Changing Mindset to Aid in Athletic Success

How Mentality Impacts Performance:

Our mindset as athletes can impact our decision making skills, our opportunities, our successes, and our failures. As an athlete myself, who has competed at the NCAA Division 1 level for Lacrosse, I have been able to experience first-hand how my mentality on and off the field affected my performance, both positively and negatively. To get started, let’s discuss what “mindset” actually means. Mindset can be broken down into a few different categories such as, but not limited to: mental toughness, self-discipline, and positive and negative self-talk.

Mental Toughness:

Mental toughness in sport can be described as the ability to withstand an uncomfortable and challenging stimulus. Whether that stimulus is internal, such as performance and energy systems related when competing or training, or external, such as a coach or trainer pushing you to challenge yourself to an area of discomfort. In addition, one can face an external obstacle to overcome in competition, such as refereeing, tough competition, or an injury. An athlete who possesses mental toughness will be able to face an internal or external stimulus with confidence and choose to push into an area of discomfort in order to achieve success. Possessing mental toughness will allow competitors to push past that “annoying voice in your head” that keeps telling them to quit when pushed to their limits.


Self-discipline can further be described as an athlete’s ability to control their emotions and actions when faced with an internal or external stimulus. An example of self-discipline when an athlete is faced with an internal stimulus could come during competition when the athlete may not be performing to his or her standard and becomes frustrated; if the athlete becomes frantic and selfish during play in an attempt to “make up” for poor play, that athlete likely lacks self-discipline. In addition, an example of an external stimulus could be when an athlete takes a “dirty hit” from a competitor, if the athlete decides to retaliate and succumb to their emotions, they likely lack self-discipline.

Positive and Negative Self-Talk:

Self-talk occurs every day regardless of if you are an athlete or not, and it occurs numerous times throughout the day. As mentioned earlier, that “annoying voice in your head” can be referred to as self-talk. During sport, self-talk occurs typically during rest periods or between shifts in certain sports, when the athlete has a moment to reflect about their previous play. In many occurrences, athletes experience negative self-talk following a mistake or missed opportunity that they wish resulted in a different outcome. Negative self-talk can become detrimental to performance when an athlete allows the negative thoughts to overcome the positive. When this happens, athletes tend to spiral which results in further mistakes made and a negative impact on performance. In contrast, positive self-talk can be described as basically the opposite. Positive self-talk usually is a result of an experienced success or the athletes determination to think positively to increase confidence. However, positive self-talk can also negatively impact performance when an athlete takes it to the extreme and becomes complacent and over-confident.

Tying It All Together:

Now how do all of these different aspects of mindset come together to determine an athlete’s performance? Throughout competition, regardless of the sport, an athlete is faced with numerous instances where they must make split-second, calculated decisions that will directly impact their performance. The components that assist in making these split-second decisions often come from that athlete’s current mindset. It is a complex process that occurs over and over throughout competition and is often neglected when training for competition. Likewise, all of the listed components are interrelated and have an effect on one another.

Personal Experience:

Reflecting back on my competition days, I have been able to understand how I responded to different internal and external stimuli, and how each of those impacted my mindset and ultimately my performance. I know that for myself, when faced with doubt about being mentally tough enough to push through a challenge, if I allowed the negative self-talk to overcome the positive, my performance would suffer. Likewise, as my performance became negatively impacted, the negative self-talk would completely drown out the positive, which ultimately led to a break down in self-discipline. In an attempt to get my confidence back, I would typically experience a bout of a lack of discipline resulting in selfish play. This is where I would tend to “spiral” into complete negativity if my selfish play did not result in a bout of success.

Next Steps:

Now how can we as athletes combat a spiral into negativity? If we were able to remove ourselves briefly from play, take a moment to analyze where we went wrong and how to correct that, while making a conscious decision to remove the negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts, our performance would begin to increase again. In addition, we would, time and time again, regain control of our self-discipline and have trust in ourselves as athletes to make the right decisions while possessing a positive mindset.

Written by Ryan Sarazan, Trainer at The Training House

Bachelor of Human Kinetics, Former NCAA Division 1 Lacrosse Player

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