Thinking positively will transform not only the success you have in your sport, it’ll also help you take much more enjoyment from playing it. In this article, were going to look at the link between the two and show you how you can approach sporting challenges like a boss!
We’ll be applying the lessons specifically to 5-a-side football, but these are lessons you can apply to absolutely any sport, or any other challenge you take on in life.
Why a positive attitude is essential
You can’t go through life expecting to lose; that simply makes you a loser. Instead, it’s much better to invest in developing a positive mental attitude. Positive thinking will bring you more opportunities, more success and generally make you a lot more fun to be around. Recent studies have even shown that a positive attitude is tied to getting more exercise and living longer.
When it comes to sport, the same applies. In 5-a-side football whoever your opponents are, whether they’re better than you or not, you can’t go into games assuming you’re going to lose. Playing with a losing mentality leads to a defeatist attitude and sub-par levels of effort, which will only serve to widen any gap between you and the opposition. (By the way, if you wanta strategy for approaching games of 5-a-side where you are the underdog, read our guide to playing against a better team)
Even where the odds are stacked against you and your head says there’s no chance, it’s helpful to focus on the positive outcomes rather than the negatives. Believing that if you give your all something special might just happen is a lot more productive and enjoyable than trudging on to the field and simply waiting for the beatings to start. Really, if you’re approaching games full of negativity, you should question whether it’s worth your time playing at all.
Some might say that being positive about each game is simply being unrealistic, delusional even, but it’s really not. In the world of sport, even the mightiest opposition have been known to fall against the tiniest minnows. There’s always a chance.
Occasionally, for the the competitors that are prepared to be positive and put in the hard work, the unexpected does happen. Take one of the biggest sporting upsets ever: tiny Greece winning the European Championships in 2004, without having any noteworthy players. Just to put it into context, this was only the third international tournament they had ever qualified for, and they ended up winning in a final against a Portugal team which consisted of Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco and Luis Figo, three legends of the game! On paper it looked like there would be about as much chance of Greece winning as there was of Cristiano Ronaldo deciding not to bother using a generous helping of hair-gel that morning (i.e. absolutely no chance at all), but history tells us a different tale.
That’s just one example, but sporting history is littered with numerous stories of written-off underdogs pulling off spectacular upsets. Every dog has its day, the saying goes. But not if it’s cowering in the corner having done a pee on the carpet. No sir.
The Positivity Paradox
To quote the mastermind that is Arsene Wenger, he once said:
“To perform to your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification. No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind.”
Wenger’s protégé, Nicholas Bednter, might have been taking this a bit too far when he later claimed to be one of the best strikers in the world, but this point is echoed by author and former international table tennis player, Matthew Syed. In his book, Bounce* he examined the necessary building blocks of sporting talent, putting Wenger’s wisdom another way:
“Doubt, to a sportsman, is poison. Progress is made by ignoring the evidence; it is about creating a mindset that is immune to doubt and uncertainty.”
Essentially, positive thinking’s effect on sporting performance it’s the placebo effect in action. Whether it’s true or not, good sportsmen and sportswomen have an ability to shut out any doubts, focussing instead on believing that they will succeed. Regardless of whether that’s a valid expectation or not, the mere fact that the sportsman has convinced himself of it can spur him on to greater levels than he otherwise could have achieved.
This sort of behaviour features prominently in the boxing world. Fighters spend months training for a single fight, and in all of the interviews during that build-up, both fighters will confidently claim that they are 100% convinced they will win.
You might say it’s just bravado; mind-games designed to unsettle the opponent. But it’s more than this. When you’re stepping inside a boxing ring, risking potentially serious consequences, you don’t want to go in there with a shred of doubt. If there’s even a tiny degree of defeatism creeping in to a boxer’s mind, they’re on extremely dangerous ground.
But although both boxers are convinced they will win, only one of them can, and that’s the paradox of positivity. The facts suggest that neither competitor has a 100% chance of winning, but each has to believe that they can, otherwise they’ve lost before the contest has even begun.
It’s the same in preparing for a game of football: an attitude of defeatism, or the merest hint of surrender is going to cause you to lose. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy: if you think you will lose then you almost definitely will, although luckily, unlike the boxer, it isn’t going to mean that your lights are punched out (unless you’re playing with some seriously unhinged teammates).
Separating positivity and perfectionism
Positive thinking might be what’s needed before and during the match, but if this turns into a fixation on winning and losing then it will quickly suck any enjoyment right out of playing football. The difference between winning and losing is such a fine line and it’s influenced by so many variables, most of which are beyond our control, that we need to be cautious in becoming too wedded to judging ourselves by results alone.
In other words, believe you can win, just don’t throw the toys out of the pram if you don’t.
As we’ve nearly all found out the hard way, dealing with defeat can be difficult. But it does present a good chance for reflecting on what could be improved and in doing that you must remember to focus on the positives.
One of the most often quoted lines in post-match interviews of professional players is that they will “take the positives” from the performance. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, just do a quick internet search like this one. That’s because professionals know that the only way to progress is to believe that there can be an improvement, to be positive in their thinking. That’s the very reason why most of them are professionals in the first place, because they’ve harnessed years of positive thinking!
Of course the weaknesses need addressing, and positive thinking doesn’t mean that you ignore them. If anything, it acknowledges weaknesses, and then looks at them through the glass-half-full mindset that they can be turned into strengths.
The bottom line is that positive energy (and positive thinking) is what powers a team or individual to push forward in pursuit of improvement. Negativity, on the other hand sucks the lifeblood right out of a group, and erodes the team spirit. You know which side you need to be on.
How you can stay positive
By now, you should understand how key a positive attitude is to sport. Not just from the point of view of performing to your best as an individual, but its role in motivating a team and powering progress of the collective group.
That still doesn’t mean it’s easy to develop, though. It comes easier to some people than it does for others. Sometimes a game of football can be a depressing experience, and it can be extremely difficult to pick up the positives.
If you’re ready to start thinking about how you can develop positive thinking in sports, and are ready to benefit from making these improvements, it’s time you look at our 10 tips to stay positive and improve your sporting performance.