Tournament Mind – Motivation by Mark Schwab

Do you want to be the best, but are thinking about settling for mediocrity? Don’t. Turn it around! Take your ordinary mind and make it unbeatable. There is nothing that will ensure your demise with more command than negative thoughts and a mind filled with doubt. Allow your faith to carry more authority than your fear. If you’re an individual who’s been waiting for a specific “aha moment,” that moment is now. The key is to focus on the right things. Superior competitors are able to focus. Focus allows for mastery of your environment and creates conviction and consistency.

About Mark SchwabLack of belief in one’s self is detrimental. Wasting time looking ahead or over analyzing the past is hurtful to consistent performance. Focusing on these thoughts will render you half-speed. If you question your readiness to compete you will magnify your opponents’ abilities and minimize your own. Athletes often create mental obstacles like this that hinder their potential. This is never more evident than during major competitions or against key opponents.

Tournaments, ideally, are what you look toward all season. Major competitions can be viewed as a reward. Instead, many athletes put undo mental pressure on them and under-perform by focusing on the defeating thoughts. You can control this, however. Much like physical training and conditioning, you can also improve and condition your mind. Make mental exercise a part of your preparation. Many athletes experience mental struggles but do little to change their state of mind. Most do little more than hope their “head” will work itself out, but the truth is, it won’t work itself out without awareness and effort. Proof of this usually shows up in their performance or lack thereof. Pay attention if this sounds like you. To change and improve your performance, you will have to change your focus.

Our thinking, a never ending “in-house” conversation, is a constant. There is always something on our mind and our thoughts are often cunning. What occupies your mind is important. Understand, thinking cannot be stopped, but it can be changed. Part of your mental conditioning can be to say it and see it the way you want it. You can mentally rehearse victory or you can court defeat. It is your choice. Overcoming uncertainty is a battle you can win, but you have to confront your thinking and get involved with your thoughts. When doubts start to creep in, deny them entrance. This is not a “one time thing” you will have to work at this. Also, it’s very important for you to know you can have doubts and still prevail over them.

As major tournaments approach, many athletes tense up, hold back or shut down. They refrain from what produced previous victories. They stay safe, over analyze and wait. When it comes to succeeding at a high level, safety, over-examination and waiting are traps, but you can learn to minimize them. You can manage your mind in major competition. Nothing changes! You are still competing under the same rules and principles. Only your thoughts can change for or against you. Since you control your thoughts, you hold the key. What will you allow to speak loudest? Will it be your doubt or your belief in your own abilities? You have been great before, and you can and will be great again. Choose to focus on belief.

There are other steps you can take to ensure your success too. The daily battle is between what you know you should do and what you actually do; win these battles. If you do what you know you should do—physical and mental preparation—the rest will follow. The more unrelenting you are in this daily fight the more likely is a victory. At the same time, when it comes to your mind, you can’t open a flower with a sledge-hammer. So, take it easy. You can be both unrelenting and calm. Trust, relax and take deep breaths. Slow your breathing and see “it” the way you want it. This course of action makes a difference. Will it be easy? No, but few things worth attaining ever are. Developing a skill that can make this much difference in your performance will be demanding, but it is also achievable.

Let your competition deal with mental strain. Let your competition become filled with anxiety and doubt. As for you, you will not compete with a mental parking brake on and you will deal with the weight of hesitation. Leave it to the competition to question their ability and succumb to fatigue from the non-stop mental tension, because the athlete who successfully deals with pressure will triumph. A venue does not change you. A crowd does not change you. Nothing changes except what you allow to be changed. It’s your responsibility to decide what you will allow to change. Remember that responsibility is a choice not a burden, so welcome it, keep it simple, and make the right choices.

It is natural to be nervous; you can still perform with nerves and you can overcome uncertainties. Be in the moment. No need to fear something you’ve done consistently well. Relax; take a deep breath and focus. Tilt the odds in your favor through daily mental preparation along with your physical preparation. You will function at an optimal level when the body and mind are in unison.

We all have trepidation and doubt, but we are also comprised of courage and conviction. Both exist in our mind. They do not live in harmony, so you have to decide upon which one you will choose to focus. This takes awareness and persistence, but pays substantially. You will get what you think about, so maximize belief and minimize doubt. To do this, you will need to hold nothing back, and compete with a mindset to be triumphant. Performance is not random; it’s related to your thoughts and expectations. We have all seen it in competition, someone who was not supposed to win excelled unexpectedly or someone who was supposed to excel faltered. The determining factors in both cases are focus, conviction and consistency which can only be achieved by combining physical and mental preparation.

Tournament mind

  • Awareness of your thoughts / self talk. Identify situation where negative self talk occurs. Interrupt the negative and replace with positive. (Keep this simple)
  • Make a decision that you’re going to be committed to managing your thoughts. This leads to managing your performance
  • Your focus is crucial. What you focus on increases. If your confidence is in question, then I ask you, what are you focusing on?
  • Strong / positive body language- Body language indicates mind-set and mind-set will dictate behavior.
  • Only concern yourself with the controllable-effort and attitude.
  • Learn to manage your breathing. By slowing your breathing down you conserve energy, in control of your movements, and function at a higher level. Whenever there’s a break in the action, take a deep breath; breathe in confidence and strength, and breathe out doubt and fatigue.
  • Consistent pre competition behaviors give you dependable performance results.
  • Losing points will not do you in but losing your focus will. Stay focused!
  • Simplicity during competition

Mark Schwab is an assistant coach at the University of Northern Iowa. Schwab has a Masters Degree with an emphasis on Sport Psychology and is currently writing a book entitled “Opportunities to Succeed-Common Sense but Not Common Practice.” Schwab also gives a 40 minute presentation on opportunities to succeed. To know more you can email him at for details.