Find the Winning Edge: Believe You Are a Champion

A strong mind can make all of the difference between athletic success and failure.

Everyone loves a champion. We stare at their pictures, watch their interviews, and watch them training, running, and hitting pads. We dream about accomplishing what they have, and for some people, there is a real possibility that it can happen. But they have to train like champions, and more importantly, they have to think like champions.

When the skill level is as close as it is in organizations like the UFC, the mental edge can make all of the difference. Athletes like Conor McGregor appear to be born with that endless confidence. But McGregor’s coach, John Cavanagh, strongly recommends increasing the mental edge with the help of sports psychology. It’s easy to see that for Conor, the mind work has been well worth it.

The Mind Shapes How the Body Performs

We are fortunate at Renzo Gracie Halifax to have sports performance coach Danny Patterson to help us work on the mental aspect of our game. He began assisting our team members when he noticed the gap between their performance during training and their performance during competition. Danny’s focus is on how the mind can shape how the body performs.

A former powerlifting and strongman competitor, Patterson has been training Brazilian jiu jitsu for three and a half years now. His education and experience in social work and mental health made him the perfect candidate to help us take our games to the next level. In our recent interview, he described his background.

“I got my masters in social work about seven years ago. Since I graduated, the focus of my entire practice has been mental health and addictions. I’ve worked for the Department of Justice for the last five years and I’ve worked for Capital Health community mental health and addictions. So working with people day to day, helping them improve their mental health or addictions. I also became a certified life coach, did a lot of mindfulness training, and trained in logosynthesis.”

Are Your Limiting Beliefs Holding You Back?

Patterson has a developed a process to help clients accomplish their goals. The belief system is where it all begins. Question number one is, “Do you believe in yourself?” He explained typical client reactions:

“People are generally pretty honest. They say, “Yeah, I feel confident in this and that, but I don’t know if I believe in myself to this ability.” The reason I do that is because I want to uncover where the limiting belief is coming from. The sooner we get to where those limiting beliefs are, the sooner we can remove them because they’re often based on perception, not on fact.”

Identify Your Internal Motivation

Once a client has identified his or her limiting belief, Patterson focuses on the reason for their session – what the person wants out of life, whether it is a championship belt, a dream job, or success in relationships. Danny calls this their “desire statement.” Equally important is why the clients want what they want: their “reward statement.” He believes that people who work towards goals that are truly important to them are much more likely to succeed than those who work towards a goal because it is what someone else wants for them. Patterson explained,

“Let’s say you came in and you said, “Well I want to become a doctor because it’s what my parents always wanted for me.” Well, unfortunately when I’m externally motivated to do something, I’m never going to be able to achieve it with the greatest amount of performance and effort as when something is internally motivated.”

Consistent and Planned Effort Yields Results

Writing out desire and reward statements increases focus. Clients can then move forward to the next step: the action plan. The action plan allows clients to emphasize strengths and improve weaknesses. Danny said,

“For a lot of people, sitting down and creating that action plan might be the first time in their life they’ve actually said, “I want to achieve this goal, I’m struggling with it, and I’m writing out the action plan step by step.” We have certain ways of looking at short-term versus long-term goals and what the steps are that are needed. For them it can be almost like an eye opening experience. They’re like, “Wow, I can really achieve this goal, but this is what I need to do.”

Patterson cautioned that creating an action plan is nothing without consistent, resilient action. He said,

“You have to be consistent once you formulate what your goal is and the action plan that you need to get there. If you’re climbing a mountain, it’s going to be filled with a lot of peaks and valleys, so you have to be very resilient. You have to understand and accept the fact that sometimes there are going to be setbacks, but you have to keep going.”

Manage Variables Through Visualization

Patterson guides his clients with in-depth visualization techniques. The goal is to ensure the person feels comfortable and confident as they approach their goal.

“Visualization, to me, is the day leading up to an event. You know, maybe the weigh-ins or the walk out. What do you hear, what do you smell? What do you feel? How do the shorts feel on you? All of those things. The more you can do that day to day, in terms of visualization, the more you are building that into your success history search where you start to feel and visualize. The more you can feel or visualize, the more you can become that experience.”

No one can guarantee success on the day of the event. There are too many variables. Patterson prepares his clients by using a technique called radical acceptance, which focuses more on the process than the outcome. He explained,

“If I’m working with someone and they’ve already accepted their next mixed martial arts match, they should be prepared to go and get knocked out as well as being prepared to knock someone out. Then all they focus on is the process, their plan, what they need to do.”

Patterson’s guidance has led to great success for many professional athletes, notably Bellator Fighter “The Proper” Mike Malott, who trains with Team Alpha Male. Mike began using Danny’s services while he trained with us here at Renzo Gracie Halifax, and continues meeting with Danny regularly via Skype.

Identify and Fill Gaps in Your Mental Game

To see my full interview with Danny, check out the video. If you need help strengthening your own mental muscles, heed Patterson’s advice:

  1. Evaluate your belief system. Do you really believe you can accomplish your goal? Do you deserve it?
  2. Identify who you are doing it for. Is it something that is truly important to you, or are you doing it for someone else?
  3. Identify what has to be done to achieve your goal and break it down into surmountable steps.
  4. Use consistent, resilient action to keep moving forward. Visualize success every step of the way.

If you’re having trouble, seek the assistance of a sports performance professional to identify and fill the holes in your game. Remember, if it is important to you, you can’t let small setbacks get you down. Someone has to do it. Why not you?

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