Firm, Positive Belief in Sports Psychology
A common theme in books by sports coaches and elite athletes is firm, positive belief. Some examples:
The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer
(304 pages, 1998) by Whitsett, Dolgener and Kole is an awesome book written by psychologists from University of Iowa. The book summarizes a marathon training class that was taught five times in ten years to those who had never run a marathon before. Marathon running is not only about physical conditioning, training schedule, proper nutrition and rest. A major component is mental training. Each week, students were given a psychological technique for finishing marathons. One of the first instructions was to buy a pair of shows and register for a marathon. Then start telling everybody, "I am a marathoner. I will finish a marathon in sixteen weeks from now!". By week five, make the narrative longer: "I am a marathoner. I love running! I never get tired. I never quit on a run. I run four times a week and I never miss a training run. I love to run on hills. I run no matter what the weather is like. I will finish a marathon in eleven weeks from now!". Each of these is a firm, positive statement, exuding confidence and beaming with joy!
Another technique in the book is for handling situations when doubts arise. Consider days when the following thoughts creep up: "My legs are really tired today", "The weather is really rotten today", "My legs are sore today". Instead of using such statements as excuses to avoid training on that day, you must become aware that you're thinking negatively. Then, just append the following suffix to every such negative statement: "... but it doesn't matter!" :) This is a powerful technique.
The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
(160 pages, 1997) by Tim Gallwey is a classic book on tennis coaching, originally published in 1974. Positive thinking is one of the first chapters in the book. Gallwey observed that after a bad serve, some students would castigate themselves with sentences like "Uh, I will never improve!", "Why am I such a loser?", "I should have tried harder". Students engaging in such talk never improve beyond a threshold. Their progress is hampered. Instead of beating yourself up verbally, the right approach is to have self compassion, to be gentle with yourself and keep on trying. Those familiar with the 10-day meditation camps by S N Goenka may remember his sentence "Gently bring your mind back to your breath." It's the same concept.
We are all born as positive thinkers. Consider a child who learns to flip over, crawl, stand up and walk over a period of several months. Undeterred by repeated failures, repeated tumbles, repeated falls, a child keeps on trying, joyfully! As we grow older, we sometimes have to remind ourselves of our childlike abilities :)
With Winning in Mind
(182 pages, 2012) by Lanny Bassham teaches us how Olympic champions approach the game. He won the gold medal in rifle shooting in 1976 Olympic Games. His book is replete with firm, positive statements! A good read.
A two page writeup by Lanny contains glimpses of his philosophy:
This is my favorite principle of Mental Management. Every time we think about something
happening, we improve the probability that it will happen. Be careful what you think about.
What do you picture? Every time you worry, you improve the probability that what you are
worrying about will happen. If you are worrying about scoring badly, the Subconscious, with
all its power, will move you to score badly. It is not what you want, but it is what you will
get if you continue to think this way. What you must do is picture scoring well.
Also, be careful what you talk about. I've seen the following situation hundreds of times.
Two people meet at a competition. Person A asks, "How did you do?" Person B says, "I did
terrible. Everything I did was wrong. I'm so upset and angry." B has just improved the
probability of having another day just like this one in the future because he is thinking and
talking about his mistakes. The really sad thing is that because Person A is listening, he is
also improving the chance that he could have B's problems in the future. Be careful what you
say and whom you listen to. Unfortunately, the culture of sport is often negative. It has
become acceptable to talk about mistakes. Do not spend time listening to the problems of
others, or you will soon inherit their problems. Your Self-Image is moving you toward what
you are reinforcing if you are thinking and talking this way. It is becoming like you to make
I was once asked, "Mr. Bassham, in the 1978 World Championships, you shot a 598/600 to
win a medal. What happened on those two nines?" I answered, "Do you really want to
know? Do you want to know how I got those nines? That will not help you. You don't want
to know how I got two nines. What you should be asking is how I got 58 tens. Besides, I
can't remember how I got the nines. I do not reinforce bad shots by remembering them." You
should talk about your good shots to improve the probability that you will have more good
shots in the future.
Lanny ends the writeup with the following para:
Be careful not to complain. I often hear people, in business as well as sport, complaining
about their circumstances. Complaining is negative reinforcement. I teach my students not
to reinforce a bad performance by getting angry. Do not reinforce a bad day at the by
complaining to your spouse. Remember something that you did well each day instead. Fill
your thoughts only with your best performances and you will be successful!
By the way, Lanny could not win the gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games. He had a mental failure and could not perform to the best of his ability that day. Frustrated, he started asking other champions how they performed under pressure. He summarized his findings into a system called 'Mental Management'. Armed with these techniques, Lanny Bassham dominated his sport for the next six years. He won 22 world individual and team titles, setting 4 world records and winning the coveted Olympic Gold Medal in Montreal in 1976.