I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to young athletes in their training and competitive efforts. For example, it drives me crazy to see athletes not prepare themselves fully for a practice session (but you can’t do that in a competition!). Or, young athletes standing around and chatting it up before drills (no intensity or focus!). Or, seeing groups of athletes surrounding one of their phones checking out social media during a practice (major distraction!).
But of all my pet peeves, the one that probably gets me the most is when, in practice, young athletes give up at the smallest mistake or failure. The simple and obvious reality is that giving up is entirely counterproductive to your sports goals for several reasons.
First, by giving up at the littlest problem, you immediately lose the opportunity to overcome and learn from whatever caused the problem to occur. For instance, if you get beat by a player in a soccer game and don’t fight to recover, you’re less likely to stop them down field or later in a game.
Second, if you give up frequently in practice, you are not learning to respond positively to the many challenges and adversity that is an unavoidable part of all sports. And every sport has its own unique challenges and adversity:
- Course, court, or field conditions;
- Tough competitors;
- New level of competition.
Third, when you give up often in practice, you ingrain the habit of giving up. In other words, you become good at wimping out when the going gets tough. The inevitable result is that when you get into trouble in a competition, your learned reaction is to give up.
Fourth, when you give up, you automatically lose. In practice, that means that you lose out on an opportunity to improve. In competitions, it simply means that you lose; when you give up, you give up any chance you have to have a good outcome (despite the mistakes).
Finally, when you give up in practice or competition, you are actually giving up on yourself. And there is nothing worse than giving up on yourself because when you do that, you give up on all of your efforts so far, you give up on all of the progress you’ve made, and, most painfully, you give up on your hopes and dreams.
This issue really hit home for me recently as I have watched top athletes in football, basketball, tennis, golf, and ski racing make a massive mistakes and still are able to win…because they kept fighting even when all seemed lost!
There are several important benefits to fighting no matter how bad things look.
First, the more you fight in practice and competitions, the more fighting becomes a habit, so when things don’t go well, your ingrained reaction is to fight, not give up.
Second, when you keep fighting, you at least give yourself a chance of good things happening.
Third, sports can be so unpredictable; you never know what might happen. You may make a huge mistake and seem to have no chance of success, but your closest competitors may also make a big mistake. If you’re the one who keeps on fighting to the end, you’re the one who may still get the opportunity to come out the victor.
Fourth, when you keep fighting, you are putting a stake in the heart of your competitors. You’re sending the message to them that they might beat you, but you aren’t going to beat yourself and you’re not going to get beat by them without a fight. When you fight, you demoralize them, frustrate them, cause them to feel helplessness and doubt, and, generally, you get in their head. Those perceptions and feelings can carry over into the latter parts of competitions when they know that you’re not going to give in. Your competitors’ memories of your fighting can also carry into future competitions enabling you to beat them before the competition has even begun.
Lastly, overcoming mistakes and continuing to fight till the end when the effort seems pointless is really rewarding. It feels so good to score a “victory” over the conditions and, more importantly, over yourself. You experience pride, inspiration, and excitement, which increases your determination and confidence. The end result is that your fight attitude feeds on itself and makes you one very tough competitor who will always find a way to perform your best and achieve your sports goals.
How to Learn to Fight
- Recognize all of the upsides of fighting and all of the downsides of giving up.
- Make a conscious commitment before every practice session to fight to the end.
- Practice fighting in training.
- Make a conscious commitment before every competition to fight to the finish.
- Remind yourself constantly to fight every step of the way.
- Write “Fight!” on your gear to remind you to fight when the chips are down.
- Acknowledge that fighting doesn’t always work out, but the alternative—giving up—never works out.
- Take pride in your fighting efforts no matter the outcome.
Want to get your mind in the best shape of your athletic life? Take a look at my latest book, Train Your Mind for Athletic Success: Mental Preparation to Achieve Your Sports Goals and my online courses for athletes and coaches.