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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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June 19, 2024

Mind over matter: The mental strategies behind athletic success

@jjmccarthy via instagram
For many professionals who have worked tirelessly throughout their athletic careers, practicing meditation has become a common pastime

Moments before his kickoff in the 2024 College Football National Championship, University of Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy sits crossed-legged at the foot of the goalpost. He has his headphones on, arms relaxed in his lap and his eyes shut as he prepares for one of the biggest games of his career. Four hours later, Michigan dominates Washington 34–13 to take home one of the greatest titles in all of sports. 

The way professional athletes approach games can make or break their performance. The “mental game” isn’t just a general idea; it’s a lifestyle. However, reaching this assertive mindset is easier said than done, so how do professional athletes do it so well?


  1. Meditation

For many professionals who have worked tirelessly throughout their athletic careers, practicing meditation has become a common pastime. The main purpose of meditation is to connect the mind and the body, which makes it a perfect tool in sports — it enhances focus, concentration and overall better athletic performance. In an interview with CBS, J.J. McCarthy explained how his meditation routine impacts his play. 

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“It’s a great centering piece for me,” McCarthy said. “A lot of guys around the program do it too, and it does a lot for them as well.”

Since McCarthy started using meditation to help cope with ongoing mental health issues, he found himself recovering from deep depression, he said in the interview. Similarly to sports on the collegiate level, in high school sports, there are constant pressures from coaches, parents, and teammates, and meditation is an aid to avoid feeling overwhelmed during these competitions.


  1. Goal Orientation

Athletes often struggle to envision their goals during a game since envisioning a better version of yourself may seem unrealistic and unnecessary, however, this tactic can be successful if done correctly. The first step is to think of something achievable yet challenging. For athletes, this can include things like a better personal record, increased stats or any quantifiable value that demonstrates improvement. Just a small switch in mindset can translate into significant physical progress. 

An example of an athlete using this strategy is WNBA player Caitlin Clark. Clark has become the all-time leading scorer in the NCAA women’s division, two-time AP Player of the Year, and three-time Big Ten Player of the Year. Clark credits setting goals for herself for helping her become the tremendous athlete she is today. As early as second grade, Clark began writing notes to herself, compiling her goals for the future, she said in an interview with NBC. 

“Get a basketball scholarship, play in the WNBA,” Clark recalled what the note said.

Although this goal was written at a young age, it shows her dedication and resilience to meet these goals. With the right motivation and thorough intention, an athlete can achieve whatever they set their mind to. 


  1. Finding the right motivation

Motivation is a huge component of athletic success. If you don’t have the drive to improve, then you won’t improve — it’s really that simple. To stay motivated, athletes focus on accomplishments and growth. Finding the purpose of why you play a sport can be difficult, especially in high school where fierce competition and commitment can quickly make athletes fall out of love with their sport.

In sports, how we see success and failure matters, and motivation plays a huge role in recovering from failure.  It’s typical to blame playing abilities on teammates, coaches or referees, but changing what you focus on can easily improve this mentality. Instead of criticizing talent and finding mistakes, focusing on giving 100% effort at all times can make a big difference. 

This mindset shift helps athletes learn from setbacks and boost their confidence. Instead of letting the last play linger in their minds, athletes should come back even more fired for the next one. Motivation comes into play when you see your progression in real time and can be the driving force for taking action and improving over time. For athletes to grow from their mistakes, they must change how they interpret their failures.


  1. Confidence

Confidence is the most important part of an athlete’s mental game, it makes professionals the best of the best. Confidence plays a significant role, for better or for worse, in how athletes perform on a given day. After hitting the game-winning three-pointer in Whitman’s Basketball semi-finals, sophomore varsity point guard Will Shapiro attributed his performance to self-confidence. 

  “Confidence is so important and a big part of being an athlete,” Shapiro said. “It has definitely impacted me both positively and negatively throughout my high school career.” 

It’s impossible to be perfect in sports, especially for student-athletes. However, keeping a positive mindset and not doubting your full potential will significantly increase your athletic performance and allow you to become the athlete you strive to be. 


Ultimately, your mentality in sports will revolve around the goals, motivation, strategies, and confidence you put into practice. Maintaining this positive mindset is the key to success in athletic performance.

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