Why You Need to Set Your Values as an Athlete
What would your answer be if I were to ask you what your values are within your sport?
Number one, have you ever thought about this before? And if you have, have you taken the time to really sit down and examine what your values are. Then, if you have done that, are you actively applying your values each day you step on the field or court?
Understanding your values will help you in many ways as an athlete. From developing more motivation to managing mistakes, knowing your core values will lead you to be a better player.
And so, in this article, we’re going to get into what values are, how they benefit you as an athlete, and then an exercise you can perform to not only set your values, but apply them to your game.
What are Athletic Values?
What do values mean to you?
To me, a value is something that guides you. It serves as a beacon leading you towards your goals and keeps you on the path you have set for yourself.
I don’t like to think of values as rules, because that makes them seem like things that are enforced by someone outside of ourselves. Rather, values are traits and ways of thinking and acting that we have set for ourselves.
That’s why values are so powerful. We have chosen them. Your values should be chosen by you. My values should be chosen by me. Of course, other people and our environment will influence our values, but when push comes to shove, they need to be of our own making.
So as an athlete, what should your values look like? Here are a few examples of some good athletic values:
- Keep an optimistic attitude.
- Accept mistakes and learn from them.
- Hard work.
- Be a source of positive energy for my team.
- Have confidence.
- Embrace challenges.
- Be grateful to play.
Athletic values involve how you want to think, feel, and behave as a player.
This doesn’t mean how you want to perform from an outcome-based perspective. Instead, when we talk about how you behave as a player, this involves the actions you can voluntarily control during practices and games.
Simply put, athletic values describe how you want to be as a player. They paint the picture. Then, your job is to try and align yourself with your values each day. As you do, there will be many benefits that positively impact your play.
Benefits of Athletic Values
When you focus on your values, you align more with the player you want to be. You will think like that player. You will feel like that player. You will act like that player. Now, are you likely to set values that lead you to be a player who is worse than the player you are now?
I sure hope not!
When you set your values, they should not only make you feel good about yourself, but also work to turn you into the player you want to be. That is one of the major benefits of setting values; they push you to be a better version of yourself each and every day.
Examining values from a sport psychology perspective, here are some specific benefits they will have on you and your game:
In order to set values, you have to understand yourself. You must look within and see what matters to you, and also take an honest account of how you’ve been acting recently and if you’ve been aligning with the values you’ve set.
This practice of paying attention to yourself increases the skill of self-awareness. The reason self-awareness is important to you as an athlete is because it allows you to understand how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking during games.
So, next time you’re upset over a mistake or experiencing anxiety, you will be able to notice it. And noticing it is the first step in changing it.
Managing yourself involves controlling your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. That sounds a lot like values, since values involve characteristics and descriptions of how you want to think, feel, and behave.
So, think about it like this, the more you work to align yourself with your values, the more you are consciously choosing how you want to think, feel, and behave. Through that act of deciding, this is how I want to be, you gain more control over yourself.
For example, if you say that one of your values is having an optimistic outlook, what will you have to try and do when you find yourself behind in a game and getting down on yourself?
At that moment, you will have to work on switching those negative thoughts for a more optimistic perspective.
And the more you actively change what you’re thinking about or how you’re feeling, the easier it will be for you to do so, and the more self-management you will gain.
You Have a Way of Evaluating Yourself
Outcomes are the most obvious way for you as an athlete to judge your play. However, many mental game challenges stem from putting too much attention on results.
For instance, when I work with athletes in one-on-one mental coaching, and they’re struggling with fear of failure, the reason is because they are too focused on the possibility of making a mistake. Put simply, they are thinking too much about the outcome.
But if you don’t think about the outcome and use that as a way to judge your performance, what should you focus on?
Well, there are a few strategies I use, but one that can help a lot is evaluating yourself based on your values. You judge yourself on whether you stuck to your values and had the intent to align with them.
This goes back to the idea of what kind of values you set in the first place. Hopefully you set values that will put you in the best position to perform well.
And if that’s the case, focusing and judging yourself based on your values is the best option because you know they will lead to the outcome you want.
The impact knowing your values has on focus is interesting, because you wouldn’t immediately think that setting values for yourself would result in an increase in focus. But when we dig into it, it makes a lot of sense.
When you lose focus, what happens? Well, your attention drifts onto some kind of distraction. Maybe that’s another person, a fear, or a past mistake. But the bottom line is, you are thinking about something other than what you want to be thinking about.
Now, when you set your values and work to align yourself with them, you must focus on them. Unless you’ve gotten to the point where your values are automatic and natural, you won’t live up to your values unless you focus on them.
So, the way values increase focus is that they provide you with something to center your attention on. Whether it’s a practice or a game, if you want to align with your values, you must focus on them.
How to Set Your Values as an Athlete (And Apply Them)
Setting your values should be a fun exercise. Why? Because you are getting to choose how you want to be as a player. You get to decide what’s important to you.
But what’s even more fun (and important) is applying them on a daily basis.
This exercise is broken down into two parts; first you have to set your values, then you have to put them into practice on a consistent basis.
Choosing Your Values
A simple list is all it takes to come up with your athletic values. But before you make your list, I want you to brainstorm for a bit. As you brainstorm, ask yourself these questions:
- What characteristics matter to you as a player?
- Who is your favorite player to watch? Why? Besides their talent, what do you admire about them?
- How do you want other people to view you as a player?
- How do you want to think and feel while you play?
- If you could describe yourself as a player in a few words, what would they be?
- How do you need to think and act to feel the proudest of yourself?
These questions are good because they help you get to the core of how you want to be. We are taking away outcomes (because of course you want to play well) and looking solely at characteristics and traits you want to develop.
After you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to make your list. Do this on a piece of paper or in your phone so that you can look over the list every day.
Now that you have your values outlined, it’s time to put them into action!
Applying Your Values
Writing your values is great. But you know what’s even better? Applying your values. That’s where this second part of the exercise comes into play.
What you want to do is read over your values every day. This engrains them into your mind and works to instill in you the idea that these values are how you want to be as an athlete. The more you read your list, the more natural it will be for you to align with your values.
Next, you want to focus on applying the values during practices and games. This is simple, but difficult. It takes you actively reminding yourself of what your values are and altering your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to match.
Don’t expect yourself to be perfect with this. It’s the intent that matters most. The more you aim to align with your values, the more control you will build over yourself, and the easier it will be to live your values and become the player you have designed yourself to be.
Knowing your values helps you align your thoughts, feelings, and actions with how you want to be.
As an athlete, it’s important for you to identify what your values are because of the many benefits doing so has on your game. When you know your values, you gain more self-awareness and self-control, a better way of evaluating your game, and a strategy to improve focus.
To decide on your values, use the questions outlined above and make your list. Then, read that list to yourself each day and work to apply your values during practices and games.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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