ABC’s of Sport Psyc: A is for Attitude

Like many in my age range, one of my first favorite shows growing up was Sesame Street. My favorite character was Cookie Monster. Cookie Monster had one of the most important characteristics of a high performer…he knew his “Why.” Cookie Monster wanted cookies. That was it. No matter what a conversation was about, Cookie Monster found a way to get it back to his endless pursuit for cookies. He even had a song about the letter-C standing for Cookie. I can still remember sitting in my room and listening to the song on a Sesame Street record I had! The song was part of the great job Sesame Street did with teaching kids everywhere their letters. Inspired by their work, one of my favorite books by Harvey Dorfman, and a favorite fourth grade project of mine, I want to do something a little different over the next month or so. I’m going to hit you every day with the ABC’s of Sport Psychology. The blogs are going to be shorter, more direct, and will address some topic of a different letter each day. Keep in mind it is impossible to address everything within the field in one word per letter, but I’m going to do my best to combine some main principles with words that may not be used as often as others. I hope you enjoy it and learn something along the way.

A is for Attitude. Attitude is one of the more talked about and controversial topics in sport psychology. I love a quote from Joe Maddon saying, “Attitude is a decision you make every day when you wake up in the morning.” The reason attitude is somewhat controversial is because of the literal take on the quote. If we truly have 100% control of our attitude, why would anyone ever have a bad attitude? Semantics, I would argue. Our attitudes have been shaped largely by our experiences throughout life and how we perceive those experiences. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our attitudes though. To do so often requires effort, and I think the problem some have with the concept of attitude being a choice is the simplicity of the idea’s implication. Maybe all would feel better about the concept if we understand it isn’t just the simple, one-time decision saying, “I will have a good attitude today.” It’s doing the grunt work that follows if things do not go your way at different points throughout the day. It’s making the decision over and over again. This may not be easy and requires great discipline, but so does being an elite athlete.

You may not have complete control over your attitude, but you can certainly have great influence over it. Attitude has a major effect on what we get from an experience. One relevant example taking place all over the country right now involves college baseball players home for Winter Break. They have spent the last four months building a team and individual foundation for the upcoming spring that can either be enhanced or undone by the next month. I’ve heard multiple coaches say it’s the scariest month of the year for that exact reason. Players have been handed a packet with the prescribed workouts, but there is nobody there to hold their hand throughout. Attitude about the workouts will have a major impact on what the players get from them. The athlete who approaches workouts with enthusiasm and an attitude of knowing they will help him improve will have a completely different experience than the player who completes the workouts just to get them done. I’d argue that is absolutely within the realm of control of the athlete.

One area I think we give up way too much control over our attitude as human beings is when we allow the day of the week to dictate our attitude. If you’re a teacher, do me a favor and ask five people how they are doing tomorrow. My nonexistent research says that at least two of the five people will say something akin to, “It’s Monday” or “Five more days (until Winter Break).” These poor souls are readily admitting they are allowing the day of the week or the number of days until a holiday to dictate their attitude. In my opinion, we give ourselves a greater chance of consistency if we approach every day equally. Win today, or “Win Now.” So much of performance centers around the concept of being fully engaged in the present moment. Well, working on this outside of competition will allow a greater chance for athletes to be able to do so in competition. Taking a day-by-day, moment-by-moment approach to attitude is a start.

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