We can never know that we can’t do something;
we can only know that we haven’t yet done so.
I watched an athlete perform during the Olympics and after winning a gold medal, she revealed that she listened to the song, I Know I Can, before every competition. Here’s the chorus, which is sung by kids:
I know I can
Be what I wanna be
If I work hard at it
I’ll be where I wanna be
It’s a great song, positive and empowering. As is the quotation at the top, from 5 Mindfulness Steps That Guarantee Increased Success And Vitality. Often, our athletes are too quick to say what they can’t do and what Dr. Langer found out is it’s an impossibility to know you can’t do something. How about that? It’s a powerful message.
Of course, poor mindset—like thinking and verbalizing you can’t do something—can create an environment where success will be difficult. So that’s where we coaches come in to save the day. For an athlete to say they can’t perform a skill or a team to say they can’t find the success that’s eluded them is a falsehood. So how can we intervene to stop the negative self-talk and help our teams test their limits.
2 ways mindfulness will help our athletes challenge their limits
- Encourage dreaming. What if our athletes went beyond setting goals? Goals are great and motivating, but can be limiting. Perhaps they can be separate categories. Your team can set goals but also have “why not us?” sessions. Dream big. Why not?
- Redefine failure. I had a team that had a goal of winning the conference championship. We didn’t win, we lost in the finals and we were all devastated. We set a goal and we failed. I can tell you something, I’ve never had a more motivated team in the off-season. We won the championship the following year, in no small part, because of our failure the previous year.
Mindfulness means being present. Mindfulness means being aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Saying, “I can’t”, isn’t mindful because it lives in the future. We should encourage our athletes to stay present. Worrying about the mistake they’ve just made isn’t being mindful because it lives in the past. We’ve got to help our athletes fight and battle to stay in the moment…it’s the only thing they can control.
If we consistently challenge their mindset and mindfulness, our athletes will blow through any limits they think they may have.
I’m a huge fan of TEDtalks. I watch them, I show them to my team. I think everyone should be watching them. Well, it turns out that TED has a website with written articles and it’s just as good! So when I saw 5 ways to build lasting self-esteem, I thought this would be great to talk about in relation to our teams.
Here are some ways we can help our athletes when their self-esteem needs a boost:
- Use affirmations correctly. “Grit” has been in the news lately as a way to help children succeed, but I think folks of all ages can use it. For a player who’s struggling with self-esteem, saying “I’m the fastest runner on the team!” won’t ring true and won’t actually motivate or encourage them. But saying, “Surely, I’ll succeed if I keep running these workouts as hard as I can!”
- Identify competencies and develop them. This one is about digging in to a skill they’re good at and keep working at it. Not that we don’t want to create well-rounded athletes, but we’ve got to give them enough reps (and compliments) at their particular skill that they feel confident…even when the occasional mistake happens.
- Learn to accept compliments. People with low self-esteem aren’t receptive to compliments will have a million reasons why the compliment isn’t true. Learning to simply say, “Thank you”, will take our athletes down the road to higher self-esteem.
- Eliminate self-criticism and introduce self-compassion. If you’re not helping your athletes with their self-talk, that’s a great area of growth. The best way to start is just to ask them what they’re thinking when they’re having a bad spell. Odds are, they’re saying negative things (“Don’t miss this free throw again” or “Please don’t pass me the ball”) instead of gritty things like, “Even Michael Jordan missed some free throws!”
- Affirm your real worth. When this player who needs the self-esteem boost is feeling particularly low, maybe they could even write a list of why they’re good at their sport. As cheesy as it sounds, it forces them to articulate why they do what they do. An effective spinoff of this strategy is to have their teammates write the list for them.
According to the article, “when our self-esteem is higher, we not only feel better about ourselves, we are more resilient as well, we are also less vulnerable to anxiety, and we release less cortisol into our bloodstream when under stress.” And those things will help them perform better…and increase their esteem!