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How to Choose a Pause Instead of Panic to Improve Your Performance!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #91 – Watch or listen HERE.

Although the snow falling outside my window says otherwise, we are in the heart of college softball season and if you aren’t watching any of the great ESPN coverage, you are missing out!

It is a GREAT game for TV, and it is ripe with examples of controlling controllables, pre-performance routines and so many other mental tools…and sometimes lack thereof!

I got a chance to watch a few innings of the Notre Dame/Clemson game on Saturday. It was a great game and tied 1 – 1 in the 4th. After a double and a hit by pitch, Clemson and a chance to take the lead.

Notre Dame’s pitcher, who had just hit a batter had lost control of the at bat, running the count full. Even though a hitter statistically has a little more than 2 of 10 chance of getting a hit in this count, pitchers feel immense pressure not to make a mistake here (and are probably thinking about what not to do instead of what TO DO)! Hitters are swinging at anything close and too close means a run!

What happened next made me stop and rewind to watch again!

The pitcher STOPPED!

She turned her back to the plate. She systematically bent down. She picked up a handful of dirt. She stood up. She threw the dirt back to the ground. She raised her chin and took a deep breath! She paused. And when she was ready, she went back to work!

It didn’t matter if the pitch was ready to be signaled in. It didn’t matter if the batter was standing in the box ready to go.

She TOOK SOME TIME to gather, refocus and PAUSE!

The result? She threw a great pitch. Inning over! No runs, one hit, two left on. The score remained 1 – 1!

You’re thinking, I see athletes do this all the time! Me, too!

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Nothing is guaranteed, but I am certain that this intentional “time-out” on the mound changed her focus and allowed her to set her emotion aside and strategically think about what to do next (and I am not referring to thinking about mechanics or what she wanted to avoid…I mean thinking about what she wanted to do).

But more often than not, you and I see athletes, our colleagues or anyone, for that matter…press on and try to work themselves out of the pressured situation by sheer might or digging in deeper.

I ask players if they have a “reset” or a “refocus” routine and many say they do. Because I admittedly wonder if they use them, I then ask a few more questions!

What do you do? What are you saying to yourself during that routine? Do you use it in practice? Have you ever seen yourself do it?

I have videos of many of the athletes with whom I work. I also have written notes, either their notes or my notes, that say what they do. I then watch the video and see something different than what is in our notes…I usually see no routine at all! And even if I see the physical routine, I can see that the mental moves are not fostering a “reset” but that inner voice is still causing chatter that keeps our mind distracted, even when our body is picking up dirt, throwing it down, etc.

In other words, we can do things to “reset” and still be thinking about things that impede our performance!

As I was driving to church on Sunday, I heard something that rings true in our lives and our performance. So often when pressure mounts, the pastor said, we choose to panic instead of choosing to pray.

Think about your demeanor in both instances. What do you feel like in panic mode? What do you feel like in prayer mode?

Notre Dame’s pitcher CHOSE to “pray”…or pause instead of panic!

Think about your experience. How often would a timely pause (or prayer) have kept you from digging yourself deeper into a hole?

The key is that we need a system to do this. We aren’t just going to say… “oh…I should take a pause” in the middle of any type of fight.

As I watch my teams and others work, no matter what the sport or the stakes, I see athletes rush through or move on so quickly that they miss an all-important opportunity to regroup.

I realize that some situations call for reactions… "this is no time to start thinking” Amy Kyler, head coach at Cleveland State and my former player and assistant yelled out to the mound years ago!

But sometimes, we need to RESET OUR THINKING…or our EMOTIONS.

I finally learned at some point in my career that when I went crazy about a call or a play, I missed the next one…at least! If this was happening to me, an adult with a fully mature brain (don’t go there 😊), how long does it take our athletes to rebound? One play, two plays, to games?

As Viktor Frankl so eloquently states in Man’s Search for Meaning, “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Whether we decide to pause or pray, deciding what we will do when the pressure mounts is critical. Also important is becoming aware of what gets us off our game. Is it a missed goal, a turnover, a walk, a swing and miss?

It then turns into an equation. When _______ , I __________. But it MUST BE PRACTICED!

We use a physical motion, a deep breath when looking at a predetermined spot around us, a reset word or phrase and a final thought, image or feeling that helps us remain present and makes primes our mind for success.

It can be as simple as a deep breath, looking up, tightening our fists and releasing them on an exhale. Or doing what Dr. Pat Hill says I did every time I walked into our office in grad school…deep breath, exhale…and a verbal “ok!”.

What we choose as we PAUSE is not as important as where we are during our PAUSE. A pause with a full mind is not a pause at all. A pause with an intentional mind is the key!

How do you PAUSE? Then think about how those you lead pause…or could benefit from it. It won’t work every time, but it will put you a much better position to compete at your best - which is critical for success!

Manage moments and have a great week!


P.S. Need a better mental training system that you can implement without doing your own research, prepping for team chats or doing the work yourself? Call today and let me build a plan that fits your budget and schedule. Shoot me an email at and let’s set a plan in motion to manage your team’s mental game!

Julie Jones

Certified Mental Performance & Mindset Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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