Authors: D. C. Gonzalez
“Oh someday, I’m sure you
will,” he said. “Now, always remember, a warrior learns how to control his
internal mental climate. And having a good attitude helps him to achieve that
control by creating an expectation of success. The right attitude helps
empower him to take the necessary actions and to focus on the things that must
be done— a good attitude can make all the difference.”
“Why?” I asked. “What makes it
“The reason is quite simple,”
he said. “It’s because a good attitude, a positive attitude, creates optimism,
positive energy. And positive energy is much better at setting good things
into motion than negative energy is. Warriors with negative attitudes become
victims of their own negative outlook; they lose because their own negativity
drains them. Winning has a lot to do with having a good attitude. Not only
in competition, Danielsan, but also in life generally. You must always
Many years later my mind
flashed back to that lesson.
I was dealing with an elite
athlete trying to come to terms with a very tough competitive loss. While
still deeply hurt, he asked me, “What’s the use of working on keeping a
positive attitude? It didn’t seem to help me—did it?”
It’s at times like these that I
wish Leo-tai could step in. When an athlete is devastated one must tread
lightly. I set out to try and explain what Leo-tai had taught me (and had
somehow known that I would need to help someone else understand one day).
“Listen,” I told him, “I know
you’re upset, and I also know how hard it is, because I’ve been on this path
before you. But I’m here to tell you, as a wise old teacher once told me, that
working on keeping a positive attitude is what will help you work through this
bad patch. A positive attitude will create the opportunity for a great
comeback or for a great performance—A positive attitude never works against
you. But a negative attitude will always find a way to work against you. Even
if one finds a way to win despite a bad attitude, the fact is that he could
always have performed better still.”
Like Leo-tai used to do with
me, I caught myself looking to see if my athlete was listening. I don’t like
to offer up what Leo-tai taught me if I sense an athlete is tuned out. In his
case he seemed to be listening, so I felt encouraged to go on.
“A champion teaches himself the
skill of turning things around inside his head,” I explained. “He learns how to
look at a negative setback both as temporary, and even as an opportunity for
positive change. He knows that the things he can learn from his loss will make
him even better, even stronger, in the long run. The Mental Warrior learns
from his setbacks and he doesn’t allow them to distract him from reaching his
“So keep your self-talk
positive. Keep your outlook positive. By doing so, you give yourself the best
chance to perform well. Take on your inner feelings with courage and
determination; and never allow a bad attitude to hold you back from achieving
the level of personal success that you are capable of.
“Never beat yourself up after a
loss—there’s always something positive to be gained, something to be learned,
even from a negative situation.”
“I remember how after an especially
tough and disappointing loss one of my kid champions summed it up. ‘I was
doing well,’ he told me. ‘I’m better than he is. I’m not sure what
happened—but next time he won’t be so lucky.”
"So you see? You must
choose to stay positive,” I told him, “Even a kid can do it.”
“I know,” he said slowly, “But
right now, I just feel so bad, I feel so low.”
I understood the heaviness in
his heart, the disappointment, and as Leo-tai had taught me, I wanted him to
understand that he had the power to turn this thing around in his head.
“Look, try this,” I pointed up
to the clock on the wall. “Give yourself just five more minutes to feel bad
about this thing if you really feel you need to, and then after those five
minutes are up, decide to start seeing the experience as an opportunity to help
you figure out how to create a positive change in the level of your play. Turn
it around in your head.” I urged.
He looked up at me and nodded.
Mental control starts with a decision. It was clear that we had a deal.
Five minutes later, I watched
him walk out of that locker room right on time, just as I’d expected him to.
You could tell by the way he walked that the decision had been made. The
temporary setback had now become an opportunity for positive change. He had
turned things around in his head. He was focused on the opportunities that lay
ahead for positive change. He had decided that his attitude would be positive.
It's not always easy; it takes
a decision and a commitment to a different point of view.
Champions can do that—and so
Warrior/Champion understands that a bad attitude can cost him everything. It
affects not only how you feel, but also how you perform.
Art of Mental Training
Sports psychology studies what
successful people do. One of the most profound things validated through study
after study of many great athletes, is that if you take a group of athletes
with equal ability and some receive mental training while others do not, the
ones who were given mental training will always outperform those without.
Why? Simple: because those who use mental training skills develop a Mental
Once, when I was young, my
grandfather took me to see the legendary soccer player from Brazil – Pelé—at
I’ll never forget that warm
summer night, as he dominated the game with three electrifying goals. That was
a long time ago, but I’ll always remember the way he dodged down the field,
feinted and swerved on a dime to get past defenders, the ball seemingly glued
to his feet—until he let it fly inside the goal posts.
Years later, I came across a
story about Pelé in the writings of the late Gary Mack, a noted sports mental
trainer with whom Pelé had shared what he considered to be the two keys to
winning – Enthusiasm and a Mental Edge.
Pelé told Gary about the
routine he used before every game he played. He would go into the locker room
about an hour early and find a private corner in the locker room. Then he
would lie down using a towel as a pillow and cover his eyes.
Pelé explained how he began to
watch a film in his mind’s eye: a film of himself as a kid playing soccer on
the beach in Brazil. He let this “movie” bring back glorious memories of the
sand, the warm sun on his back, the ocean breeze feathering his temples. He
would vividly recall the thrill of the game, the joy that it brought to him; he
would immerse himself in his love of the game, allowing himself to relive those
glowing memories. Allowing himself to feel them.
