For athletes, a bad attitude in sports is like a flat tire. We all experience tough times, bad days and obstacles as human beings. But having the right attitude can make adversity just a little easier to overcome. These tough circumstances are sometimes out of our control but our attitude is something that can be controlled. It’s unrealistic for an athlete to expect a world-class performance every time they compete. But always having a positive attitude in sports and giving a good effort can take an athlete a far way in sports and in life. It is this that shapes the narrative of Tim Duffy.

Tim, a 45-year-old triathlete, who only started doing the rigorous and demanding triathlon four years ago at the age of 41. Tim, who can be seen as not having the optimal body type and too old to get into the sport has accomplished 4 half ironmans and 1 full ironman race, each race faster than the last.

The half ironman consists of a 1.2-mile open water swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run. Where the full ironman doubles those distances in each discipline.

His very entrance into the sport was connected to positive thinking. After deciding to become a triathlete primarily to get in shape, Tim joined the Salt Lake Triathlon club then met coach Rory Duckworth, who has a mindset that anyone can become successful at the sport as long as they followed the plan and be consistent with their efforts. This was big for Tim, who had to overcome struggles with health issues at the start of his career. Most athletes are not aware of how much their thoughts and attitude in sports, negative or positive, influence their performance. Negative thoughts or attitudes creates increased stress and anxiety, eventually resulting in poor performance.

A Change of Mindset

Like so many other athletes, a positive attitude or thoughts do the opposite for Tim, who always has a smile on his face regardless of the situation he is in.

“It started when I quit triathlon a couple years ago. I had some high expectations but had a miserable race at Ocean Side in 2012. I had a bad race and got discouraged and just wasn’t happy being out there anymore.”

“But I started missing competing when I watched my daughter do a couple half ironmans, I just made a decision that I’m doing it because I love to do it so I might as well have fun while I’m out there.”

In Tim’s first half ironman he expected that going down to sea level at Ocean Side would make for an even better showing. When it didn’t happen Tim struggled with the letdown. But a change in mindset and attitude has allowed Tim to much better cope with disappointments.

“These days when it gets hard I just smile – get some endorphins out of it. When you hit that run coming off of the bike with legs that don’t seem to have much strength in them, it’s a grind and if you’re not there mentally it’s an awful experience but if you tell yourself that this is where I want to be and this is what I want to do then it becomes a lot easier.”

At Mental Grit, we talk about how simply telling yourself that what you are doing is easy and fun does not work because we simply can’t believe it. However, as an exercise, our athletes work to acknowledge they are doing a hard thing and then create messaging in their minds that they can do hard things.

Another indication of Tim’s glass attitude in sports is being encouraged by the similar struggles of others around him.

“When you start getting weary and you putting out the same effort but the results aren’t as good, it’s discouraging. But my mindset is that other people are going through the same thing I am so I press on,” said Tim, who also took inspiration from his friends in college as well, which he says laid the foundation for his positive mindset.

“When you put in the work sometimes the results is not going to be what you like but as long as I’m putting in a consistent effort that I’m capable of then I’m happy.”

“It’s the same for my friends in med school, it’s a step by step process and you kind of have to gut it out when it’s not fun, knowing that you’re chipping away at a long term goal. It’s the same thing just that theirs is a multi-year goal.”

 The Benefits of Positive Thinking and Having a Positive Attitude in Sports

Having a mental skills coach or practicing mental training for sports can increase effective thinking and help an athlete regain focus after mistakes, build confidence and keep their head in the game. Although the association between positive thinking and performance has not been scientifically proven, researchers have identified a  consistent positive effect of positive thinking on sports performance. One of the proposed reasons for this effect involves self-confidence and positive thinking leading to enhanced confidence, which, in turn, assists skill execution and performance.

Choosing and maintaining a performance attitude is a key mental skill and is frequently employed by mental skills coaches and sports psychologists during training with athletes. These methods aim to help athletes develop an optimistic mindset and routine that helps them to extract the positive from potentially negative experiences such as failures, errors or injuries. This will ultimately allow athletes to view themselves as having more control over even the worst eventuality, helping them make a more favorable appraisal of the situation and their ability to cope with it.

The right attitude and positive thinking are necessary mental skills for performing well in sports. These skills are learned and can be improved through instruction and practice. Need help developing a positive attitude? Let us know and our team will help you!