Tag: Psychology

“You can do anything that you set your mind to.” Not quite, but whatever you set your mind to, you can absolutely make better.  There is a mentality called the growth mindset that can be adopted by all people which leads to greater success and overall performance. Having a growth mindset is associated with having the fundamental belief that your abilities and outcomes are influenced by hard work (as opposed to mere natural talent). It is a way of thinking that not only increases your motivation levels, giving you the drive to work towards your goals, but one that also allows for greater bounce-back from challenges faced along the way (otherwise known as resiliency). The athletes who adopt this way of thinking are the ones that tend to stand out from the rest. They are the ones that persistently look for ways in which they can improve their game and work hard to correct mistakes or bad habits. “Athletes with the growth mindset find success in doing their best, in learning and improving” (Dweck, 2006). They don’t need a prize to feel confident, and instead attain it through adopting a growth mindset and focusing on self-improvement.  Not everyone has this same way of thinking, though, for there is another mindset called the “fixed mindset” that people often adopt.

The fixed mindset is associated with the fundamental belief that your ability level is limited by natural talent. Which, in essence, is what makes success and outcomes set at a fixed level determined by said ability.  Athletes that have a fixed mindset have a fear of trying and failing. Instead of working hard to engage in their own improvement (as someone with the growth mindset would), they often get caught up in their failures/shortcomings, comparing their ability levels to other athletes around them. Someone with a fixed mindset may have all kinds of natural talent, but that talent means very little if they lack the motivation to develop it into something better.

They undermine their chances of success by assuming that their talent alone will take them where they want to go. Because talent has allowed things to come easier to them throughout their career, their confidence is quickly put to the test and often diminishes when they run into a set-back of any kind. The truth is, the athlete isn’t always to blame for having this kind of mindset. Coaches and parents have an influence on their athlete’s mindset based on the way that they communicate with them. When their athlete does something well, parents and coaches often fall into the habit of praising their talent and accomplishments, rather than praising the hard work that the athlete put forth to get there. Although praise is what many athletes like to hear, “children need honest and constructive feedback that pushes them towards growth as well” (Dweck, 2006).

That doesn’t necessarily mean that a coach or parent should negate praise altogether, but they should be cautious as to what message they are sending the athlete through the way that they deliver that praise. At the end of the day, “the athlete should recognize the value of challenging themselves and the importance of effort over anything else” (Dweck, 2006).

One athlete who used the growth mindset to overcome failure throughout his athletic career was Michael Jordan. Believe it or not, he wasn’t always the star athlete that people view him as today. Not only was Jordan cut from his high school’s varsity team, he never got recruited to play for his top college team, and was passed up during the first two draft picks in the NBA. BUT instead of viewing these so-called “failures” as reasons to give up (as many people would), he used them as motivators. In fact, Michael Jordan was featured in a Nike ad where he says, “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots. I’ve lost almost three hundred games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed, and that is why I succeed” (Dweck, 2006). He succeeds because he has trained his mind to see failure and defeat as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. This should be the mindset of every athlete, for “success is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” (Quote by Colin Powell)


Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 1st ed. New York: Ballantine Books, 2006. Print.



You’re in the lead, heart pounding, racing forward through the pain toward the finish. In the last moments, you see your competition come up next to you. Do you have what it takes to win?

More often than we might think, the difference between first and second, between winning and losing, between making the cutoff time or just barely missing it, is in our minds. In those last few seconds, did you truly give all that you had? Did you use every single ounce of energy that your body could produce, or were you unable to tap into that last tiny bit? Could you have pushed just the slightest bit harder to edge out your opponent? My guess is that physically, you were capable of more…but mentally, you were not. And if you did not win, this is likely the reason why.

The ability to persevere in the face of pressures, challenges, and adversities is a highly sought-after trait in athletes and coaches alike (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). Mental toughness is the key to success and the linchpin of a good performance, so improving it is just as important as improving your physical strength, speed, and stamina. Yet while many know and accept this, few realize the extent to which they can augment their mental fortitude, and further, how much of this improvement can come from within.

To learn how to be mentally strong, we must practice. You want to be ready to grind out those last 100 yards in a race? You practice them over and over, you practice pushing through the pain, and while you are bettering yourself physically, you are also bettering yourself mentally and preparing for the time that it counts. But there is another way to practice, and when done correctly, it significantly predicts higher levels of mental toughness (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). This technique is what sport psychologists refer to as imagery.

