How to Retrain the Negative Athlete Mindset

In many of my writings, I discuss the importance of an athlete’s mindset. We discuss decisions, goals and a positive inner dialogue that can greatly influence an athlete’s thought patterns. Ultimately, when there are negative thought patterns, it will represent a physiological response: stress.

Why do I say stress? Because most of the athletes I work with are stressed – whether it’s recovering from an injury or making a mistake while playing.

Source: Laura Miele, PhD

Source: Laura Miele, PhD

Why are athletes stressed?

As is often written in the kinesiology and psychology literature, when the body becomes stressed, oxygen and blood flow become more restricted. Athletes can make bad decisions, take a bad shot, smack, fall a ball, etc. The outcome of these situations is often representative of the internal dialogue that follows a mistake. For example, if a softball player hits, some will respond by asking, “What’s wrong with me?” or say “I stink about this game.”

I talk to my athletes about seeing the mistake or the situation differently. I ask them not to focus on the negative connotation of “What’s wrong with me?” but “What did I do to cross out?” or “How did I miss that foul shot?”

Athletes need to learn to ask that why or What Ask, “Why did I miss it?” “What can I do to make it better?” Then, to delve deeper, ask, “What can I do to relax my mind, trust my body, and just play?”

Controlled mindset

Questioning one’s abilities is normal, but constant negative internal dialogue is not; that shows a lack of trust. I often tell my athletes to trust their body-muscle memory. If you have a positive attitude and believe, you can let your body do the rest.

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Talking kindly to yourself is more than half the battle. Choosing to be positive and take control of your mindset and consequently your subconscious is of paramount importance; it’s a game changer.

Used with permission, Christi Helene

Source: Used with permission, Christi Helene

Once an athlete can take control of their inner dialogue and be positive, the journey begins to separate them from other athletes as they improve their game. You handle stress and mistakes better.

The subconscious only knows what we feed it – so feed it healthy thoughts. And do it repeatedly; Repetition is key.

Retraining our thought patterns isn’t always easy, but it can be accomplished with discipline, mindfulness, and meditation. Train the mind the same way you would train your body.

It’s not just about the physical practice. The mind-body connection is real; When athletes realize how well they can work together, their potential can be limitless. The strength of spirit and belief a person has in themselves ultimately depends on them.

Quite often, I teach my athletes to find something that is a good distraction so that when a negative thought creeps in, they use that to change the thought pattern. I have also found that in order to change a negative thought pattern, recruiting a physical stimulus ie snapping fingers or clapping hands forces the mind to shift its senses and shut down this negative thought process.

Used with permission, Vanessa Sarmuksnis

Source: Used with permission, Vanessa Sarmuksnis

Mental strategies are not one size fits all. Every athlete learns differently, just like at school as a student or at the gym during training. Athletes should try different methods that work for them. While mental tools can be universal, it is the implementation of such mental tools that begins the journey of true mind-body connection.

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In my next post I will discuss why attending a mental health day is so important not just for young athletes but for all athletes.

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