Facing Your Fiercest Opponent
Do we rise to the occasion or buckle under pressure? Competition gets us out of bed before sunrise, it drives us to dig deeper when we have nothing left in the tank, and it pushes us to be the best version of ourselves. Simply put, it breeds growth. Anybody involved in sports has likely found an opponent, whether it be a team or an individual player, who they measure themselves up against. It’s completely natural. Magic Johnson had Larry Bird. The Yankees have the Red Sox. Joe Frazier had Muhammad Ali. The list goes on.
Challenge Your Inner-Dialogue
But at the core, who is truly your greatest competition? For those of you scratching your heads, the answer is: yourself. You are your fiercest opponent. Coaching legend, John Wooden, stated, “The best competition I have is against myself to become better.” Each of us actively participate in an inner battle that will see us reach greater heights, maintain the current standard, or simply regress. Often times this struggle involves self-talk. Do we build ourselves up or tear ourselves down? Each and every athlete has experienced failure at one point or another. Whether it be a missed penalty kick, a blown defensive assignment or missing the game winning basket, if you play the sport long enough, you’ll inevitably make a game-changing error or two. When this moment arises, the inner battle begins. Do you choose destructive self-talk or constructive self-talk?
Arguably the top women’s soccer player, Alex Morgan, explains, “Failing a couple of times does not mean you are a failure.” We are naturally our own biggest critics, but the things that we say to ourselves have a dramatic ripple effect. Something small, such as telling yourself “I’m not good enough,” can lead to something far bigger, such as a loss of self-belief. Avoiding this snow ball effect is key, but the question then becomes: how can I avoid this pitfall?
We’re all guilty of destructive self-talk – the trick is to actively participate in a 3-step process. The first step is to listen to what you’re saying to yourself and identify if your self-talk is mostly constructive or destructive. You can further identify areas for improvement by taking notes on what you’re thinking each day. The second step in this process is to challenge your self-talk with questions such as: Is there any actual evidence for what I’m thinking? What would I say if a teammate were in a similar situation? Can I do anything to change what I’m feeling bad about? Keep in mind that most of you wouldn’t even consider telling a teammate some of the critical things that you say to yourself, so why treat yourself any different? You deserve the same treatment, so be supportive instead.
These questions are key to understanding the dialogue and reframing it appropriately, which leads me to the third and final step in the process - changing your self-talk. Any time a destructive thought comes to your mind, it’s a prime opportunity to practice “thought-stoppage” and quickly shift to something encouraging that's also accurate. You should repeat this exercise until you find yourself needing to do it less and less – on and off the field or court. Another effective approach for changing your self-talk is to think like a friend. More specifically, when you catch yourself participating in destructive self-talk, make it a point to imagine yourself saying this to a good friend. If you know you wouldn't say it this way, then you should reconsider how you'd share your thoughts with a good friend or how you’d like for them to approach you.
This entire process certainly isn’t an easy task, but the result will not only impact your sports career, but also your entire outlook on life. By building yourself up through constructive self-talk, you’ll effectively boost confidence, reduce anxiety, and increase motivation. Moreover, what you think directly influences how you feel and how you act. So, if you think you’re a winner, you’ll feel like a winner. Then, you’ll act like a winner, which reinforces your belief that you must be a winner. Considering this has been scientifically proven, start a new ripple effect by giving yourself 3 compliments. If you’re up for a challenge, try doing it for an entire month. Nothing to lose and everything to gain – seems worth a shot!
Learn About Restoic
If you’d like to learn more about Restoic, our 1-to-1 personal coaching, or our science-backed sport psychology approach, we encourage you to pay us a visit, to view our website, or to reach out to us directly to speak with a member from our team.