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Mental Framework of Resilient Champions

This is what championships are made of. We see it in front of us every year when a team of athletes claim their title. The intangibles that make them great and the trials and triumphs they discover in pursuit of victory. There isn’t a champion in the world of sport that hasn’t demonstrated supreme resilience in the face of adversity during competition.

What makes these teams and athletes resilient doesn’t always meet the eye. The resulting actions come from something they execute inside of themselves. What we do not see is the true determining factor behind the championship behaviors in the game. We can’t make this stuff up but we can learn from champions who have come before us and embody those qualities.

First let’s discuss what does not lead to resilient performance. Our body language will usually tell the story when we fall into some of these unhelpful thinking styles. When we think in one of these patterns we usually dig ourselves deeper into our despair and spiral further out of control.

Unhelpful Thinking Styles

The first is taking things too personally. Usually when we see a team thinking the referees are out to get them or the way things are going are not fair, we lose hope and the belief that we have any control in the outcome of the competition. We also feel attacked and often the threat triggers an automated response that is less likely to free our body to make plays in difficult situations.

The second is thinking pervasively where one part of our game struggles and we conclude our entire game has completely left us. Obviously, this is a type of irrational thinking style but it happens so often. The common form of thinking here leads to decreases in confidence because we are playing a “let’s wait and see” what will happen type of game with our first shot mindset to tell us how we are going to play that day. We can’t allow our pervasive thinking to hijack our minds from the details of execution one play at a time.

The third is permanent thinking styles where we use words such as “always” or “never” or “can’t”. Think about a player who thinks they can never score against someone or a team who believes they always lose in the fourth quarter. These are the types of self-fulfilling prophecies that will completely undermine any chance of making a comeback. They tend to diminish optimism and with it goes their will to compete.

Useful Thinking Reframing Qualities

What I would like to see from resilient athletes and teams are three combined ways to mentally approach the difficulties in adverse competitive situations. Poise, persistence, and presence form the mindset of championship quality teams and athletes.

There are plenty of missed calls and unfair situations in the heat of competition. When the athletes on the team choose to maintain their poise, it turns into a sense of calm confidence even in the midst of chaotic events. The breath is a great anchor for the mind to maintain its steady momentum forward while the waves of opposition crash into them. The athletes with poise demonstrate a sort of steadiness to their emotional responses so that their attention remains centered on the play in front of them.

Every championship requires a tremendous amount of work and grit in pursuit of meaningful goals. Persistent athletes understand that they will arrive at the end result but keep their sights set on the more important big picture rather than the immediate difficulties. They carry on toward making the main thing more important than the short-lived discomfort in pursuit of something that means a lot to them. The road is not smooth but the growth and improvement gained through persistent effort determines the attitude championship caliber teams learn along the way.

Finally, presence of one’s attention is an on-going practice of awareness and acceptance. With all the demands of competition, there are many things competing for our attention. A skill full athlete understands how to selectively choose where to direct attention moment to moment based on the task at hand. There is a significant amount of training that goes into presence and it should be considered one of the most important mindset qualities in performance. A present mind is an alert mind ready to take on new challenges with clarity and sound decision making.

Brian Alexander is a certified mental performance consultant through AASP and the mental skills coach for ODP and the men’s senior national team. His mental training mobile app WellU Mental Training is an engaging mental training platform that helps athletes develop peak performance.


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