The Biggest Secret to Sport Success: Playing with HEART
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog”
Athletes (and sport parents) often go to great lengths to find the secrets to sport success. Hitting the weight room, attending camps and clinics, and developing sport psychology mental toughness skills will all help improve athletic performance, but there might be one variable that trumps them all: Simply wanting it more.
“Heart” is the word we use in sports when we see athletes give it all they have, often resulting in sport performances way above what was ever expected. Athletes who play with heart are usually laser-focused, intrinsically motivated, excited about winning, and resilient toward setbacks and failure. In fact, it is an athlete’s heart and determination against the odds that makes for the best sport stories (and lots of Disney movies, too!).
Is having heart an inborn, genetic trait? Or is it something that can be learned? While people will have differing opinions on that question, one thing that we can all agree on is that we all have the ability to play hard and “go for it” when competing. What this means is that we can develop skills to help minimize anxiety and insecurities, thereby allowing us to fully focus on playing as hard as we can and displaying great heart while competing. Of course, individual differences will always be there, making it an unlevel playing field — but we can still get more from ourselves if we try.
If you are a sports parent or coach, try emphasizing the following points when talking to athletes:
- Heart makes up for talent! Often it is the athlete’s will-to-win that allows him to make up the difference when competing against other athletes who are better “on paper.”
- Playing with passion makes sports more fun. When athletes let go of their fears and anxieties and simply compete, only then will the greatest excitement be experienced while competing in sports.
- Helps “get in the zone.” The fastest way for athletes to get in the zone while competing is to fully absorb themselves in the moment and enjoy the spirit of competition.
- It’s a great life skill to develop. Sports provide a primer for life in many ways, including developing the mindset of “going for it” and playing with heart. Often in school, career, and life we need to create the same mindset in order to reach our full potential.