I had the pleasure of attending a football game for one of my senior athletes and found my attention drawn to several moments in-between plays. He ran every play with flawless execution but the moments that stood out the most were seeing him pick up players after every tackle, patting everyone’s back, and being the first one to cheer after an injured player recovered, regardless of whose jersey they wore. I have worked with this young man for almost 2 years and have received game replays and highlights of his performance for every game but in those hundreds of play-by-plays he never mentioned what I believe to be the most important part of his game.
The true success of his performance was the character he showed and values he holds true for himself on and off of the field. To say this athlete is a team player is putting it mildly. I have NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that this amazing young man will be successful no matter what life throws his way because he understands the truth … he is more than just a win-loss record and has used his athletic journey as a learning ground to become the man he knows he can be.
As a mental coach, I help athletes improve their confidence, focus, and performance, but more than that teach them life skills that allows them to be successful human beings. I challenge the way they think about the situations they are in and encourage them to consider alternative definitions of success and failure. In this post I will be highlighting 4 values of confident athletes along with their adversaries and asking you as the reader to consider how these are modeled in your life or the life of your athlete. There is so much value here but there is much more that goes into living the high performance life so be sure to read to the end for a special invitation.
1. INTEGRITY VS. DISTRUST
When I work with teams, one of the most common challenges I hear from players is a lack of trust in their teammates to perform well when it counts. The first way I address this is by asking them to take an honest look in the mirror and consider their role along with the role of their teammates. After a series of prompts, situational questions, and discussion they never fail to end up where I want them… understanding that they are responsible TO their team, not FOR their team. This means that for them to trust their teammates they must trust themselves which looks like showing up at their 100%, focused on the things that help them perform their best and to trust that their teammates will do the same. If you struggle to trust your teammates I would encourage you to consider how you trust yourself in performance when it counts and show up to practice.
So how do you build trust? This is where INTEGRITY comes in.. Integrity means essentially that you do what you say you are going to do. When athletes do not trust their teammates it stems from a lack of trust in themselves, which happens when they have a history of letting themselves down. It is not that they are intentionally cutting corners or lying but rather, they look at their ‘success’ based on outcome focused goals which sets them up for failure. They believe that their value is in how many points they score and how perfectly they execute during performances and forget to consider their hard work, effort, teamwork, and how they handle themselves on the field between plays. It could also be that their confidence is low causing them to not believe they are capable of doing well so they do not try.
Integrity leads to greater trust. When you do the things you say you will do you build up a belief in yourself. You can be proud of the things you do regardless of outcome because you know you are coming from a place of good intention. One simple way to begin practicing integrity is to replace the ‘I shoulds’ with ‘I am going to”. Instead of saying, ”I should work on my skills,” or “I should practice more,” say what you are going to do and then go do it. Notice the ways you are improving and celebrate it. This will build confidence and trust in yourself and allow you to step into a higher level of success as an athlete and person.
2. PERSISTENCE VS. FAILURE
“The key to success is failure.” Michael Jordan. One of the words I cringe every time I hear it is FAILURE. As a mental coach, I truly believe failure is a choice. When athletes look as a game as bad, a loss as wasted effort, or an unfinished goal as wasted time they are robbing themselves of a chance of success. Like the quote above, you can find thousands of quotes and interviews from the greatest athletes of all time attributing their success to the mistakes they have made and ‘failures’ they have had. The thing that led them to greatness was CHOOSING to learn from the experience to improve and propel themselves forward. It is easy to use failure as an excuse to stay in your comfort zone because it doesn’t require anything of you. To persist through failure requires you to take an honest look at yourself and your performance and to ask the hard questions. You must release the idea that to be successful you have to be perfect and understand that your value is in so much more than your wins. It also requires you to believe that you can rewrite your story instead of giving into the lack that says you will only experience the same ‘failure’ next time. Truly successful athletes are willing to fail and show their imperfection for the sake of their bigger goals.
