The Importance of Positive Attitude for Athletes

When you're competing, your mindset is as important as your muscles

Young woman boxing in urban setting
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Serious athletes devote hours to conditioning, honing skills, perfecting techniques for their particular sport, and practice, practice, practice. And it's true that physical training—and inherent talent—can take an athlete far.

But only so far. If you're an athlete or simply enjoy competitive sports, developing a positive mental attitude can help give you an edge. Emotions, both happy and sad, are unavoidable and necessary, but they also can affect cognitive functioning (how well you think), your energy level, and other aspects of your physical performance.

When negativity rules the day—because you're dealing with an injury, say, or being criticized by your coach—it can be really tough to drum up the optimism that can help you succeed. So if you'd like to take your sports performance to the next level, consider trying some of these mental strategies for reversing negativity and getting rid of self-limiting beliefs.

Improve Your Mood

If you're in a state of frustration or plagued by a pessimistic perspective, you may be able to bring about a shift by getting yourself into a happier mood. Rather than dwell on whatever problems or issues are getting you down—maybe you've hit a snag in your training or you're having a losing streak—do something that you know will lift your spirits, even if you don't feel like it. Crank up some uplifting music. Get together with a friend who's always cheery. Play with your kids. Head to the dog park and watch the pups at play.

If you need a quick fix, close your eyes and think about someone or something that always makes you feel happy and hopeful. Just picturing that person or object may be enough to change your mood—which in turn will change your mind.

Take a Time Out

Negativity doesn't always stem from an internal or personal source.

Often we find ourselves being deeply affected by awful things we hear or read about that are happening in the world around us or by troubling images we see on television or in the newspaper. It's all too easy to allow these sorts of things to seep into our own psyches and overtake our mental and emotional state.

Of course, it's important to keep up with current events, even bad ones, but it's equally important to protect ourselves from overdosing on disturbing information. Take a break from the nonstop news. Dedicate a specific chunk of time each day to keep up with current events, but don't allow yourself to get sucked into watching and listening to the same information over and over, or compulsively checking for updates. If you must read or tune into something, make it a magazine article about an inspiring athlete or a fun sitcom.

Talk to Yourself

Ongoing research in sports psychology continues to find that practicing positive self-talk can greatly improve athletic performance. Sports psychologists often explain this link by pointing to the idea that thoughts create beliefs that ultimately drive actions.

Positive self-talk can take many different forms. For some people, reciting a positive mantra—a specific phrase or sentence, or even a single word, such as "power" or "focus"—is an effective way to manage thoughts and quash negativity that can get in the way of optimal performance.

A similar strategy is using visualization exercises. This basically means imagining a scenario in which you're competing and doing well. Use all your senses—imagine the sound of the crowd cheering, the smell in the air, how the ground feels under your feet or how the ball feels in your hands. There is some truth to the idea that if you can think it, you can do it, so use this wisdom when you compete.

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