How Any Athlete Can Improve Their Mental Game

The mental game comes down to the story you tell yourself about who you are. You can be as talented as an athlete as you want and the whole world may see that, but if you don’t see it, it does not matter. You have to look in the mirror and see a person that you love and believe. If you don’t have this first, when things stop going your way, you will start to crumble mentally.

No one else will know, but you always do when this happens. You are hard on yourself, and you say things to yourself that even your worst enemies would never. You have to change this if you want to reach your full potential.

The Sound of a Negative Mental Game

Mental Game

Negative Self TalkPositive Alternative
I Can’t-Do ItI Can Do It If I Put My Mind To It
I Knew I Would Mess UpEvery Failure Brings With It a Learning Opportunity
I’m So StupidI Will Get It Next Time
Why Can’t I Do Anything RightI Have to Keep Learning And Getting Better and I Will Soon Master This
I Am Not Good At ThatI Will Give It All I Have

Do these words sound familiar? It is much harsher when you see them written down. Even typing those words into this article did not feel right. These words are destructive, and they do not build you up. They hurt you and break you down. How can anyone thrive in life talking to themselves like this? Maybe you have had someone in your life who speaks to you like this, and that is why you have low self-esteem now.

Here is the issue, it is ten times worse when you talk to yourself like this. The other problem with a destructive mental game is the fact that you are the only one who can save you. No one knows the story you tell yourself but you. Your coach does not know; your parents do not know, just you do. The fact that only you know creates a brand new challenge because only you can coach yourself out of it. The first step is realizing that there is a problem and having the desire to fix that problem.

  • Negative talk is harmful to your life 
  • Change the negative words to positive affirmations
  • You have to make the changes on your own

Love Yourself First

Mental Game Love yourself

The whole love yourself idea can get cheesy for people. I understand how it can come off sometimes. What I am talking about here is being a person that is great with who you are. Knowing that you are enough is the first step to positive self-talk. No amount of success will just make you ok with yourself. It will always be temporary, and it will feel like you need more.

You have to be enough without success or the material things. When you are enough without success, then win or lose you are still enough. Success just makes you more of what you already are. If you think winning that championship or scoring that goal is going to bring you anything lasting, you are wrong. Once you can accept this, you start focusing on you. You begin to work on the person deep down and doing the things that allow you to say, “I like who I am a lot.”

  • The first step is self-love
  • Success will not make you like yourself more

Trust the Right People

Mental Game Tennis

Once you are ok with who you are and you can love and accept that person, it is time to start to trust others. You have been hard on yourself, and you feel like other people are lying to you. When your coach says that you are a great talent, you don’t believe it. When your parents tell you that you had a great game, you shrug it off as them being nice because they are your parents.

You have to take the positive words that people tell you as being correct. What is interesting about not believing the positive people say, is that you somehow manage to listen to the negative that people say. You have to start looking at life and seeing it for the positive it has to offer. Reverse the scenario above and throw away the negative and begin to embrace the positive. When people have good things to say about you, they are not trying to trick you.

They are honest with you. Accepting that is ok. When you begin to trust what others say it will give you a more accurate view of where you are. If you only feed off of the negative you will not be able to build a precise road map to where you need to be in life. You can travel to a destination using GPS if you or the GPS does not know where you currently are.

If you are traveling from Los Angeles to Seattle, the GPS can help you. What if you think you are in LA but you’re much closer to Seattle, and you’re in Vancouver? The GPS will give you the wrong directions to your destination. When we don’t have an accurate view of where we are this is what happens.

  • Trust the positive words you hear
  • You need an accurate picture of where you are
  • Use reality to build maps to where you want to be

Give Yourself a Break

Stop being so hard on yourself. Your entire career can and will pass you down, and all you will look back and see is that you were hard on yourself for no reason. When I was at Iowa State, my roommate cried after my last 60m race as a Cyclone.

The reason he cried was that after the race, I smiled and I was so happy, and it was the first time he had seen that. I always thought about this. During my career, I had run 100s of races, and I could only think of a few that left me happy. That is sad! The reason you are hard on yourself is that you believe there is room to improve and this is true.

We can always get better, and this is a great mindset to have as long as you also are grateful. You need to be able to turn the words “I have to be better” into “I am so thankful I am healthy, and I get to do what I love, but I am excited to get back to work so I can improve.” You see the difference? One is taking the time to acknowledge that some good things are happening and you are loving what you are doing.

Then it moves to excitement to get back to work so you can be better! Gratitude is one of the best secrets you are going to put in your back pocket today. It is impossible to express gratitude and be in a bad mood. The reason you can go to third world countries and see smiling faces everywhere is that they are always so thankful for the things they have. It keeps them loving life! In the western world, we are still seeking more, and it keeps us unhappy.

  • Stop being so hard on yourself 
  • Express gratitude as much as possible 

Failure Gets You One Step Closer to Success

Failure is a part of success because it guides you regarding what not to do. Every time you mess up you have found a way that does not work, and you are now closer to the idea that will. Find the joy in knowing this when things do not work out. The truth is that there is no successful person out there who has not failed many times.

The secret to success is that you have to be a constant failure that just never gives up until you eventually just get it right. When you start to internalize this, your mental game will improve right away. You have become so used to beating yourself up when things don’t work out because you see it as being wrong. Now you know that you can laugh because what was supposed to hurt you have just got you closer to what you want.

Every time you succeed you can look back and see a bunch of failures that taught you what you needed to know. You understand that you could have never had a big success without all of the failures along the way.

Tough Times Don’t Last

The good and bad times of life come and go for everyone. Remember that tough times don’t last, tough people, do. Are you one of the tough people? I think you are one of the tough people which means you just need to outlast your problems. The reason most people quit is that they just can’t hang on longer than their problems can. They feel like failure is permanent, but it rarely is. Most failures are temporary defeats.

You have the opportunity to grow and come back stronger than ever, but it just requires a change in mindset. If it is this way for tough times, it is the same for good times as well. You can expect that the good times in your life will also not last. Life is about the ebb and flow, and it will only help you when you don’t expect the good times to continue either.

Sometimes what breaks peoples mental game is when they expect the winning and good times never to end. Your ego begins to grow, and you start to think that you can’t lose and that very though allows the losses to creep in. You have to change your expectations and get tougher.


  • Remove all negative self-talk
  • Learn to love yourself 
  • Express gratitude over being hard on yourself
  • Trust the people who want to help you
  • Failure is a wonderful teacher if you allow it 

Your mental game as an athlete starts with realizing that the language you use when you talk to yourself is wrong. From there you need to change some fundamental things starting with just loving who you are. Trust what others have to say, they are not lying to you; they see the best in you. Give yourself a break on the tough times and just remember that they will never last. If you do these things, you will quickly start noticing that the conversation you have with yourself will begin to improve. You will enjoy being an athlete more, and life itself will be on the up and up because you will see the positive side.

Learn to Run Faster!

KHO Health was acquired by was acquire by 9INE POINT in the summer of 2019 and is now referred to as 9INE POINT Health.


    Leave A Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *