Your Most Difficult Opponent

Mar 24, 2023

Developing a pre-match/pre-game/pre-competition mindset is a helpful way to deal with a difficult opponent or team we may soon be facing. There is however one opponent or "Bogey player" that requires extra effort and energy to take command.  That opponent is a particularly crafty individual; the one in our own mind. Ourselves!

Why is that? Our brains are wired like airport TSA checkpoints, always on high alert and searching for potential threats. As a result, we’ll start to magnify by 4X the impact of “Negative” events. Making one mistake may not get our attention, but making an error twice in a row or at a "Big" moment surely will.  We then may tense up and start calling ourselves some very unkind names. Even when we are winning, that negative voice can sometimes creep in, causing us to doubt ourselves especially if we lose a few points or games in a row, miss a few shots, or start falling behind the other team.

And because our brains are often on high alert, we may now more easily get distracted by things that are outside our control (think of that “Bad” ref call or a coach yelling) or even have little to do with our sport. 

So what can we do to turn that critical, judging, fragile mind into one that is more kind, focused, calm, and confident?

Try these three strategies:

      1.   Ask Motivational Questions

Many people enjoy motivational quotes to help fire them up, but I find motivational questions much more powerful with longer lasting impact. Questions shape our focus both inside and out, allowing us to take command of our attention point. Like a laser beam we can Re-Focus our mind to a much more helpful place. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Great minds ask great questions.”  Here are a few great motivational questions to ask yourself before you even step on the field or court:

What am I most inspired by?

What am I most happy about?

What am I most proud of?

What am I most grateful for in my life?

What do I feel most excited about right now?

What did I just do well in that last race/game/match/tournament/competition?

      2. Taking in the Good

In a similar theme to the motivational questions, another way to change our inner mental landscape to something more helpful is to notice the good.

How to do this:

Spend a few minutes listing three good things in your life that have happened in the last 24 hours. To take it a step further, list three good things that have happened in your squash game/play in the past week. As you read back the list and look at what you jotted down, notice the feelings generated in your body from each one of those good things. Give each experience a title and write a phrase or two about what happened. Allow those good things to wash over you like a soothing hot shower before you take the court/field.


  1. Feeling Your Circle of Caring Support

Spend a minute taking a few deep breaths making sure to feel the sensations of the breath as you breathe it in and as you breathe it out. Now start letting your mind dwell on all of the caring supportive people in your life, from family and friends to your coaches, teachers, and other relatives who have helped you and supported your sports journey.  Feel free to include your pets too if they’ve helped bring some joy to your life!

Use any or all of these practices before you step on the court/field.  As you start to make these practices a regular part of your mental training, you will begin to build a more optimistic, resilient and confident mindset able to often overcome that negativity bias.

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