Most of the athletes the I work with are really driven people. I’ve been surprised by the number of 4.0 students who make their way into my office. The best athletes are self-motivators who expect the best out of themselves relentlessly. It’s typically a beneficial characteristic for athletes to have but sometimes the “c’mon! You can do better!” attitude can become a detractor of motivation, focus, and confidence.
Jason was a high school swimmer, who fit this bill exactly. A high performer in school, music, sports, and life in general, Jason’s performance had been dipping as of late. And worse, he was developing a reputation as a “head case.” As a high acheiver, he was having trouble living up to his own expectations, and becoming quite negative in his personality and demeanor.
We used several techniques to help him re-focus himself and handle his energy better: goal-setting, circle breathing, focusing on the controllables, and visualization among them. But the most helpful technique in getting Jason’s attitude correct was positive self-talk. As with many of these high achieving student athletes, Jason has a hard time “shutting his mind off” and overthinking things.
So we set off to explore his self-talk patterns where his internal focus went during stressful times in training and competition. From our conversations, it came up that he didn’t have all that much “negative self-talk,” it was more doubting or questioning. He’d go back and forth between “I got this!” to “Are you sure?” From “I’m gonna kill this race!” to “What makes you think you can do that?”
I told Jason that after several weeks of meeting him, I didn’t see where this negative focused self-talk was coming from. He confided that a lot of his teammates who weren’t as dedicated as him would often scoff when he talked about setting records and earning an NCAA Division I scholarship. He’d heard this as long as he could remember and those thought voices had become his own.
In order to further explain the role of self-talk, I relayed the Native American Story of the Two Wolves. It basically goes like this: A Grandfather explained to his young grandson that within every person there are two wolves in a constant battle. The Bad Wolf is full of jealously, anger, regret, and fear, while the Good Wolf is full of hope, happiness, love and faith. The young boy asks “But grandpa, who wins?” To which the grandfather replied “The one you feed.”
Jason liked this story and his mantra became “Feed the good wolf.” He recognized that the doubts in his thoughts were not serving him well, and weren’t even his own. So he decided that every time a negative came up, he said “That’s not me. Feed the good wolf.” and re-directed his thoughts to positive, confidence building thoughts like his training and his techinque.
Jason went on to earn that scholarship, and along the way share the things he learned with some of the younger swimmers on his team and in his club.