the skill that athletes are showing you. Look at their mechanics. What do you notice mechanically about the best hitters, the best fielders? Everything looks smooth. It seems effortless. They are calm, cool, and relaxed. Why? How many reps do you think got them there? Emulate their body language, mimic their movements. Try to be like them. Become their teammate one day.

If you see it, you can be it. You can get to this level. Watch what we do and watch your performance take off.

It is also women's history month. Let's celebrate women by boosting their ratings across all platforms. Watch softball, women's basketball, Athletes Unlimited Pro Volleyball is also going on right now too! Even if you don't play these sports there is always something to learn from watching other people compete! Let it fuel your fire to be great and continue to improve every day!

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