Why You Need to Change Your Thinking After Games

Eli Straw
Why You Need to Change Your Thinking After Games

When you review your games, do you typically think about everything you did wrong, or what you did well?

If you're like most of the athletes I've talked to and worked with, you probably naturally think about what you did wrong. Your mind sorts through all the mistakes you made.

Now, that's not a completely bad thing to do. The underlying idea as to why you're doing it is beneficial. However, the way you're going about it may actually be hurting you.

In fact, this seemingly small act you're doing could be causing enormous problems in your game. It may be the very reason you lack confidence, feel anxious and fearful during games, and aren’t enjoying your sport as much anymore.

In this article, you're going to learn how identifying what you did wrong is hurting you, and a strategy you can use to productively evaluate your performance instead.

How Looking at Your Mistakes is Hurting You

When we're thinking about the negative impact examining your mistakes has on your game, we need to take a long-term approach.

If your thinking revolves around the short-term, it's much easier to rationalize this habit. However, when you view what happens over the span of weeks, months, and years, you quickly see just how damaging of an action it is.

Along with taking a long-term approach, it's also important to recognize that the impact we're focusing on is mental. It's the way focusing on your mistakes influences your mindset in a negative way that then hurts your physical play.

To get a clear idea of how this habit impacts your performance, we're going to break it down into the three most common challenges it causes: low confidence, sports anxiety and fear of failure, and a loss of joy.

But first, what exactly do I mean by focusing on what you did wrong?

Well, here's an example scenario to help illustrate what I mean...

A high school baseball player comes home from a game. His team won and he got a nice RBI single. He also made a couple good plays in left field. However, he doesn't think too much about that as he's lying in bed that night.

Instead, all his mind can focus on is the strike out he had and that double play he grounded into. He goes over those at bats continuously. And not in a productive way, but in a way that leads him to feel frustrated and in all honesty, a little embarrassed for having failed.

His mind completely ignored the good he did for his team. After all, he's supposed to play well...right? So what's the use of thinking about the things he did well? Shouldn't he think about those stupid mistakes he made so he doesn't make them again?

Well, yes, but not in the way he's going about it. The way he's reflecting on his game will have a negative impact on his mindset, and ultimately his game. This is due to the low confidence, anxiety and fear, and lack of joy it drives.

Low Confidence

What do you think is needed to build confidence? That's right, the memory of seeing yourself succeed.

I mean think about it, how much more confident do you feel when you've been on a hot streak? And how much less confident do you feel when you've been playing horribly lately?

That's because self-confidence is built through seeing yourself succeed.

But here's the really interesting part...you have moments you succeed in each game, no matter how big or small.

Similarly, you have mistakes you make every game, no matter how big or small. The choice you have is which to focus on.

When you only focus on what you did wrong, over time this is not providing you with the opportunity to see yourself as successful. Quite the opposite, actually.

You are filling your mind with times you failed. That means, the image you are creating is one of you as a player who makes mistakes.

If all you can think about are the mistakes you've made, how confident do you think you'll be?

Sports Performance Anxiety & Fear of Failure

When you beat yourself up after every game, focusing solely on your mistakes, how do you think that will feel? Is it going to be fun? Is it going to be something you look forward to happening again?

Probably not!

In fact, it can quickly become something you fear. In addition to that, you are adding in a dose of self-doubt as described above. Combine that with a mind that we already know has a lot of high expectations for itself and what do you get? Anxiety and fear.

Performance anxiety occurs when you have extreme worries about what may or may not happen. This is often coupled with fear of failure. Because when you are afraid of making mistakes, it's likely you will adopt anxiety around making mistakes.

If after a game you only focus on what you did wrong, this will increase the fear and anxiety you experience moving forward. In fact, this can be the very action that leads to the formation of fear and anxiety within your game.

And when you play with fear and when you play with anxiety you will perform tense, timidly, and hold yourself back. In short, you will underperform.

