Why Positive Attitude Is Important in Sports

Young woman boxing in urban setting

Serious athletes devote hours to conditioning, honing skills, perfecting techniques for their particular sport, and practice, practice, practice. And it's true that physical training—and inherent talent—can take an athlete far. But another necessary part of maximizing your athletic potential is having the right attitude. 

Why Attitude Is Important in Sports

If you're an athlete or enjoy competitive sports, developing a positive mental attitude can help give you an edge. Emotions, both happy and sad, can affect cognitive functioning (how well you think) along with your energy level and other aspects of your physical performance.

When negativity rules the day—because you're dealing with an injury, say, or being criticized by your coach—it can be really tough to drum up the optimism that can help you succeed. So if you'd like to take your sports performance to the next level, try some of these mental strategies for reversing negativity and getting rid of self-limiting beliefs.

Improve Your Mood

If you're in a state of frustration or plagued by a pessimistic perspective, you may be able to bring about a shift by getting yourself into a happier mood. Rather than dwell on whatever problems or issues are getting you down—maybe you've hit a snag in your training, or you have a losing streak—do something that you know will lift your spirits, even if you don't feel like it.

  • Crank up some uplifting music
  • Get together with or phone a friend who's always cheery
  • Play with your kids
  • Head to the dog park and watch the pups at play
  • Work on a hobby
  • Take a relaxing bath with a book

Fix Your Mood Fast

Close your eyes and think about a person, place, or thing that always makes you feel happy and hopeful. Just picturing that may be enough to change your mood—which, in turn, will change your mind.

Take a Time Out

Negativity doesn't always stem from an internal or personal source. Often we find ourselves being deeply affected by awful things we hear or read about or by troubling images we see on television or social media.

It's all too easy to allow these sorts of things to seep into our own psyches and overtake our mental and emotional state. Of course, it's important to keep up with current events, but it's equally important to protect ourselves from overdosing on disturbing information.

Whenever you need an emotional reset, and especially before a tough workout or competition, take a break from the news. Avoid checking for updates on your phone or "doomscrolling" through your social media feeds. Instead, read an article or watch a documentary about an inspiring athlete, or distract yourself with a comedy.

Talk to Yourself

Ongoing research in sports psychology shows that practicing positive self-talk can greatly improve athletic performance. Sports psychologists often explain this link by pointing to the idea that thoughts create beliefs, which ultimately drive actions.

Use Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk can take many different forms. For some people, reciting a mantra—a specific phrase or sentence, or even a single word—is an effective way to manage thoughts and quash the negativity that can get in the way of optimal performance. Your mantra can be anything that inspires you, such as:

  • Power
  • Focus
  • I can do it
  • I'm ready for this

Research shows that positive self-talk helps reduce anxiety and increases self-confidence, self-optimization, self-efficacy, and performance. Consistently practicing positive self-talk for the long-term is more effective than short-term training, so making this practice a regular part of your routine is essential.

Try Visualization

A similar strategy is using visualization exercises. This basically means imagining a scenario in which you're competing and doing well. Use all your senses—imagine the sound of the crowd cheering, the smell in the air, how the ground feels under your feet, or how the ball feels in your hands. There is some truth to the idea that if you can think it, you can do it, so use this wisdom when you compete.

A Word From Verywell

A positive attitude can help athletes stay motivated and help avoid overwhelm and anxiety. While it might take time, effort, and regular maintenance, finding ways to shift a bad attitude into a good one can help you perform your best. Include positive self-talk and negativity breaks into your routine consistently to transform your mindset.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Walter N, Nikoleizig L, Alfermann D. Effects of self-talk training on competitive anxiety, self-efficacy, volitional skills, and performance: An intervention study with junior sub-elite athletesSports (Basel). 2019;7(6):148. doi:10.3390/sports7060148

  2. Reiser M, Büsch D, Munzert J. Strength gains by motor imagery with different ratios of physical to mental practiceFront Psychol. 2011;2:194. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00194

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.