How to Build Self-Worth as an Athlete

Where do you get your worth as an athlete?

Does it come from the approval of other people? For instance, do you feel good about yourself when your coach tells you good job or your teammates talk about how great of a player you are?

Does it come from playing well? Do you feel like a valuable player when you have a few good games, but when you don't play well, you feel badly about yourself?

Or does it come from a deep understanding within that you have worth as a player and that you have the right to believe in yourself and trust in your skills? Yeah, I like that one too. But here’s the problem…typically it’s the first two athletes gravitate towards.

It’s easy to have your self-worth determined by the opinions of others or the outcome. However, this never allows you to develop true worth. You are always at the mercy of external factors.

That has to change.

"It’s easy to have your self-worth determined by the opinions of others or the outcome. However, this never allows you to develop true worth. You are always at the mercy of external factors."

Why is Self-Worth Important to Athletes

Self-worth is about feeling good enough. It involves feeling worthy, among other things, but for athletes, I think the best way to define it that makes the most sense is feeling good enough.

This means, when you have high self-worth, you feel good enough to compete. You know that your skills are good enough to succeed in your sport, and you know your training is good enough to keep pushing you in the direction of your goals.

Self-worth isn’t a delusional thing. It’s a true understanding of the worth you have in your talents and abilities. But even more than that, it’s a deep belief that you are good enough (with the skills you have right now or the ability to develop the skills you need) to succeed.

Self-worth is important because it provides you with armor.

An athlete I’m working with right now is struggling with self-worth. His attention is completely fixated on external factors such as his coaches and teammates.

The reason we are aiming to build the belief in himself that he is good enough is to protect him from the external factors that are distracting him.

That’s why self-worth is important for athletes; because it provides you with the ability to determine your value, rather than having to constantly look to other people to validate you as a good player.

When you don’t have to look outward for this validation, you are going to play better on a more consistent basis.

What Happens When You Lack Self-Worth

Self-worth is important because of the armor it provides you with, keeping you from being at the mercy of external factors. But what happens when this armor isn’t there? What happens when you continue to look externally for validation that you’re a good player?

You will become distracted, your confidence will drop, and your emotions will be like a roller coaster going up and down.

When you lack self-worth, you are handing over the power to determine how you feel to other people.

There was one athlete I worked with who was constantly worried about what other people were thinking. Specifically, there was one coach she always looked to in order to see what her facial expression was like.

She was searching for her encouragement.

What I told her was to imagine that every time she did this, she was handing the coach a remote control. That control determined how she felt. I then asked her if that was a power she ever wanted to give away to anyone. Of course, her answer was no.

That is what’s happening when you lack self-worth as an athlete. You are handing over the power to determine how you feel to other people. Instead, you want to keep that power for yourself.

"When you lack self-worth, you are handing over the power to determine how you feel to other people."

Building Self-Worth in Sports

Building self-worth in sports requires you to first take responsibility for any change that will happen. Beyond that, you must take responsibility for how you feel on a daily basis.

When you lack self-worth, other people are in control of your mindset and emotions. If someone criticizes you or the situation doesn’t go your way, you’re quick to react negatively.

To build self-worth, that has to change. You have to accept that in any given situation, you are in control of your mindset. You are in control of how you feel. Simply making that decision and accepting that responsibility is the very first step you must take.

Building self-worth is an active process and that's why you have to take this responsibility. It takes you consistently reminding yourself you are good enough and actively working to feel how you want to feel despite external factors.

All the work that’s required can only happen once full responsibility is taken. Then, you can begin working to build self-worth as an athlete through a powerful exercise.

"When you lack self-worth, other people are in control of your mindset and emotions. If someone criticizes you or the situation doesn’t go your way, you’re quick to react negatively."

The Making of a List

I came up with this exercise when I was working with a basketball player who was struggling with his self-worth. Every tiny external thing that happened caused him to doubt himself and get frustrated and lose focus.

So, I realized he needed to work on retraining what he focused on. Because in addition to getting frustrated at all these external factors, he also had the tendency to forget about his accomplishments and brush over what he did well.

Therefore, all he was focused on were the things that went wrong and how he hadn’t reached his goals yet. So, he needed to work to retrain his focus. That’s what this exercise helped with.

There are three sections to the list you will make. Each one is as important as the next and requires you to take time and think.

Once you have made your lists, you will repeat them to yourself twice a day (once when you wake up and once right before bed) as a way to retrain your mind and build your self-worth. Repetition here is key!

Before we begin, get yourself a piece of paper and something to write with. Now, go through this exercise, taking time to fill out each section before moving on to the next.

Section 1: Skills

For the first section, list all the skills you possess within your sport. This is your opportunity to brag about yourself a little. No one will see these lists, so on this one, as well as the other two, be honest and write as cocky and confident as you want.

With the skills section, make each statement a definitive fact. Here are some examples you can use as reference (note, these will include a wide variety of skills from different sports. Yours will obviously only include the skills you have within your sport).

  • I am a great shooter.
  • I have great field vision.
  • I am fast and have a quick first step.
  • I have a strong arm.
  • I have great accuracy.
  • I am calm under pressure.
  • I have good power at the plate.

Your goal with this first section is to outline all the skills you possess that, if you focused on them, would increase your confidence.

Section 2: Accomplishments

Now it’s time to outline the main accomplishments you’ve had in your sport.

When you lack self-worth, it’s easy to overlook your accomplishments. What you have to do is actively remind yourself of all the success you’ve had.

For your accomplishments list, include awards you’ve received, teams you’ve made, and really good games that stick out in your memory. Here are some examples of what this could look like:

  • Made first team all-conference.
  • Had the game-winning shot.
  • Struck out 12 batters in a game.
  • Made a high-level travel team.
  • Made varsity as a freshman.
  • Started every game this season.

Brainstorm all the accomplishments you’ve had in your sport. Get specific, and aim for at least five.

Section 3: Improving

The last section is where you’re going to write out all the aspects of your game you are working to improve.

This helps with building self-worth by keeping your attention on yourself and giving you motivation each day to keep working towards your goals.

It also shows you that you are taking steps to improve. That way, you begin to feel like you have more worth as a player, because you have a strong work ethic and are proving to yourself each day that you are getting better and better.

Here are some examples of what this section may look like:

  • I am improving my accuracy.
  • I am improving my strength.
  • I am improving my confidence and focus.
  • I am getting better at performing under pressure.
  • I am improving my passing.

Think about everything you are working on (or want to be working on) and include it in your list.

Final Thoughts

Now, what are you going to do with the lists you’ve just created?

Reread them to yourself each day! Repetition is key. You’ve got to actively keep your focus on these positive aspects that will work to build your self-worth.

Read them to yourself as soon as you get up in the morning and then again right before you go to bed.

If you take this step, making the lists and consistently repeating them to yourself each day, you will begin to build your self-worth as an athlete. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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