Written by Sandra Sorgini ( @get_fitss )
Everything I learned about life, I learned through sport. With a ball at my feet, I trained for life without even realizing that all those lessons on the rain soaked, sun covered turf, the defeats and the triumphs, the personal best performances and the worst performances were all just practice and preparation for the struggles to come. At the time, I thought I was simply playing a sport, but it was so much more than that. What I have come to realize now is that playing sports was the greatest gift I could ever give myself. It was this gift that I have to thank for the ability to persevere, the skill of unwavering resilience and self-belief that has carried me through some very difficult life moments. You, too, will realize the immense power of this mentality and begin to lean into yours.
This will require taking a look back, a real hard, honest look back. Study your life’s game film. You will realize that your athlete’s mentality is your mental health’s most valuable player. Let’s start critiquing your life’s film through the lens of the athlete’s mentality. Unpack those experiences, one by one. Notice how your mentality is and has always been your mental health’s most valuable player. Your mentality, your mental health’s MVP is and was always pushing you, supporting you all along!
Uncover your stuff. Think about situations in your life that, if you didn’t have a well-developed athlete’s mentality to rely on, would have eroded your mental wellness. The following are tenets of the athlete’s mentality that are crucial to a strong mental health:
Bounceback. The ability to come back from a setback. An individual with an athlete’s mentality can overcome situations that would cripple a person who hasn’t practiced this day in and day out. Setbacks in sport happen during every possession, during every season, during every training session. Attack a setback with this vantage point. You have overcome this and you will overcome again. From a mental wellness standpoint realize these setbacks are temporary just as they are in sport. Reorganize, release emotions and frustration, get back to the drawing board and begin again. Draw up a new plan of attack. A new strategy that includes how you will specifically move past the roadblock. As detailed as why the setback happened, what system or tactic in place in your life failed and what did you learn or discover about the tactic or strategy that was just not sustainable. There is growth in this. Athletes know this and live this through game film analysis and regrouping after every poor possession.
Icy Veins. Athletes have ice in their veins that won’t permit emotional overwhelm. The emotions experienced during one possession are enough to rattle a person who has never experienced this type of pressure before. Keeping calm and cool in stressful times, focusing on the factors that are within your control ONLY is crucial to a strong mental health. What can I change? What must I accept? Identify the factors within your control and those that are not then move on towards only focusing on the ones that you have authority over.
Positivity. Look for the bright side. Practice optimism. Pessimistic athletes are rarely victorious. Why? Because if they are pessimistic, they have lost even before the whistle blows. When facing a mental health challenge having a pessimistic attitude is detrimental to the ability to thrive. Athletes know that in every game, every second there is a choice to make. They have to choose optimism. Trailing, falling behind, missed opportunities are all moments where pessimism can emerge. Part of living the athlete’s mentality is trusting that what is good for you will prevail in the end. We are and attract what we think about. If we think we cannot overcome, we won’t. Get into the athlete’s mind. It’s deep and dark and full of wisdom. The ability to remain optimistic in the face of defeat is truly a skill. We cannot build up our mental strength unless we practice this skill over and over and over again at every opportunity. Practice optimism by pinpointing the good in the bad, dig through S%&t for the gem, find the lotus in the mud. I can guarantee you will find it.
Adaptability. An athlete’s superpower is adaptability. Athletes must adapt to different playing conditions, opponents, outcomes and results. Athletes recognize that without hardship, challenges and obstacles, growth is simply NOT possible. For the amazing opportunity to grow and develop, athlete’s express gratitude. Wearing a weighted vest, using a heavier tennis racquet, running with a parachute in practice creates the perception of speed, strength and weightlessness. The same adaptation occurs in the strength of our mental health. Carrying around added “weight” gives us the freedom to perform once we become accustomed to coping with recurring and new challenges and release the weight from our shoulders. We are so much more prepared for life’s challenges when we learn to adapt to our present circumstances with an attitude of gratitude, staying fully in the present moment and being thankful for it knowing the “weight” we carry is only temporary. Using the athlete’s mentality to cope with a mental health challenge will surely prove to be an effective mindset for not only surviving but thriving. Try expressing gratitude for the “weight” you carry around. How can the weight, when reframed, feel lighter? Thank the weight for making you stronger, faster, lighter. Then move on to the next weight that will inevitably come on your life’s journey and thank future “weight” as well.
The development of a bullet proof mental health stems from using the athlete’s mentality to your advantage. If there was ever a time to infuse your athlete’s mentality, your way of thinking, your outlook into life this is the time. The difficulties mount. Looking to thrive in marriage, parenthood, career, promotions, changing careers, new paths, grief, discord, health woes, finances and even a pandemic? Trust yourself to rely on the qualities honed through years of competition and hours and hours of practice. Your mental health’s most valuable player is in the mindset of the athlete. Look inward. Mindset matters!