4 Tools To Awaken Your Inner Competitor

competition Oct 01, 2021

If there’s one question I get asked by coaches all the time, it’s this: “What makes some athletes great competitors while others struggle?”

If I had a simple answer for that question, let’s face it, I would be rich.

Here’s what I DO know: It’s true that some kids are born naturally more competitive than others. But what’s also true is that genetics is only part of it, and so much of the skills you need to become a great competitor can, in fact, be trained. When we focus only on the pieces we can’t control, we fall short as coaches.

Many coaches expect that if an athlete wants it badly enough, everything will just click one day. As athletes ourselves, many of us had to figure it out for ourselves, but our athletes don’t need to struggle the same way we did.

No one learns to do a layup on their own, so why should becoming a better competitor be any different?

We break down physical skills all the time and give our athletes the pieces to practice and get better at them, but we don’t often break down competition skills.

Instead,  it's sink or swim. Figure it out or someone else will and you'll be on the bench. 

But even athletes who are naturally competitive can benefit from a system and proven tools. And athletes that aren’t naturally competitive? Well, it doesn’t matter how badly they want it. If you leave them to figure it out on their own, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll fall through the cracks.

The bottom line is: Your athletes need strategy for competition.

We wrote this blog to help coaches like you develop a team of focused, consistent competitors. By showing you a few simple mental training tools, we’ll help you prepare your athletes for every part of competition so your team can always compete at a high level.


Coaches Are Competitors Too

The first stop on your quest to coach better competitors is to recognize that coaches are competitors too and everything trickles from the top down.

What example are you setting for your athletes?

If you get caught in cycles of negativity, become frustrated at your athletes, blame others for your team’s failure, or have a difficult time bouncing back from mistakes on the field, how can you expect anything better from your athletes?

If you want better competitors and are in a position of influence, it’s your job to be an example of what’s possible. Your mindset and your habits matter.

At the end of the day, whether you hire a sports psychologist to work with your athletes for a season, or implement a new program yourself, you know that the long-term mindset work falls on you. And it starts with setting a good example.


Symptoms of Competition Issues

If you’re here, you probably already know that your team has competition issues (almost all do). Some are obvious, some are less obvious, but still very telling. As you scan this list of symptoms, take note of anything that stands out to you as being true for your team.

Your team has competition issues if there is a general pattern of underperformance or inconsistency in competition.

Poor competition skills may look like this:

  • Playing well in practice, but falling apart on the field
  • Often losing to inferior opponents
  • Difficulty maintaining focus and executing plays when the pressure is on
  • Appearing stressed or anxious before competition
  • Taking feedback personally and reacting emotionally
  • Talking negatively about performance or skill
  • Avoiding taking risks in competition
  • Making excuses for poor performance
  • Not being motivated by tough competition
  • Overstimulation and difficulty relaxing when needed
  • Winning or losing the game in the first few minutes
  • Failure to recover after making a mistake (one mistake turns into five)

If your athletes or team show any of these symptoms, they are exhibiting poor competition skills. Again, if your team has poor competition skills, all it means is that they haven’t yet learned how to manage their mindset during competition. But there’s hope - competition skills can be taught!


4 Ways to Become a Better Competitor

There is a lot that is out of your control during competition; so what we’re focusing on today is what you can control: Your mindset.

Here are 4 actionable mental exercises and tools you can start using now to work toward becoming a better competitor, and help your athletes do the same.


Visualization is the single best way to get your subconscious brain on board with what you want. It’s a “mental rehearsal” that allows you to experience something before it happens, without any risk to ego or bodily harm. As it relates to competition, visualization allows you to see, smell, hear, feel, taste, and experience what it’s like to compete under any circumstance before you’re physically there. This makes it a powerful way to practice a sport, activity, or situation.

Visualization builds your subconscious belief that what you want is attainable (and not all that scary). Great competitors use it to practice on and off the field.

For example, a basketball player might visualize a skill they want to master, like making a free throw. A team might visualize a situation they want to prepare for, like being down at halftime and making a comeback for the win. An athlete might visualize a dream they want to achieve, such as how it will feel to finally make the Olympic team.

Whenever you visualize, you tell your subconscious brain that you're capable; you strengthen your neural pathways so that you’re prepared for anything, and you take a step closer to making your dreams a reality.

The more you visualize, the stronger your belief and your vision will become.