Loss of Joy

The third reason focusing on the mistakes you made following a game hurts you is because of the impact it has on the joy you feel for your sport.

I've worked with a lot of athletes who've been dealing with burnout or have lost the passion to play. Every single one of them had adopted the habit of focusing on what went wrong following a performance.

One of the main things we worked on was getting them to change this way of thinking.

If after every game, all you do is beat yourself up and think about all the mistakes you made, how much fun is that going to be? Not fun at all!

Then what happens is you begin to doubt yourself and you develop fear of failure and performance anxiety.

All of that makes your sport even less enjoyable.

Simply due to the way you evaluate your performances, you have sucked the joy out of your game. And I don't care who you are, if you don't enjoy your sport, you will not perform up to your potential.

How to Change Your Thinking After Games

As you've been reading this, you may have thought to yourself, "But don't I need to think about my mistakes so I can improve?"

Why yes, you most certainly do! But the way you do so needs to be truly targeted towards growth, not beating yourself up.

There's a difference between thinking about what you did wrong and getting down on yourself because of it, and thinking about how you can learn something from the game and apply it to training to continue to improve moving forward.

The mindset shift outlined below will help you think more in terms of the second way, the better way.

Giving Yourself the Opportunity to Succeed

The first step in this two step evaluation process that will teach you how to change your thinking after games, is where you want to give yourself the opportunity to succeed.

Specifically, you want to give yourself the opportunity to see yourself as successful.

Do you remember earlier when I said that each game, no matter how big or small, there are things you did well? Those are what you want to focus on here.

When it comes to performing well in the future, there are two important things you need: confidence and high level skills.

I know you're already working on improving your skills, but we want to make sure you are pairing them with high self-confidence.

The most important piece to developing confidence is seeing yourself succeed. That memory of success is crucial. It's why tools like visualization can help build confidence.

Following a game, you have the opportunity to see yourself as successful, if you only know where to look.

Now here's something important to remember...you aren't making stuff up. All you're doing is choosing to first focus on what you did well.

With this step, as with the next one, I encourage you to write your answer on a piece of paper. Buying a journal for yourself can be of great help.

So after a game, be sure to first think about what you did well. By doing so, you are providing yourself with the opportunity to see yourself as successful following each game.

Evaluating With the Intent to Improve

The second step is where you're going to look at what you did wrong. However, you are not going to do so in the way you've been doing. Instead, you are going to examine your mistakes in a productive way.

In the past, you've looked at the mistakes you've made during games and beaten yourself up because of them. That has done nothing but hurt you and hold you back.

What you want to do now is examine your mistakes with more of an objective perspective, looking for what you can learn and ways you can improve.

With this step, I encourage you to get as specific as you can.

Break down the mistakes you made asking yourself the question, why did I make that mistake?

Then you want to ask, what should I have done differently, or, what can I learn from that mistake?

If it's something mechanical that was to blame, create a practice plan for you to work on improving the mistakes during the week.

If it was a mental mistake or error, outline a way you can remember to not make that same mistake moving forward.

The main point of this second step is to turn mistakes into teachers. After all, you need mistakes to grow as a player. But you equally need a way to evaluate mistakes to actually help you do so.

Following a game, after you've identified what you did well, take a look at where you can improve and what you can learn from that game.

Final Thoughts

How you think about your games can either help or hurt you as an athlete. It all depends on the way you go about examining your performance.

Right now, if you immediately think about everything you did wrong and all the mistakes you made, then that needs to change!

When all you do after a game is beat yourself up, that will lead to low confidence, anxiety, fear, and a loss of joy.

What you want to do is give yourself the opportunity to feel successful by first focusing on what you did well.

Then you can think about your mistakes, but with the intent to improve, by trying to find what you can learn from the game.

By following this process, you can change how you think following a game in a positive way. A way that will lead to greater success for you moving forward.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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