ARLINGTON, Texas – Anyone who follows Shannon O’Keefe across her social media channels knows she’s always physically ready to compete at the top level, but the reigning Professional Women’s Bowling Association Player of the Year has been putting in the time to make sure she’s mentally prepared for the upcoming Professional Bowlers Association League.
O’Keefe will join fellow PWBA stars Liz Johnson, Jordan Richard, Stefanie Johnson and Maria José Rodriguez in representing the Phoenix Fury at the PBA League, starting Sept. 26 at Bowlero Centreville in Centreville, Virginia.
The Phoenix Fury and Miami Waves are additions to the PBA League in 2020. The new teams are made up of athletes who competed on the PWBA Tour in 2019, finished in the top 35 on the season-long points and were selected during a formal draft.
O’Keefe, the top overall pick in the draft for team manager and United States Bowling Congress Hall of Famer Kim Kearney, often keeps her fans informed of her rigorous workout and practice routines through her fan pages on social media. Although the countless miles on the treadmill and various drills and tips deservedly earn plenty of praise, likes and views, the attention to detail O’Keefe gives to her mental game has helped her trend to the top of the points list the last two seasons.
The 41-year-old right-hander noted numerous times during her 2019 season why she needed to reset her mental focus after a bittersweet 2018 campaign. O’Keefe claimed her first PWBA Player of the Year award in 2018, but she felt her focus prevented her from performing to the best of her abilities in the second half of the season.
O’Keefe’s new outlook in 2019 led her to five titles, including her third career major at the PWBA Tour Championship.
“The mental discipline I brought into this season was necessary for me to continue in my path of growth to be the best I can be,” said O’Keefe after locking up player-of-the-year honors in 2019. “I was able to embrace my struggles and celebrate my successes. I lived in every moment, good and bad. I didn’t listen to or let the outside noise distract me from reaching my goals. I’m proud of how I stayed true to the plan, and I’m not sure if this season would have been as successful without it. I will continue to carry this mindset throughout the rest of my career.”
With the 2020 PWBA Tour season canceled due to public health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and limited events to bowl leading to her appearance at the PBA League, O’Keefe has continued to explore new ways to make sure she’s just as sharp mentally as she is physically.
Whether it’s reading new books on mental toughness or watching previous appearances on television shows, O’Keefe conitnues to push herself to learn more each day. She also feels her physical preparation plays a big part in her mental approach.
“I’m just trying to be mentally tougher every day, and I’m a firm believer that working out really does help that mental toughness,” said O’Keefe, who resides in Shiloh, Illinois. “There’s so many times on runs where I’m halfway through and think it’s good enough and don’t want to do it anymore. Mentally, it's important to overcome those feelings. There are other ways to work on mental toughness when you’re not at a bowling center and competing.”
As the head coach of the women’s bowling program at McKendree University, O’Keefe is motivated by the student-athletes she works with. Not only does she want to make them proud, she also wants to set a good example and help them grow in positive ways – in both bowling and life.
In her own ongoing training, O’Keefe has been working alongside one of her former student-athletes at McKendree, former Junior Team USA member Taylor Bailey.
For the previous four years, Bailey was a mainstay and leader in the Bearcats lineup, helping McKendree capture titles at both the 2017 Intercollegiate Team Championships and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Bowling Championship. She’s now looking to join O’Keefe on the lanes next year during the PWBA Tour season, and both are using the extended offseason to learn from each other.
“I’ve really been trying to show her that there is no offseason if she wants to be successful on tour, and she’s working hard and doing that,” said O’Keefe, a 13-time PWBA Tour titlist. “We may not be competing, but this is where you’re going to be making the biggest strides. She’s growing up before our eyes, and it’s nice to have her push me on days where I may be tired or not want to work out. It has been a lot of fun.”
Looking ahead to the PBA League competition at the end of the month, group text messages have been going back and forth between O’Keefe and her teammates, and their first Zoom call with Kearney is in the books.
O’Keefe noted the mutual respect and admiration she and her teammates share for each other’s talents and accomplishments and how their familiarity through both PWBA and international competition helps create a natural team chemistry.
She also believes Kearney will play a big part in the team’s success. The 10-time PWBA Tour champion shares a previous bond with each member of the Phoenix Fury through the Team USA program or collegiate bowling.
“I really love watching all of them compete, so I’m excited to be able to compete with them,” said O’Keefe, a 16-time Team USA member. “When you have a bond and relationship and team chemistry already is in place, it makes it easy to free when you’re playing. When you’re free to play, amazing things can happen.”
Qualifying at the PBA League kicks off Saturday, Sept. 26 at 10 a.m. Eastern and will be broadcast live on FloBowling. Competition will move to FS1 starting Sunday, Sept. 27 at noon Eastern, with the Anthony Division Quarterfinals getting head-to-head match play underway. The tournament will conclude Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. Eastern, with the finals for the PBA Elias Cup.
The Phoenix Fury will compete in the Carter Division, while the Miami Waves will be in the Anthony Division. The 2020 PBA League consists of 12 five-player teams, featuring the top stars on both the PBA and PWBA Tours.