Every athlete plays the “What if?” game.
It’s one thing to ask “What if I won that game?” But it’s another thing to ask “What if I didn’t let fear hold me back?”
I remember when I first did this when I was 8 years old playing hockey. I was in the dressing room, putting on my Stoney Creek Stars jersey, while my coach was creating a list of players who wanted to play goalie.
Growing up a Leafs fan, I adored Curtis Joseph and Felix Potvin. I always wanted to play goalie and I wanted to put my name forward.
But I was scared. So I said I didn’t want to. What if I decided to play goalie?
Looking back at it, I let fear hold me back from doing what I wanted.
The fear of losing.
The fear of not being as good as others.
The fear of embarrassing myself in the net.
All this fear held me back from doing what I wanted.
This wasn’t the only time I let fear and doubt influence my action.
In high-school, I tried out for the football team and made it. Our coach told me that I would get to play on both sides of the ball – offence and defence. I was pumped.
But I broke my hand, missed most of the season, and sat on the sidelines for all practices and games. Before I knew it, fear and doubt crept back into my head.
Having been out for so long I lost my confidence to make plays and I was no longer aggressive on the field. For the rest of my high-school years, I didn’t play again, because I was scared of getting re-injured.
It was another situation that I envisioned myself enjoying and thriving in, but I let fear hold me back and I never pulled the trigger on playing again.
Situations like these quickly became a pattern. And patterns quickly become habits.
I felt deja-vu from my experience in high-school when I went to try out for the Canadian Bobsleigh Program. I was coming off another major injury (torn pectoral muscle), and felt fear creeping in that I wouldn’t be able to perform at my best.
I went to the tryouts, but never actually tried out – I sat on the sidelines, refusing to pull the trigger and jump in. I used my injury as an excuse to cover up my lack of confidence, and lost out on another opportunity that I look back on and think, what could have been if I didn’t let fear hold me back?
It wasn’t until I transitioned to tennis that I experienced a shift in my mindset.
There was no longer room for fear. In team sports, I hid behind others or used injuries as an excuse. Now I had nobody to hide behind, and no injury to use as an excuse.
Fear stood in front of me, and I had no choice but to attack it.
There was one pivotal moment that changed everything for me. I had been taking tennis lessons, and playing great, but still struggling during matches. Even though I took risks and ‘went for it’ in practice, I couldn’t fully transition that mindset to a match – fear was holding me back.
Fortunately, my coach and I worked on a system where we kept track of how aggressive I was playing. The result of the match was no longer my main focus, and, in fact, he said to me:
“I give you permission to lose. You have to learn to accept losing. Taking risks doesn’t always work out, but it’s in those losses where you get comfortable taking the risks. Eventually, those risks will pay off, and you’ll be hitting your goals.”
It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulder – and he was right. I took more risks. I made more mistakes. I learned a lot. And eventually, those mistakes dwindled. I kept learning.
For the first time, the relationship between mistakes and growth had formed.
The ‘old me’ didn’t want to take risks, because I might screw up and lose the match. The ‘new me’ embraced mistakes, because it gave me another opportunity to reflect and grow.
Everything from that moment on felt so much easier.
I finally started to play without fear and, consequently, started performing to my full capabilities. Getting to this state consistently brought me back to the fun and enjoyment in sports again.
At this time, my interest in Mental Performance Coaching had really grown. I connected with CEP Mindset and started to develop my alter-ego, a solid reset routine, and a thorough reflection process. These fundamental skills allowed me to continue to play competitively, push myself to another level, and be able to achieve consistent elite performance.
And now, my passion is to teach athletes the same lessons I learned. I believe sports is an amazing vehicle for people to grow. The mental skills that help us stay focused, make great shots on the tennis court, and bounce back from an injury are the same skills that help us succeed in all areas of life.