3. CONNECTION VS. COMPARISON
When I ask athletes what they love most about their sport, the most common response I hear is related to having fun with their teammates. Unfortunately, when an athlete is struggling in their performance the thing they love most about their sport is the thing that is hit the hardest, their relationships. Next to fear of failure, fear of social rejection is perhaps the most common fear I see, especially in more perfectionist athletes. The reason for this is that high achievers have extremely high expectations for themselves and when they feel like they are not living up to their potential, they assume others feel the same way. This is what is happening when a well-meaning “You got this!” from a teammate causes them to break down in tears and frustration. Instead of being a part of the team, engaged and connected they compare themselves and are filled with reservation and fear.
Truly successful, confident athletes choose connection over comparison. They choose to see the good in others and believe that they mean the best. They are willing to connect without fear of judgment or comparison because they are so sure of themselves. They extend grace and model it with themselves when a mistake is made. In order for this to happen, athletes must first accept that they are not perfect and that is ok. If this is a challenge for you, take some time to reflect on who you are at your core, outside of your performance. What makes you an incredible person? As you become more clear on who you are and notice the amazing things you are and do your self-esteem will improve which will reduce the importance of the opinions of others.
4. GRATITUDE VS. ENTITLEMENT
On the path to athletic greatness there is a point where the more naturally talented athletes will be outperformed by the hard work of others if they do not appreciate their gifts. As a tumbling coach for over a decade, this truth became abundantly clear. There were girls who seemed to be born of muscle and saw success early and often. Everytime they tried a new skill, they were able to figure it out quickly and move on to the next with ease while others who struggled with strength and technique spent months or even years trying to master one skill. Of course, there is nothing wrong with either and every athlete is special in their own unique way and journey but here is what I have seen… There exists a challenge for both types… for the more naturally skilled, the risk is that they reach a level which requires more persistence and patience than they have practiced where they will not see success right away and may not understand how to push through. For athletes who have to work harder than others to achieve the same level of success they may burn out early and allow comparison to tell them they are not good enough. There is a secret weapon that can ensure success no matter what your personal journey has looked like to this point, gratitude.
Gratitude is an essential element to achieving success because it puts things in perspective. Without it, athletes who have achieved success early on may step into entitlement and think they deserve to stay at the top or are superior to others on the team. Athletes who have had to really work to get where they are would contribute their success to luck or external factors and struggle to stay ahead. A daily practice of gratitude allows athletes to stay humble to the fact that what they have is a gift. They are blessed to have the opportunity, experience, and gift of playing a sport they love and cherish it. With gratitude, there is so much more joy and positivity because the focus is on what you have vs what you do not. If you want to practice greater gratitude try writing down 3-5 things you are thankful for at the end of every day. Another simple shift is to say “I get to…” instead of “I have to…”. So, instead of coasting at the top or discounting your progress, respect the gifts you have been given and use them well.
There you have it.. Like the fruits of the spirit, these values do not come naturally, especially with the way the sports world pushes perfection and win at all cost mentality. They come with the right mindset and daily practice. Do you display these values but feel like it is not enough because you are not perfect or do not win every time? Or do you agree that these values are important and want to embody them but feel yourself pulled back to less than desirable ways of being? I want to help you sort through these thoughts and shift your perspective so you can discover how much success is possible for you. Each month I offer a limited number of virtual 30-minute FREE Performance Check Sessions and would love to gift one of these spots to you. To grab your spot, simply click here to complete a short precall form which will take you to my calendar upon completion to book your call.
As a mental performance coach, my job is to help them through this process. I teach them mental game skills and tools so they know exactly how to improve their confidence, trust, and focus every practice. I help them figure out what is causing them to stay stuck and what is going to get in the way of them mastering their skills. If you want to learn more about mental performance coaching and how it can help you improve your trust and performance then sign-up for a no-cost Performance Check Session today. Click the link here, complete the precall form, and book your session today!