In any sport, it’s often the athletes that go the extra mile that end up taking 1st place. The gap in physical ability and skill level between first and last place can be next to none. So, why does one athlete win – and the other lose?
What separates the top 1% of athletes from the rest – like Ronda Rousey was in UFC, or Serena Williams in Tennis, is the mind game they bring into their sport, their positioning as a champion and the habits they incorporate into their psyche that train not only their body, but their mind.
The key to high performance, success, winning, and the difference between 1st and 2nd place is this:
Putting the hours in your mental gym just as much as you’re focusing on strength, speed, or endurance.
Sports psychology is that mental gym. Helping you improve your focus, confidence and teaching you mental strategies you can use to gain the extra edge.
Opt-out of either one of those areas, and you put yourself at a disadvantage.
Athletes seeking high performance and winning records do whatever is necessary to reach their highest potential.
Today, we’ll take a look at the 3 psychological traits you need to develop to build your champion mindset via sports psychology, so you too can gain the mental edge and put yourself in the top 1% of competitors in your field, or your sport.
Self-belief is probably the most important part of this process. At the end of the day, you can be gifted, you can be in great shape, but if your mind is working against you, you won’t realize that physical potential.
Step 1 is to become conscious of your own thought process. We go through life thinking – we take in information and our mind processes it. It’s just what the mind does. You’re either aware of these thoughts, or you’re not. Your mind is thinking either way, all the time.
For example, if I’m going into a competition and I have the belief that “I’m not as good as everyone else” I’ll probably carry that belief with me all the time. This thought gives your mind a sense of not being good enough, or not being adequate. This one thought is going to branch off into others like “I need to perform at my top to even do well”, or “I need to prepare really well to even have a chance against the others”.
Does that feel like a good place to come from?
These ways of thinking will lead to ways of acting.
I know you’ve heard people say “It’s all about the mindset” or “It’s all in your head”, but we’re bringing the science into it.
Using sports psychology to develop a championship mindset has everything to do with thought patterns and belief systems. You develop those through time, but there are people who have been lucky enough to grow up with them and take them into their fields or sport.
We all know that person who always consistently wins. And what do we think about them? “Well, they win because they want to, right? They just want it more…”
When in fact, that’s not true. The reality here is that people who consistently succeed at a high level think about winning much less than others. They simply believe they’re going to do well.
It’s sort of paradoxical. If you know you’re going to win the game, why even think about it, right?
There’s just no uncertainty there. Whereas in someone who thinks about winning all the time, they’re basically telling themselves they need to do well. And if they need to do well, that means they’re not doing well now.
Do you follow me so far? Let’s wrap this brain-twister up.
The bottom line is, developing self-belief starts when you recognize your thought patterns and belief systems. Then you can start changing them, and start acting in a way that transforms your behavior, your habits, and finally, your lifestyle – creating an unbreakable wall of self-belief you can bring into any competition!
Your focus isn’t just one of the most powerful tools in sports psychology. It is, simply put, where you attention is.
Whatever sport you compete in, be it bodybuilding or table tennis, your focus is everything.
Imagine you’re in the middle of practice, or even in the middle of a competition. Does your mind wander somewhere else? Do you find it difficult to stay in the current moment, always either worried about the future, or anxious about the past?
If the answer is YES…
Your performance is taking a hit because you’re not 100% centered on the task at hand.
Let’s take a look at the most powerful sports psychology tips you can use to get your focus where it needs to be (on you).
- Know what you need to focus on.
It’s a fact – the clearer you are about what you want to focus on, the easier it is to “attend” your mind to it. Just the fact that you have it in your mind will make the neurons in your brain build that connection stronger and make you more focused and attentive.
- Focus only on what you can control.
You have control over yourself and your own actions and attitudes — nothing more. Keep your focus here – on you. Focusing on things in the past or future, things you have no control over, or things that don’t involve your actions, is setting you up for a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Being focused is about attending your mind to what you’re currently doing. About always being present. Being here. Now.
- Create an anchor.
Anchors can be anything – a physical object, a thought or an idea, or simply doing an action like clenching your fist. Connect them to the present moment consistently, and every time you see, hear, or do the anchor you picked, your focus will come back to the present. It’s a really simple way to be attentive and check if you’re in a situation.