In short, before every single
game he played, Pelé made sure to put himself in touch with his pure love of
Then Pelé moved forward in his
mental movie. Pelé described how he began to review and watch himself relive
some of his greatest moments in world competitions. He talked about letting
himself feel and enjoy the intensity of those winning feelings over and over
again. He talked about how crucial it was for him to make a strong connection
with those feelings and images in his past before he proceeded to imagine
himself performing at his absolute peak in the upcoming event.
Finally Pelé told Gary that he
would see himself as he was about to become: playing brilliantly, scoring
goals, dribbling past defenders in a mental movie made up of positive images
with strong feelings of enjoyment and triumph. He imagined everything before
it ever happened: the crowd, the atmosphere, the field, his own team, his
opponents, he saw himself playing irresistibly like a champion—as a force that
could not be stopped. But most important, he told Gary, was to remember that
it was not just about vision and imagery, but also about feeling the emotions
associated with success. He pointed out that he vividly imagined how good it
Only after about a half-hour of
relaxation and mental rehearsal, would Pelé begin to stretch and prepare his
muscles for the job they had to do. By then he could relax because he had
already primed his mind for victory. By the time he’d jogged into the stadium,
he was (almost literally) unstoppable. Physically and mentally he was armed
and fortified to win. No one could touch him.
In that short time with Gary,
Pelé shared with us exactly how to tap into what he considered the two
essential keys to winning: Enthusiasm and a Mental Edge.
I share this lesson with all my
clients and suggest that they too create an internal place, a place where their
minds can go before any event in order to rehearse, visualize, feel, and
prepare exactly as Pelé used to. This is where you go to play and watch your
“mental highlight tapes”; this is where you once again connect with the fun and
love of your sport, to feel that winning feeling. Most of all, this is where
you go to mentally prepare yourself and to gain the mental edge before battle.
For the athlete who’s just
starting out and who may not have past successes to replay, I suggest that they
pretend that they do and that they watch themselves as if they did. After all,
it’s your movie!—you’re its director and producer, its editor and writer; the
more imagination you can squeeze into it the better. Mix in some enthusiasm
with your imagery and now both of Pelé's keys to winning are in the formula.
It’s also important to practice seeing yourself overcoming adversity and
staying in control whatever might arise. This doesn’t make for
arrogance—though it might sound like it. It creates confidence. Confidence is
different from arrogance; and confidence is one of the keys to performing well.
Use the same routine that Pelé
did to get things going for yourself. Practice mixing relaxation, imagery,
feelings, and enthusiasm, prior to competition in a pre-game routine, in order
to gain a mental edge and a sure sense of confidence going into the event. In
this lesson you have one of the most successful athletes in the world telling
you how he went about preparing for competition.
Pearls of wisdom.
Remember: One must
consistently practice mental skills and pre-game routines in order to tap one’s
Art of Mental Training
Shortly after arriving at
Aviation Officer's Candidate School in Pensacola Florida, the young college
grads get to meet their Drill Instructors.
The Marine Drill Instructors we
had during those initial five months of aviation military indoctrination are
the best the Marine Corps has to offer. These Drill Instructors had earned the
right to be brought onboard Naval Aviation Schools Command, and their job was
to seek out and eliminate any mentally weak candidates who may have found
themselves wrongly assigned to the aviation program. They are methodical,
effective, and professional in their approach, and they eventually get around
to working on every single candidate. If you don’t have a mental game, you’re
not likely to make it through. For those of us who survived, it was off to
flight school as newly commissioned Naval Officers.
It wasn’t long before one of my
classmates sought me out for some advice regarding a certain flight
instructor. Some of these instructors were pretty intense and the environment
they were able to create from the back seat of the cockpit can make the mental
part of any training mission very challenging. At any rate, my friend John had
been told that he had to do a flight over again. Not good. In fact, if that
happened twice he was in danger of being kicked out of flight school. In
addition to that worry, he had some bad vibes about having to fly with that
“Tell me what went wrong the
last time,” I suggested. “What was going through your head when it turned
He tried to remember.
“Well, because of bad weather I
was being vectored all around, which shifted the entire training mission on the
spot. As I sought to regain control of the situation I kept thinking: Why me,
why do I get the lousy weather? What is this instructor’s problem, why is he
gunning for me? What else can go wrong? What have I done to deserve all this
John looked at me and
shrugged. “You know how it is, some idiot instructor screaming at the top of his
lungs, creating havoc, hitting switches, calling for emergency procedures, all
that stuff!” John reflected for a second. “More than anything else, I
remember feeling rushed.”
“Since you felt rushed, you
probably did rush,” I told him, “And when that happens it interferes with our
performance, whatever it is we’re trying to do. Rushing automatically
increases tension, which causes more mistakes to happen. More mistakes bring
on more tension. It’s a vicious cycle: the more mistakes we make, the more frustrating
it becomes, and the easier it is for us to lose our mental focus . . . The rule
is: don’t rush when the pressure’s on—smooth is fast. Breathe, pause, and
learn to gather yourself—but never, ever, allow yourself to rush your game.”
“I also remember that I began
to second-guess myself.” said John. “That didn’t help either.”
"Right. If you begin to
over-analyze the situation, that can kick-start a lot of negative self-talk. I
remember when my martial arts instructor Leo-tai would notice, he'd shake his
head, and tell me that I needed to start by shutting down the negative
self-talk, that I needed to quit fighting myself.”