How to Build Self-Discipline as an Athlete

As an athlete

Competing at a high level takes consistency. You need to be able to perform your best on a consistent basis. And to do so, you need to be disciplined!

Self-discipline will make sure you are consistent. Why? Because in order to be consistent during games, what you actually need to focus on being consistent with is your training and your approach.

Both of which require strong self-discipline!

And so, what I’m going to do in this article is outline what exactly it means to be self-disciplined in sports, why it’s important, and a few steps you can take to build your self-discipline as an athlete.

Self-Discipline in Sports Defined

To me, self-discipline is a habit. Something that is cultivated through hard work and dedication.

Self-discipline means doing and not doing certain things for the sake of improving and reaching a goal. So for you as an athlete, this means doing all that you need to do, on a consistent basis, to help you become the best you can be in your sport.

But not only that…self-discipline also means not doing certain things. You know, those activities you may like to do, but that are actually holding you back from being your best.

Thinking about self-discipline in terms of sports, there are a few key ways it can be applied.

The first is with training. Being self-disciplined means you train as much as you know you should, and even then some. You don’t need a coach, trainer, parent, or anyone else to remind you to train and hold you accountable to work hard.

You do that yourself because you are disciplined.

Another way self-discipline pertains to sports is being disciplined during games in terms of your mindset. Are you good at managing your thoughts before, during, and after a game?

Are you able to keep yourself composed following mistakes or bad calls? Having good control over your mindset takes self-discipline.

A third way self-discipline applies to sports is with your routines. These can be training routines, like I already mentioned. But they also involve your warm-up routine, pregame routines, eating routine, and so on.

You need to be disciplined with your routines, since it is your routines that will lead to consistent outcomes on the field or court.

Why Self-Discipline is Important for Athletes

High level competitors at any sport reach that level, not just because they have extraordinary skills, but also because they do the little things very well and consistently.

One of my favorite videos is one where Derek Jeter was talking about the importance of routines and staying disciplined with his routines.

That’s one of the best short-stops to play the game pointing to something so simple as sticking to routines and being disciplined as a major reason for his success.

Self-discipline allows you to put forth the kind of consistent work required to reach your goals.

When you have strong self-discipline, you will work even on the days where you’re not feeling it. You will compete with focus even on the days when your mind seems to be running all over the place.

That’s why being self-disciplined is so important!

Now, as we take a closer look at what self-discipline leads to, five benefits stick out that will positively impact you as an athlete:

5 Benefits of Strong Self-Discipline:

  1. Creates good habits. Developing good habits is a great way to put yourself on the path to success. With self-discipline, it becomes easier to hold yourself accountable and create good habits.
  2. Helps you focus. The ability to focus during games is crucial! Self-discipline helps you focus on the task at hand and work against any distractions you may be dealing with.
  3. Increases self-confidence. As your self-discipline improves, a new sense of confidence will be felt. This will be due to the pride felt in mastering yourself, and the knowledge you now have. Being able to control your thoughts and emotions gives you confidence that cannot be gotten anywhere else.
  4. Helps to achieve mastery in a skill. To become great at any sport, many hours of practice must be put forth. Such work takes great self-discipline to stick with. It requires you to force yourself to repeat a simple task over and over until a skill is mastered.
  5. Overcomes procrastination. Procrastination is success’ enemy. We often say we’ll do something tomorrow, then tomorrow turns into the next day, and so on. Self-discipline provides you the power to overcome procrastination and do what you know must be done.

By now I hope you understand just how important self-discipline is to your success as an athlete.

So, what can you do if you want to build your self-discipline?

Luckily, self-discipline can be developed. Even if right now you feel like you struggle a lot with being disciplined.

Here are four steps you can take to begin practicing and increasing your self-discipline today!

4 Steps to Develop Self-Discipline in Sports

Step #1: Find Your Motivation

Before you begin to work on self-discipline, there has to be motivation. This is what will push you through the tough times and keep you focused.

Motivation is what drives us to set goals, face challenges, and perform the necessary hard work. So, we must decide what our motivation is for wanting to develop stronger self-discipline.

For me, I was initially driven by the desire to become a better baseball player. I decided during my freshman year of high school that baseball was the sport for me.

To become a better player, I needed to get stronger, faster, and refine my skills. The time needed to be put into each area, which required immense amounts of self-discipline.

After school, I began weight training and then going to the baseball field to work on my skills. Over time, I became incredibly disciplined with my work-ethic. This was carried throughout my college years, and I continue to implement such focus and discipline in my life today.

Through my experience, I learned how important motivation is to self-discipline. If we have a reason to hold ourselves accountable then we will take the steps necessary. Then, through repetition, the self-discipline will become habitual and natural.

Motivation can be extrinsic or intrinsic.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is when you are driven by external desires and goals.

When you’re motivated extrinsically, you usually seek rewards or look to avoid punishment. Either way, the reason for performing an action is due to something outside of yourself.

Some examples include:

  • Playing a sport to receive accolades.
  • Training hard to win a championship.
  • Practicing every day to get a scholarship.
  • Playing your sport to make your parents happy.
  • Working hard during practice so you don’t get yelled at.
  • Weightlifting because your coach requires you to.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the opposite of extrinsic. Working towards a goal or achievement is driven completely by internal desires.

