In sport psychology, a lot of consultants and athletes mainly focus on identifying and addressing weaknesses, as that is usually the reason why athletes seek help in the first place. While it is essential to address weaknesses when trying to improve mental skills and mindset, sometimes it can be a bit demoralising for athletes to talk about the negatives and what they are struggling with over and over and over again. Consequently their moods can be affected and potentially create an additional issue that didn’t exist in the first place. This also seems very appropriate at the moment considering we are all having to stay at home and some of us might be struggling a little bit mentally.
I am sure you have all heard people say, “just keep your head up” or “stay positive”, but how do we actually go about doing that? Is it as simple as it sounds? Can we simply tell ourselves to stay positive and we’d be able to do exactly that? I don’t think so personally.
How can we actually stay positive?
When trying to improve, a lot of athletes focus solely on their weaknesses, and forget to think about what got them to where they are and what made them the player they are today. By focusing on their strengths, it can give them confidence and motivation even when they are struggling, as their strengths don’t just suddenly disappear just because they are not playing well. During bad matches, they compound the situation by dwelling on the mistakes they are making. However, even during the worst of matches, there will always be positives. For example, even if you’re losing 6-0, 4-0 in tennis, there’d still have been stretches where you played well, shots and serves that were executed well. The most important skill here is being able to identify aspects of your game that’s functioning well even during bad matches, which would in turn provide you the opportunity and mindset to turn it around before it’s too late. We can control our minds to think about whatever we want, whenever we want. Don’t believe me? A giant panda is sitting in the corner of the room you are in right now. Did we all think of a panda, even if it’s just for a split second? So the question I ask is, why do most people insist on fixating on the negatives and never the positives, especially when all negative thoughts do is make us play worse? Yes, it’s not as easy as it sounds, but it is definitely a skill that can be developed with the right guidance and practice. Once this becomes a habit, it allows athletes to be flexible and adaptable with their thoughts, building resilience and ability to bounce back from tough periods in matches and/or poor run of results.
Exercises to start doing at home:
- Identify the strengths in your game.
- How do they make you a good player/athlete?
- Pick a handful of past matches you’ve played, especially ones that did not go well. What were some of the things you did well?
- Visualise how the outcome of the matches could have changed had you focused on the good things rather than the bad.
- Write them down in a notebook, keep going over what you’ve written and add to it whenever you can.
- Keep practicing! The more you do it the easier and more effective it becomes.
Similarly, you can apply the same principles during lockdown. Can you identify some of your strengths and see how they can influence your lockdown experience in a positive way? Have you benefited from staying at home in some way? Has it given you more time to do what you’ve always wanted to but haven’t been able to due to your busy schedules? Has it allowed you to spend more time with your family, or saved you money that you would have otherwise spent in restaurants and pubs etc? When you are focusing on the positives, you simply don’t have the ability or capacity to be thinking about the negatives as well, as you cannot think about multiple things at once. By choosing to focus on the good, you naturally force the bad out at the same time, which is the starting block of “staying positive”. Therefore, applying a sport psychology technique can benefit your sporting mindset as well as your everyday mindset.
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Stay home and stay safe!
HCPC registered and Chartered Sport Psychologist based in the North-East of England.