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Mindful Thinking for Athletes

by Denise Fisher, AT

· wellbeing

I want to first start by saying I am not an expert in this domain; however, I find sports psychology fascinating because it can make a difference in the success of an athlete's future. There are so many talented athletes out there, but what's holding them back? Is it physical, mental, or emotional?

So let's talk about six mental skills that can be developed over time to improve your performance. The first mental skill is a POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Your attitude, as well as the attitude of others, can change the way you think. Have you ever been around a negative person? It can make you feel sad, irritated, or depressed. Sometimes their negative energy is so strong I can feel my energy level draining. YUCK! Remember, a positive attitude is something that is chosen and practiced. Try to view everything as an opportunity; remember to strive for excellence and learn from your successes and failures. No one is perfect! Maintain balance in your life. Doing too much of something will only harm you in the long run. Respect everyone and their values.

The second mental skill is MOTIVATION. Motivation is a difficult skill that requires discipline. You need to be able to see the future rewards and the benefits of all challenging situations. Motivation is all about the journey and the challenges you endured to get to the finish.


The third mental skill I will discuss is GOAL SETTING. Goal setting is a valuable mental skill that helps you to organize what is meaningful and achievable in your life. Setting short term goals keeps you centered and prevents you from unproductive or negative thoughts, which in turn impacts you mentally and emotionally. Remember to keep your short term goals achievable. Once a short term goal is achieved, move onto the next short term goal. Long term goals are something you want to do in the future and are essential for your sport or personal career success. Long term goals take time and lots of planning. Generally, long term goals take several years later to accomplish.

An example would be playing a sport in college. That doesn't happen overnight and requires years of practicing and competing in your sport. It also requires attending school and obtaining good grades.

Never give up on a goal! If you set your goal too high and realize it's unachievable, don't give up! Restructure the goal and work towards accomplishing it. "An athlete gains so much knowledge by just participating in a sport. Focus, discipline, hard work, goal setting, and, of course, the thrill of finally achieving your goals. These are all lessons in life." - Kristi Yamaguchi

The fourth mental skill is IMAGERY. Imagery is something I use in my daily life to help me accomplish my goals. I started using imagery per the advice of Coach Pavic. He was my hurdle coach who taught me about imagery and how to use it for my races. I first started with writing times down that I wanted to achieve in my races, and then I would envision myself running the 300-meter hurdles. In this vision, I focused on my form and my fluidness of running and jumping the hurdles. To my surprise, I achieved several of the times I wrote down. I even noticed I felt prepared when I placed myself in the blocks and waited for the starter's gunshot. I felt like I had calmed my jitters and was able to focus entirely on the race.

I am encouraging all my athletes to start using imagery to better your performance and improve your concentration. First, think of something you would like to accomplish, but make sure it's a reasonable goal. Then imagine yourself doing it. Take yourself through the scenario with positive thoughts and emotions. If you get a negative or unproductive idea, just think of a solution or start the thought processes again. You are in control of your thoughts.

The picture above is of Coach Pavic and me at the 1996 Ohio High School State Meet.
Coach Pavic inspired me in so many ways. He taught me how to work hard, train with intensity, and be the best version of myself on and off the track.
RIP Coach Pavic.

The fifth mental skill is maintaining positive SOCIAL SKILLS. In the sports world, there are so many personalities between coaches, teammates, and opponents that it can be hard to maintain a balanced mindset. Developing practical skills for managing conflicts and communicating your thoughts will help provide you with the social skills you need to resolve stressful situations.

The sixth mental skill is MANAGING STRESS AND ANXIETY. Being an athlete is not all fun and games. There are many challenges behind the scenes people do not consider that can affect the mental health of an athlete and their performance. Having a sound support system is vital for young athletes. Sports can help build self-confidence, but at the same time, it can increase stress and anxiety because of the fear of failure. There is an interesting article from Psychology Today called, How to Overcome Sports Performance Anxiety. The article discusses ways to manage stress and anxiety. Take a moment and read the article, and you may find the techniques used will help you in your life, whether it be in a sport setting or your personal life.

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