Imagery can generally be employed by athletes and performers in one of five ways. You can mentally perform specific skills (known as cognitive specific, or CS, imagery), and you can also mentally rehearse routines, plans, or strategies (known as cognitive general, or CG, imagery). Additionally, you can perform motivational specific (MS) imagery, during which you bring to mind images of goal-oriented responses or achievements. Lastly, there is motivational general (MG) imagery, which can be broken into motivational general–arousal (MG-A) and motivational general–mastery (MG-M). MG-A imagery involves bringing to mind images related to the emotional or physiological arousal and the regulation of anxiety associated with competition. MG-M imagery, on the other hand, refers to the act of imagining feelings of confidence, control, and perseverance (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

This level of categorization may all seem like a waste of time, and you might be thinking, “Why should I care? Can’t I just imagine my race and visualize myself winning?” If mental toughness is what you lack and this is how you are attempting to increase it, then you are, in fact, wasting your time. However, if you correctly employ the type of imagery found to be a strong and significant predictor of mental toughness––MG-M imagery, that is––then you are greatly improving your odds at having superlative mental grit when it matters most (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

To be clear, the other four types of imagery are not useless. Various studies have found that each type serves its own purpose (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011). Yet as you progress in your sport and the competition intensifies, mental toughness becomes clutch as the difference between first and second is often small. Therefore, the use of MG-M imagery can provide that final element of preparation needed to outperform your opponent. The importance of exercising mental strength and resilience during practice should never be underestimated. But we now know that visualizing yourself as self-confident, in control, and mentally tough during competition is also a valuable weapon in its own right (Mattie & Munroe-Chandler, 2011).

The mind is a powerful force. If you let it hold you back, it will not fail in doing so. But if you train it to push through the pain without letting up, if you teach it to work for you rather than against you, then you are enabling yourself to unlock your greatest physical potential. In those final moments, when that head-to-head race comes down to mental fortitude; to whose mind has the power to push on and who gives in to the fight…do you have what it takes to win?

The answer should be an undeniable “yes.”


Mattie, P., & Munroe-Chandler, K. (2012). Examining the Relationship Between Mental Toughness and Imagery Use. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24(2), 144-156. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2011.605422

March Madness is here, and fans are itching to see which NCAA Division 1 men’s and women’s basketball teams will be the last ones standing. People from all over the United States have made predictions about which teams will advance and which ones will crumble. Logic, however, rarely gets its way when it comes to March Madness. Every year, we witness unexpected upsets and blowouts. So why are some teams more clutch than others when it comes to the games that matter most? The answer may lie heavily in the players’ abilities to exercise one mental skill properly––focus. Every team in the tournament has physical talent, there’s no doubt about that. They are all well-trained and conditioned for highly competitive moments like these, but which teams can truthfully say that they are as prepared mentally as they are physically? Those who can are the teams who will likely wind up advancing furthest in the tournament.

There are two primary ways in which players can enhance their focus on the court. The first method involves concentrating on the processes and actions which have helped them to achieve success during past games. Some athletes almost involuntarily form game-day consistent routines over time as they progress in their careers. These may include things such as listening to pre-game music to calm nerves, taking the same number of dribbles before a free throw, or thinking back to past achievements and attempting to replicate the actions and mindset which aided in attaining those achievements. Players who have not yet created routines could greatly benefit from doing so, as these may help them to focus on the task at hand, as opposed to becoming overwhelmed or letting their nerves get the best of them. By performing dependable procedures and drawing on previous successes throughout each game, players are able to build confidence through consistency. Rather than merely focusing on the score and on wanting to win, they are keyed into the processes which can ultimately help them to do so.

A second way players can amplify their level of focus is by thinking about the controllables of the game rather than the uncontrollables. Within the sport of basketball, uncontrollables may include factors such as expectations from others, qualities of the opposing team (e.g., size, speed, skills, reputation, and character), playing time, and calls made by the refs (Competitive Advantage, 1999). Concentrating on these aspects of the game takes mental energy away from a player’s own actions and from what they as an individual can do to perform optimally. If a player cannot change something, then the only way to get around it is to deal with what they can change. Doing so inevitably helps them navigate the unchangeable factors of the game, thereby giving them a better shot at winning. Controllables such as communication, hustle, drive, aggressive play, and encouragement of teammates are all examples of factors which can have significant effects on the outcome of a basketball game.

The games during March Madness are not the only ones for which focus is paramount. In fact, this idea is not at all exclusive to basketball. No matter your sport, it is advantageous to concentrate on the processes which have helped you to be successful in the past. Additionally, everyone can benefit from allowing themselves to let go of what they cannot control, because doing so frees up the mind to focus on the things which can be done to maximize success. It is a waste of time and energy to think about and dwell on how you could change something that you do not have power over. In the same light, concerning yourself only with the aspects of the competition which are within your control can substantially help you in bringing your A-game during those clutch moments. Focus is key for all of us, because if your mind is not where you need it to be, then it is very likely that your results won’t be, either.


Competitive Advantage. (1999, October). Staying Cool and Calm in the Clutch. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://www.competitivedge.com/staying-cool-and-calm-clutch

Coach’s Corner. (n.d.). 7 Keys to Becoming a More Focused Basketball Player. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.ussportscamps.com/tips/basketball/7-keys-focused-basketball-player