I Think I Can’t, And Here’s Why… Pt I

Mental toughness and the resulting level of performance can be the result of many factors including practice, natural ability, sleep, diet, drive to meet the goal, among others. Although a winning mindset needs many components working at a high level, a losing mindset can be narrowed down to two things which we will discuss shortly, but first I’ll share a story about how easy it is to accidentally accept a losing mindset.

This past summer I was at a 3v3 youth soccer tournament. It is a way for the club to have an end of season party, and get others from the community and other towns to join in with a bit of end of summer fun. There was one game that stood out to me. The two teams were made up of players from two clubs from the same town which usually adds a little more competition to it. The game wasn’t dirty or aggressive in the way some games between these clubs have been. In fact, it was possibly the slowest game played all day with one team totally dominating the other.

With a final score of 3-1, the outcome was a relatively low score for a 3v3 game. However, the winning team had close to 90% of the possession and there was a feeling that if they wanted to score more they could have. There were times where the dominant team were playing keep away, and when no one came for the ball they just waited patiently for the other team to make a move before passing the ball again. It was almost an exhibition, and I think Cruyff would have been proud of them. While some may have not appreciated the low-tempo game, it was amazing for those who enjoy sport psychology to see. The kids were playing with their heads more than their feet, showing great intelligence with what they did on the ball and off the ball.

After the game I overheard one of the parents of a kid on the losing team talking, and one sentence told me everything I needed to know about why the game went the way it did. It also summed up perfectly why the next game will be the same for these kids. It demonstrated how easy it is to share these two components of a losing mindset with our children, or our team if we coach. The parent simply said this, “All [the other team] wanted to do was wear us out”. This one sentence demonstrates low self-efficacy (a belief that someone cannot achieve their goals) and low locus of control (a belief that the environment dictates what happens to the person, the person cannot control their environment). Basically, the message these kids are being taught is “You lost because the world is against you, and you’re powerless to change it.” In the world of psychology we call this learned helplessness.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – We need to encourage ownership – not of wins and losses, but performances.

2 – There are factors in our environment we cannot control, but there are plenty we can. We need to be mindful of what we can impact and improve on.

3 – We need to encourage our kids, and ourselves, to think not of the end result, but what we need to do to reach the end result.

When we think of a “winning mindset” we tend to overlook the preparation, practice, and performance required to achieve goals. Often we win or lose long before we face an opponent. We’ll look more at this in the next article.

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