The Sporting Life

Developing competitors, coaches, and sports communities

Pithy Quotes and Performance

Building Solid Foundations for a Robust Mental Game

Motivational slogans litter the sporting landscape. They adorn locker room walls. Ride on the backs of team, warm-up t-shirts. Some years they are added to, others they are replaced all together. Motivation, teamwork, and character are common themes. It all seems so simple, "Just Do It."

If creative turns of phrase are not your thing, more straightforward mental game wisdom is usually not far from grasp... "Play in the present," "Think positive," "Imagine success and success will follow." Nice straightforward wisdom. The athletic equivalent of, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

All well and good, but a fruit focused diet seems to miss a fair portion of the food pyramid. A limited view of nutritional needs is a sure path towards the doctor's office. Similarly, leaving mental readiness to motivational quotes and calorie-light phrases is a sure way to fail the confidence and resilience test on game day. Success at the mental game requires competitively mature emotions (i.e. motivation), a productive perspective (i.e. internal dialogue), and a fair level of social competence (i.e. communication skills). It is tough to imagine one memorized statement successfully leading an athlete to competitive excellence.

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The key to a robust mental game is the meaning making that an athlete does to give the simple phrases resonance. Taking time to consider what the "present" actually is. Defining what commitment truly looks like. Emotionally engaging in challenges that build intuitive, competitive behaviors. Getting the mental game to "work" is a somewhat rigorous process of developing awareness and understanding. This can be an investment that leaves one begging for his pithy quote back... and he can have it back... when it is time to play.

In the arena, a brief phrase is terrific for focus, energy, and unity during the heat of practice and competition. Nonetheless, a mental game that is built on quotes and clichés is all tip and no iceberg. Taking time to understand the meaning of and to develop the emotion behind the sound bites leads to high performance.

 

Dr. Adam Naylor leads Telos SPC and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Sport Psychology at Boston University’s School of Education.

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