- Use mental imagery.
Practice seeing yourself perform exactly as you want to perform. Focusing exactly as you want to focus. The more you train your mind to pay attention on the right things, the more your body will respond. Visualize yourself going up on that stage, hearing the crowd, seeing the lights, and being fully present while doing it. Sit back and imagine going through every workout, every exercise, every rep of every set. Imagine even the sweat, the sounds of the weights dropping on the floor, the smell of your protein shake. Every little bit helps build the connections in your brain stronger.
One thing you have to realize is that focus, just like self-belief, is like muscle. You train that muscle and it gets stronger with time. You stop paying attention to it – and it starts lacking.
If someone asked me which muscle I train the hardest, it would be those two. They make all the difference when you’re in the gym, or up on that stage.
Now that we know how to train these mind muscles, let’s look at how we can keep our mental body healthy. We do that exactly the way we keep our physical body healthy – with resting!
Relaxation is defined as a psychological “strategy” used by athletes (or people in general) to help reduce stress-related emotions like anger, anxiety, uncertainty, and frustration. Physical symptoms like physical tension, increased heart rate and high blood pressure are also something that can be managed through putting yourself in a relaxed state. During high-pressure situations like an intense workout where you’re pushing yourself to the edge, it can be difficult maintaining a relaxed mind.
Let’s take a look at my two favorite relaxation strategies you can use to put your mind at ease and still improve your athletic performance!
Number one, breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises shouldn’t even be called an exercise. Just the fact that you breathe correctly will increase the levels of oxygen in your blood, improving your mood and reducing the tension in your body.
The process of breathing properly involves diaphragmatic breathing, the abdomen, and the chest. Specifically, when breathing in deeply, you should concentrate on your lungs by first pushing the diaphragm down and the abdomen outward then by expanding the chest and raising the chest and shoulders.
To do this in a controlled manner, so that it is of benefit during a competitive performance, athletes can be encouraged to be rhythmic in their breathing by inhaling, holding, and exhaling to a count of a predetermined number. In addition, exhalation in the right moment could help reduce muscular tension during key movements, such as putting the weight down or striking a tennis ball.
And my second favorite… mindfulness meditation.
The practice of mindfulness originated thousands of years ago and is known to improve and strengthen your focus, aside from a ton of physical benefits!
It can be defined as a state of awareness you achieve through purposely paying attention to the present and ongoing experiences of you and those around you – in a relaxed environment.
Some documented benefits of mindfulness meditation include reduced reporting of depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
These exact self-belief crushing behaviors are what mindfulness meditation is good for. If you find it difficult to start developing a positive thought loop and a champion’s mindset, it’s probably because you haven’t been meditating enough. Even though meditation is a loose concept thrown around a lot nowadays, let’s not forget it’s the number one way to keep in touch with your psyche.
Meditation is a way to listen to what your subconscious has to say to you, and talk back to it.
Sitting back in a relaxed state and meditating while keeping your focus is the best way to attend to your mind’s need to rest.
It will make you more present, more positive, and give you an unshakable belief in yourself, if you do it long enough (and people have been, for thousands of years).
To conclude, we can summarize by saying that developing a champion’s mindset through sports psychology involves creating thought loops of self-belief, keeping your focus where it should be, and relaxing your mind and body in order to keep yourself motivated and not burn-out.
These are the things that I have found most useful not only when going into competition, but just applying to everyday life. And that’s also a huge part of what has made me WBFF World Champion two years in a row. Even after moments of self-doubt, uncertainty and stress – keeping my mind just as healthy as my body is what gave me the edge.
Remember – developing a champion’s mindset, one that will be rooted in intense self-belief and positivity… that takes time.
It’s like a muscle that you will build with time, and it’s not going to be easy.
Remember your first day at the gym? Did you feel 100% comfortable?
The answer is probably no…
And that’s okay!!
As long as you put in the time and effort to strengthen your mindset muscle, I can guarantee you can achieve anything you want, be it in sports competitions, or in daily life.
And that’s what I want for you!