How star athletes maintain a winning mindset
Many athletes have stories and examples about people who were phenomenal talents, but failed to make it at the top or couldn’t perform when it counted.
These examples illustrate the crucial role having a winning mindset plays in separating great athletes from the rest of the pack. While true talent and skill are rare, what is even rarer is talent and skill combined with the mental fortitude required to succeed in the professional sporting arena.
While there are sports stars who were undoubtedly born with these qualities, there are countless others who have committed the time and effort required to develop them, either through their own techniques or with the help of sports psychologists.
Here are just some of the mental qualities star athletes possess, that anyone can apply in their own lives.
Ability to stay focused
Staying focussed becomes infinitely more difficult when players enter the professional sporting world. They must contend with thousands of screaming fans, media obligations, and the knowledge that everything they say and do will be scrutinised. One way sports psychologists help players build their ability to focus is by encouraging them to develop pre-game rituals. While pre-game rituals come in many forms, what they have in common is they help athletes cut out the mental chatter, connect with their bodies, and zone in on the task ahead.
Willingness to embrace pressure
Great champions are not only able to cope with pressure, they embrace it and leverage it to perform even better. One way sports psychologists help athletes cope with pressure is to encourage them to keep high-stakes moments in perspective and understand that missing a shot will not materially change their lives. This helps players not fear failure, which can reduce nerves.
It’s probably safe to say that a majority of top athletes use visualisation to aid their performance. Techniques vary, but commonly sports stars will find a quiet place and imagine themselves performing to their best, crossing the line first, or making the shot. Many even visit the venue they will be competing in ahead of time to help make their visualisations feel even more real.
Every successful athlete has had to overcome a major setback at some point in their career. In fact, they’ve probably done these dozens of times. Sports stars are competitive by nature, and falling short hurts. But while some dwell on setbacks and struggle to overcome them, others learn from them and come back stronger.
Many resilient athletes also learn to replicate success and will work on this skill by noting down all the things they were doing, eating, thinking, and feeling when they achieved that success, and doing those same things each time they compete.
Here are some athletes with insight on how to develop a winning mindset:
AFL superstar Matthew Lloyd is a premiership-winning forward who kicked over 100 goals in a single season, twice. Matthew is a master of cutting out distractions and using the gravity of the moment to boost performance.
The champion diver started her international career at just 13 years old, standing on a diving board in front of the world at the Commonwealth Games. After her own mental health struggles, Melissa Wu has worked with a psychologist to completely shift her mindset. Melissa shared her insights on the Off-Field podcast.
Adam Sellars is a champion freediver and qualified teacher of mindfulness meditation and advanced visualisation. He uses these strategies to overcome 'mental barriers' before and during his freediving descents.
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