If you’ve followed my philosophies on this blog for any amount of time, you know that I preach that the best way to win is to stop focusing on winning. Instead, focus on developing a winning attitude. Now, I’m not backing down on that advice and the reason is that most athletes who put too much emphasis on winning create fears and nervousness about not winning.
This fear, in turn, tends to hurt the athlete’s performances and hinders their ability to play to their full potential. Performance anxiety is the biggest mental problem in sports.
“He can do it beautifully in practice, but not in games.”
This is a common phrase I hear from both coaches and parents. Now, having said all that, this article is about how to instill a winning mindset in your athletes to give them an edge in competition. Let me introduce you to the power of belief in sports.
Belief Leads to a Winning Attitude
First, let’s define “belief” for our purposes here. You must first understand that we have two major functionings of the mind: the conscious mind and the unconscious mind.
⇒ The Conscious Mind
The conscious mind is that part of the mind that makes all the decisions for us. It analyzes, criticizes, reasons, accepts, and rejects. I often refer to this as the “Thinking Mind” when speaking to the kids I work with.
⇒ The Unconscious Mind
The unconscious mind is the part of our mind that operates the body. Its primary functions include managing emotions and storing our beliefs, values, and memories for later recall. It operates a lot like the operating system of a computer.
A belief is similar to a computer program or application that resides on an operating system. It’s a set of instructions that the computer can run when it’s told to.
What we need to do is to get your entire team to have a belief implanted in their power mind that they belong at the level of a winner. They need to believe in the cells of their body that not only can they win, but they expect to win.
If you, as a coach, can pull this off, then everything else will fall into place and performance anxiety won’t result from thinking about winning and preparing to win.
How Do You Develop This Winning Attitude in Your Players?
The easy way is for a group of athletes to join a team that has a long history of winning. In my local area, Bellevue Washington, there is a high school that has won 67 straight games and the state championship 11 out of 13 years. Yes, of course, good coaching has a lot to do with that, but can you imagine what happens inside the mind of a young man who makes it onto that football team at the beginning of the year?
This is possible to accomplish even if you don’t have a long history of winning. The way to do this is to adopt that old famous saying:
“Fake it until you make it.”
I have modified this to fit:
“You can fake and pretend beliefs until they become real.”
I’d like to give you the key to making it work in real life. It starts with understanding that the word “winning” is relative. For example, “winning” for a team that went 1-11 last season could mean improving to 6-6 this season. That’s winning just as much as Bellevue saying that winning is nothing short of a state championship.
The thinking mind has to give permission before we can install the winning belief and all you want to shoot for is getting to that TOUGH NEXT LEVEL.
Repetition is the Key to Fostering Belief
From there, it’s really not that complicated. With unwavering repetition, coaches for teams must preach such things as:
“You are a championship team.”
“We are the #1 team in our division.”
“You are a top 10 player.” (this repetition works just as well on individual sports)
Look your athletes straight in the eye as many times as you can get in during the time you have with them and label them as the athlete or team you believe they can be. This label should be tough to achieve in reality but DO-ABLE.
You can never contradict yourself on this. You can’t say things that are the opposite of that if you want this label to stick. Tearing an athlete down to build them up (a favorite coaching trick) will only undermine your efforts at instilling the winning belief system you want them to have.
The magic is in the labeling of the individual. Being consistent with it is what gets it into the unconscious or power mind. Get your athlete to repeat back to you this label and do everything you can to get them to say it on their own without your prodding.
“You are a .400 hitter!”
“You have a nose for the goal!”
“You are the best finisher I’ve ever seen!”
“You are a consistency machine!”
You can fake and pretend beliefs and they will become your reality. Teach your athletes that idea and they will show you a winning attitude.
I’m Craig Sigl,
Your Mental Toughness Trainer