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3 Sporty Psychology Takeaways from 2019

This year’s work with athletes has been both exciting and humbling. 

As I reflect on 2019, there are no new topics under the sun, but here are 3 takeaways with strategies that may help.

1. Identity 
Knowing who (or how) to be when you need to be _____, is crucial to performance. I had several nice athletes this year. Nice is great.
But not on the field. There’s not room for nice athletes at the top.
Two strategies to navigate this:

  • Develop an alternative personality. Example: A football player I worked with was afraid to tackle the opponent as he didn’t want to hurt anyone. As he began to understand that tackling is part of the game, and that, if he wanted to contribute to his team he would need to learn to tackle without remorse; he felt more comfortable with the idea of tackling. 
    • We developed a mentality of becoming the Tasmanian Devil between the lines, and his regular nice self outside the lines. As he began tackling more people, (and getting popped a few good times himself), he developed a thirst for tackling the opponent. 
  • Love to win. Hate to lose. Again, there’s no room at the top for nice athletes. Today’s kids are getting softer and giving up way too quickly. I don’t have the research to back that up, but I work with enough youth athletes to confidently share that. We need to share a love for winning and a deep seated dislike for losing (if the athlete desires to become elite).
    • Everyone loves to win. But not everyone hates to lose. Advantage goes to the athlete who loves to win and hates to lose. AKA – no nice athletes on the field. 
    • Still teach play with integrity and within the guidelines of the game (no cheating/dirty play), but play to win. 

You’re identity is not wrapped up in your sport. Sport is what you do . . . it’s not who you are. Some of the nicest NFL players off the field are the most feared on the field. It doesn’t make them bad people, it shows their ability to be who they need to be when they need to be ________. 

2) Present Moment Focus (one play at a time)
A good portion of today’s youth athletes give up before the match/game is done. “I’m going to lose, might as well throw in the towel” kind of mindset. ​​​​​​​One strategy for navigating this:

  • Each play/point/bout is an entire match in and of itself. No previous play. No future play. Just the one happening right now. 
  • Action happens in the now. Be here for it. 
  • When an athlete truly plays in the present moment, a few things happen (or don’t happen: 
    • ​​​​​​​The doubt and fear disappears because they have no previous reference to poor performance
    • The worries or anxiety of what might happen next dissipate because there’s no next play. Just the one happening now. 
    • There’s no need to give up, “I’m too far behind” because all I’m trying to do is win this one point/pitch/play. 

With the present moment focus mentality, the ‘stick-to-it-ness’ should sky rocket. You can win 1 play. Do it now. Then again.

3) Take responsibility for your performance:
No matter the field we are in (athletics or business world) it’s always easier to pawn off poor performance on someone else. “I’m not getting playing time because _____”  “We’re not winning because __________” 
Although there may or may not be truth to these and other similar statements, encourage athletes to do the following:

  • Bring the focus back to self and ask “What are you doing well to gain playing time and what are the things you can improve to increase your value and visibility to the coaching staff?” 
    • ​​​​​​​There are always areas of improvement. No athlete is complete. 
  • “What other ways can I contribute to this team without necessarily getting playing time?” 
    • ​​​​​​​Be a help rather than a hurt to the morale of the team. 
    • Can the athlete pick up ‘tells’ from the opponent? Can they be an extra pair of eyes for the starters and offer insight from another perspective?

Basically, how are you raising your stock rather than hurting it? If I am the opponent, or a scout looking for talent, what would you want them to say about the kind of player you are? If you were to get traded from your team to another team, what would you want your current coaching staff to say about the way you play the game? What kind of teammate you are? And how you might help your next team?

It’s been my privilege once again to help athletes take ownership of their thought lives one play, one moment at a time. 
It’s also been my privilege to be a small piece of the puzzle in helping these athletes become solid young men and women in society.

Here are a few resources that may help them (or you) continue along the athletic journey towards greatness in sport and life…  

For the athlete looking to strengthen their mental game on topics such as confidence, routine building, motivation, recovering from failure…
For helping athletes take responsibility of their performance on and off the field
For anyone desiring to get that THING accomplished you’ve been meaning to get done, with a little encouragement from a buddy
For any high school or college athlete desiring to grow their mental game and relationship with God

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