The New You

Finding the motivation to change.

How to Think Like a Champion: Three Tips to Winning Ways

Discover the simple mental sport strategies that will propel you to victory.

Do you want to be a champion? Do you want to be the greatest? If you’re reading this article, I assume that you probably do. Well, me too! Then the real question becomes, how do we get there? As a sport psychologist and someone interested in peak performance in general I am constantly looking for good answers to this question.

Luckily, my sport psychologist colleague Dr. Jim Afremow has some really good answers. He recently wrote a cool book called The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive, which breaks down the mental strategies that champions use on the field, supports these claims by drawing on examples from all fields of athletics—and then shows you how to adapt those same techniques to further yourself as well.

To start with, Jim says, you must realize that nobody has a “champion’s mind” gene. You are not born a champion, you become one—and the empowering truth is that almost anybody can become a champion. How? You need to practice thinking like champion; think like they do and you will act and feel like they do.

So how do champions think? Champions think gold. They never aim for silver, nor do they settle for it. They are always on a personal mission to perform at their best. In his book, Jim lays a lot of stress on the idea that mental conditioning is key, using the analogy of stacking blocks to build a castle. Here are the building blocks you need to arrange in order to become a champion:

Technical: Your mechanics, your coordination.

Tactical: The strategies you use to outmaneuver your opponent on the court, field, etc.

Physical: Strength, stamina and conditioning.

Mental: – Your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions. Note that this is different from Tactics—it doesn’t relate to the mental techniques you use on your opponents, but upon yourself. It’s more about psyching yourself up than psyching someone else out.

Coaches and athletes focus overwhelmingly on the first three blocks. But Jim argues that if the mental building block isn’t in place, then the entire stack will tip over under pressure, and victory will evade you.

So here are some Champion’s Mind tips about being a Champion on your big day of performance:

Make practice as close to the big day as you can. Our intensity level is often too low during practice . Try to get the most out of your practice by devoting the same intensity to your practice that you do to your performance. Make it as close as possible to actual performance conditions.

Minimize the magnitude of the big day. In fact, don’t even think of it as a big day. Consider it a “fancy practice”. Jim talks about athletes turning on their “game face”. His advice: get rid of game face. Just bring your face, which is always game-ready.

Roll with the punches when you lose. What makes a champion a champion? Not just their skill at achieving victory, but their resilience in springing back from defeat. Champions have thick skins. Are they devastated by defeat? Absolutely. But are they discouraged? No! Champions relish the opportunity to perform to confront adversity. They lose, they lick their wounds, they come back, and they win in style. If you practice thinking about yourself with that level or resilience, so can you.

To learn about these techniques, check out The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow. For more info on sport psychology, follow me @drfader on Twitter.

Jonathan Fader, Ph.D., is a psychologist and an assistant professor of family medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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