Dear athlete,

EIMG_7663 (2)very day, millions of young athletes arrive at ballparks, gymnasiums, fields, or countless other sporting venues, ready for practice.  Their bags are overflowing with the newest, greatest equipment and their bodies adorn the latest trends in sports swag.  Although they may not embrace the idea of practice, they long for the opportunity to shine in the game.

Meanwhile, coaches tidy up their practice plans, while simultaneously leading the team through warm-ups.  With only a few precious hours to work with the athletes, their minds frantically gravitate toward a single, pressing question – “Are we going to be ready for the game?

Often unbeknownst to both athlete and coach, there’s a much more important game taking place, long before practice even begins.  I call it The Game Within The Game and unlike a traditional sporting event, this unique game takes place between an athlete’s ears.  Some call it mental toughness or mindset training, while others refer to it as emotional intelligence.  Regardless of the semantics we use to describe it, the fact remains that in order for an athlete to truly excel in the game, he/she must learn to manage the complex nature of the human mind.

For the past several years, I’ve had the great fortune of working with young athletes, both individually and in a team setting.  Perhaps my single greatest role as a mental toughness coach is to expose the many limiting beliefs that occupy an athlete’s mind, then work to replace them with empowering beliefs that will ultimately serve as fuel for success. 

Below is an open letter to all athletes, in which I expose the two most common limiting core beliefs that often destroy an athlete’s mindset and even drive them away from sports.

Dear athlete,

Did you know that the most important thing you’ll bring to practice today is not the contents of your bag or backpack (equipment and apparel)? 

I’d like to introduce you to a much different kind of backpack; one that far outweighs the importance of the backpack you’re accustomed to carrying over your shoulders.  It’s called the mental backpack and it contains all of your core beliefs with regard to sports, yourself, or life in general.  Unlike a sports bag, which you can remove from your shoulders at any time, your mental backpack is with you wherever you go.

When you arrive at practice, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the physical preparation for your upcoming game or competition.  Therefore, you spend countless hours working on your swing, your shot, or your dismount.  What you often fail to realize is that your mental preparation is always contributing to (or hindering) your physical performance.      

Below are two limiting beliefs that a lot of athletes carry in their mental backpack, followed by a new, empowering belief.  If either of these apply to you, I encourage you to embrace the new belief and add it to your mental backpack. 

Limiting belief #1- My success is defined a medal or trophy.

Unfortunately, if you watch a lot of sporting events on television, it’s easy to see why you might adopt this belief.  After all, the athletes who win are often glamorized with confetti parades, lucrative marketing deals, and a larger than life reputation.  This is what every athlete longs for, isn’t it?  Or is it?

Here’s what most people don’t realize.  While the trophies and medals are certainly nice to have, they tend to lose their meaning over the years.  Ask any retired athlete what they remember most about their experience and rarely will they point to a trophy or medal.  They’ll talk about the relationships they developed with their teammates and coaches, or the person they became as a result of hours of training and preparation. 

If this is a limiting belief you’ve adopted over the years, I invite you to replace it with a new, empowering belief.

My success is defined by WHO I’ve become (my character), not by WHAT I’ve accomplished (trophies and medals). 

Limiting core belief #2 – I can’t fail.

When I meet with athletes for the first time, one of the first things I say to them is, “You’re going to fail this season, and it’s okay for you to fail.” 

If you think that perfection is possible, then you’re choosing to believe an illusion.  Again, television will have you believe that the ultimate goal of sports is to be perfect.  However, what television rarely portrays are the many failures in the lives of these supposed perfect athletes.

Think about it.  If there’s no room for failure in your life, then there’s no room for risk.  If there’s no room for risk, there’s no room for growth.  If there’s no room for growth, then you’re bound to stay in the safe confines of your comfort zone, doing only the things you know you’re good at.

You see, we all have that little voice in our heads called doubt.  Doubt asks, “Are you sure you can do this?” or “What if you fail?”  You are welcome to continue listening to doubt, or you can choose to talk to it with the voice of courage.  Here’s what courage says, “I’m doing this,” or “I’d rather fail than not try at all.”

At the end of the day, it’s not about the number of failures you make in your sports career; it’s about how you choose to respond to your failures.

If this is a limiting belief you’ve adopted over the years, I invite you to replace it with the following empowering belief. 

I may fail, but I AM NOT a failure.

I believe in you,

Coach Mike


  1. Hi Mike, I was writing in my journal this morning and making a copy that appeared in the Corvallis Gazette-Times on Talanoa voted first – team all – Mid-Willamette Conference., this having missed two league games because of an injured ankle. In my journal I wrote that many times if this were to happen to us we would wine and make excuses but for him he just works all the harder and then I caught your article and made a copy for him and my journal…so appropriate! Thanks for your always welcome insight. Georgia

    • Hi Georgia. It’s so great to hear from you. I’m honored that you’d choose to share a copy with him. It’s been exciting to watch his journey and I look forward to the great things he’s going to do in sports, but more importantly, in life.

      All my love,

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