If you display this motivation type, then the activity itself is the source of joy and fulfillment.

Rather than being motivated by an award or to avoid punishment, being able to perform the task is motivation enough.

Think about those players who love to train, even if they’re not being forced to (maybe this is even you). That is clear intrinsic motivation at work.

Here are some examples of intrinsic motivation:

  • Playing a sport because you find it enjoyable and fun.
  • Weightlifting and exercising to get stronger for yourself.
  • Hustling in practice because of your passion for the game.
  • Staying after a game to practice because you love the feeling of working hard.
  • Playing your sport because the act brings you joy.
  • Studying film because you love to learn.

This is the first step towards developing incredibly strong self-discipline. You must first determine the motivation behind wanting to build it in the first place.

Step #2: Take Small Steps

The second aspect of building strong self-discipline as an athlete is to begin taking small steps.

Do you remember in the previous section where I mentioned my experience with self-discipline? It was in high school when I really began to develop the habit. Well, it wasn’t something that happened all at once.

Over the course of months and years, I began to be more and more disciplined. It is something that I continue to work on today. The key behind it, though, is small steps over a long time period.

Our brains love habits and routines. This is both good and bad.

It is good because it means that we can program our brain into a new routine and stick with it. But bad if we are stuck in a negative habit.

With self-discipline, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. If you do, then it will likely lead to failure and frustration. That is where small steps come into play.

You can also think of this as setting little goals for yourself. By doing this, over time you will become more and more self-disciplined. And the more you become disciplined, the more your motivation rises to keep progressing.

Step #3: Keep a Discomfort Journal

The third step in developing self-discipline is all about holding yourself accountable.

I’m sure you have heard people say that the first step towards progress is outside of our comfort zone. It really is the truth.

Building self-discipline is no different. It requires you to continually test yourself, pushing ever further outside what is comfortable.

But this is very difficult to do. Your mind wants to keep you safe, and the work that needs to be done can be perceived as dangerous. All kinds of excuses and reasoning will go on in your head.

To curb this, and make sure you are taking the steps towards building self-discipline, a journal can be kept.

Not just any journal, but a discomfort journal!

What is a Discomfort Journal?

Basically, this is going to be a journal you keep every night or week, depending on your schedule. In it, you will write down what you did that pushed you out of your comfort zone. This can be training when you didn’t want to, working on a new skill, running, or anything else.

By forcing yourself to perform certain activities, you will be developing your self-discipline. And the discomfort journal just helps you to hold yourself accountable.

The reason it is important to do things that make you uncomfortable is due to the discipline it takes to perform them.

Keeping yourself a journal to track progress is a great way to ensure that you are pushing yourself each and every day. Slowly building up that self-discipline.

Step #4: Practice Saying NO!

No is a very underused word.

We often feel guilty about telling others no, and we seldom tell ourselves no enough.

However, if you wish to build truly incredible self-discipline as an athlete, then no must become a frequently used word in your vocabulary.

When thinking about saying no in terms of building self-discipline, there are two facets. Saying no to others and saying no to yourself.

Saying No to Others

Constantly saying yes to people can drain us. It can become a time-waster, and often we say yes just out of the fear of saying no.

Through practicing saying no to others you do yourself a huge favor.

More time can be spent on your own training, dreams, and goals.

As you become more disciplined in saying no, you will begin to only do the things that line up with your ideals and goals.

No more time will be wasted doing things that you do not want to do, just because you felt like saying yes was the only option.

Saying No to Yourself

There are many distractions that can present themselves to us on a daily basis.

One of the toughest things to do is say no to ourselves. Especially when it is saying no to something pleasurable in favor of something we need to do (like running or lifting instead of hanging out with friends).

However, if you want to build self-discipline and be the best player you can be, then it is a habit you must adopt.

Do you want to eat healthier? You must say no to junk food. Do you want to train more? You must say no to watching tv after school or practice. Do you want to become more productive? You must say no to procrastination.

No is a powerful word that is incredible in working towards a goal. Begin saying no to yourself daily and you will see your self-discipline rise.

Final Thoughts

Better self-discipline is something all athletes should strive to build.

It will lead to more consistency and more success in your sport. You will find it easier to create new habits and focus. Self-confidence will grow. Skills can be mastered much easier, and procrastination overcome.

By following the four steps outlined above, I know you can begin building incredible discipline in yourself as an athlete.

Now, if you’re interested in a more in-depth and personalized approach to building your self-discipline and strengthening your mental game, then you need one-on-one mental coaching.

With mental coaching, I’ll work directly with you on understanding your current mindset (both your strengths and challenges), and then create an action plan to build positive mental skills that will lead to increased success for you on the field or court.

To learn more about how you can get started with mental training, please fill out the form below, or schedule a free introductory coaching call.

I hope you found this article helpful, and please reach out to me with any questions you have regarding self-discipline or any sports psychology-related topics. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

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.

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It’s time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

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Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you’re meant to be!