“You have to be positive.” This is a statement almost every athlete has heard at some point from either their coaches and/or parents. But how can you suddenly be positive when consumed with frustration and a negative inner voice? Is it really that easy? The simple answer: no. The more complex answer: No, and failing to shift from negative to positive can lead to more frustration and negativity. This article offers a different perspective on making the jump out of a negative frame of mind. Instead, make the jump from negative to neutral first. For example, is it really possible to go from saying “I am the worst player here. That was so stupid” to “I can do it. Things are going to be better”? And even if the “positive” statement comes out, does the athlete really believe it? This gap between what the athlete is really feeling versus what they are telling themselves can lead to a progressive downward spiral.
Use “neutral” statements
Neutral statements are directions with no emotional attachments (neither positive or negative). Think about the simple tips you receive from your coaches. What are they telling you to do? “Win with your strengths and find your way to the net”; “Play ‘x’ pattern and find your forehand from the middle of the court”; “Take more time before playing the big points.” These are all examples of simple, “now focused” statements. Create your own and be prepared to launch when you feel frustrated.
Time is your biggest ally.
An angry/frustrated athlete tends to speed up and play faster and more out of control. Their awareness of time is lost and replaced by a negative inner voice that directs their behavior. Simply taking more time allows the jets to cool off and can give the frustrated performer a moment to shift his/her attitude to a neutral space. Consider placing a towel in the corner and use it as a reminder to slow down, or create a simple “power statement” like “1, 2, 3, let it be.”
Deploy the chute before it’s too late!
Negativity breeds negativity. As the saying goes, “Bad habits are like a warm bed on a cold morning - easy to get into, hard to get out of.” Ultimately, your responsibility is to manage how loud the negative inner voice gets, and redirect it to a controllable aspect of performance. Allowing one bad play to fester opens the door for more to follow. Start out with giving yourself a limit: for example, no more than 5 negative statements per practice/match/etc.
Prioritize your inner voice! What you say does matter and does influence your performance. While it may be challenging to jump from negative to positive, the move from negative to neutral is within reach.