If you could benefit from a simple visualization system that's specifically designed to increase competitiveness in your athletes, you have to check out The BRAVR Method™. It’s a daily visualization system that will help get your athletes in the right headspace for competition and teach them to take control of their mindset.

Learn more about The BRAVR Method™ here.

Create an Alter Ego

This exercise is especially impactful for athletes that are similar on and off the field. While some athletes that are shy or reserved off the field can turn it on during competition, many athletes struggle to tap into their competitive side if they’re not naturally that way in other areas of their life. If you believe that your shy or introverted athletes could compete better if they were more aggressive, this exercise can help you unlock their competitiveness.

The Alter Ego Technique will help you turn shy or introverted athletes into more relentless competitors while still allowing them to remain true to who they are.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Have your athletes journal about their best performance ever. Ask them to describe the feelings they had while they were playing and the plays they were most proud of.
  2. Take all the characteristics your athlete described and create a character together that embodies all of the characteristics of the athlete on their best game day. That’s their alter ego.
  3. Finally, give that alter ego a name. Some athletes choose a random name or the name of an athlete they look up to. Some athletes choose to name it after a predatory animal like a tiger or wolf.

It may feel silly at first, but the alter ego technique works. By separating their alter ego from their personality, athletes can unashamedly perform without worrying about how it reflects on their personality. Athletes don’t have to excuse the behavior of their alter ego, they can be that person on the field and someone else in their regular life.

Practice a Mistake Ritual

The question is not if you’ll make a mistake, it’s when you’ll make a mistake. And the way you bounce back after making a mistake is a big indicator of your skills as a competitor. Great competitors have a plan for recovery, and that's where the Mistake Ritual comes in.

The Mistake Ritual is one of the most powerful techniques you can use to bounce back from mistakes. It’s a core part of what we teach in our The Psychology of Competition online mental training course, and is something that’s helped thousands of athletes over the years.

Some of the best athletes in the world practice a Mistake Ritual. In fact, Russel Wilson has gone on record talking about his own ritual. Whenever he needs a refresh, Russel Wilson visualizes a big red reset button in the field. Then he pictures himself walking over to it and pressing the button. This mistake ritual helps him get his head back in the game when it matters most.

To create a mistake ritual of your own, select an:

Reset word/phrase - Be present, Stay strong, etc.

Hand signal - Make a fist and release, put your index finger to your thumb in a meditation hand sign, etc.

Deep Breath- Taking a deep breath connects you to the present moment.

Visualization (optional) - Erasing a chalk board, watching a bird take flight, etc.

Make it your own. It doesn’t really matter what you choose. What matters most is that each piece is meaningful to you and represents a fresh start.

Practice this mistake ritual whenever you need a mental refresh - on and off the field. When you make a mistake, or when you feel yourself getting frustrated. The more you practice it, the stronger it will become.

Want to learn our step by step method to creating a Mistake Ritual? Watch our Mistake Ritual Magic Workshop on demand and finally get a simple, easy to implement system to create better competitors that bounce back from mistakes. 

Create a Post-Game Routine

It’s easy to lose a game and try to forget about it, or to win a game and simply celebrate.

But the truth is, sometimes you win a game that you’re not proud of. Sometimes, you lose a game that you played really well. Simply winning or losing a game doesn’t automatically mean you played well or poorly, and there’s so much to be learned from every game, regardless of the outcome.

That’s why it’s so important to practice a post-game routine. After every game, practice sitting down and critiquing your performance. Resist the urge to criticize and get down on yourself, but instead:

  • Write down a few things you did really well - like making a brave play, working well with your teammates, or trying a new, better way to perform a skill, regardless of the outcome.
  • Write down a few things you’d like to work on - Like recovering from a mistake, or technical skills training.

We talk more about the Mistake Ritual and the Post-Game Routine in our online mental training course, The Psychology of Competition. We also provide you with an easy-to-follow system that will help you build a mental training program from the ground up.


Whether or not you and your athletes are great competitors depends a lot on three things:

  1. Your physical and mental preparedness
  2. The way you choose to react to loss, victory, mistakes, and ever-changing circumstances.
  3. How you process and learn from competition when it’s all over.

Becoming a better competitor won’t happen overnight. And the best way to enact change is by implementing a system to support it. If you don’t have one of your own, reach out to us and we’ll point you in the right direction!

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