Do you believe?

Do you believe you can be the person you want to be and do the things you want to do in sport and in life? Can you vividly imagine what it will look like, sound like and feel like when you reach your goals? Are you comfortable in that place, or does it still feel uneasy?

I’m asking because whether or not you can actually vividly see and feel yourself having done the things you want to do will make a difference in your success.

The thing is, there are often barriers standing in the way of us truly believing we can be/do whatever we want. Sometimes those barriers are external, and sometimes those barriers are internal. To truly believe in ourselves and our dreams, we have to recognize and tackle those barriers head on. Because I believe we must conquer ourselves before we can conquer the world, we’ll start with the internal barriers.

You can’t take the body anywhere the mind isn’t prepared to go. We must know where our mind is and is not prepared to go. You might be dreaming big dreams, but unless you can comfortably see and feel yourself having accomplished them – standing on the podium or wearing your dream team’s uniform – your own mind might be sabotaging your success.

*For a guided exercise in this area, see “Exercise 1: Identify” at the bottom of this post.

Create and maintain an image of yourself that is expansive. Now that you know where your self-imposed limits are, work to expand them. I love that GUM and other groups like the All-Star Tour are working to get more visibility on the amazing women out there playing ultimate because it absolutely makes it easier to see ourselves doing something if someone else has already done it. But we can’t depend entirely on that external source of validation that says we can. We have to find a way to train our minds to believe we can, whether or not we have a role model. After all, what if someone hasn’t yet done the thing you want to do?

*For a guided exercise in this area, see “Exercise 2: Expand” at the bottom of this post.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. As you start to deliberately expand the self-imposed limits of your mind, your behavior will follow. You’ll find yourself taking calculated risks you may have shied away from before. Know in advance that this will feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. Outside of our comfort zone is where true growth happens. You might be the only person like you (girl, woman, non-binary, gender-fluid, POC, minority, etc.) on the field or in the room, and that might feel uncomfortable. Embrace it. You’re creating change and making progress. The more opportunities you can find for yourself that challenge you, the more progress you’ll make, the more expansive your self-image will become.

Confidence and belief will waver – that’s okay. There will be moments when you take a risk or take on a challenge and you fail – that’s okay. There will be moments when, seemingly out of the blue and for no reason at all, your confidence will falter – that’s okay. We can’t expect to feel confident 100 percent of the time. And in my opinion, we shouldn’t! Life that way would be boring and would likely mean we aren’t challenging ourselves and growing. The bottom line here is that some self-doubt is healthy. It is something to be curious about, analyzed and worked through, not something that should dictate our actions or ambitions.

It’s not just about you. So far I’ve talked entirely about our individual belief in ourselves and how becoming aware of our internal limits and deliberately expanding them can increase our chances of success. But here’s the thing: All of this also applies to teams and groups. Do your teammates believe in themselves? Do you believe in your team? Do you believe in your collective ability to do the things you want to do? Does everyone else? Just as our individual belief influences our individual success, collective belief influences group success. This can apply to any team. This can also apply to any group, like those involved in GUM who are committed to the advancement of girls in ultimate. Just as we have a responsibility to put in the work to improve ourselves, I also argue we have a responsibility to put in the work to improve ourselves for the sake of the group.

Exercise #1 – Identify

Get out a piece of paper or a notebook and try this exercise.

I am going to walk you through an imagery exercise specific to ultimate, but I want to be abundantly clear that this can and should be done for all areas of our lives, especially as women, girls, non-binary and gender-fluid. Read through the whole thing, understand it, then close your eyes and give it a try.

I want you to start by imagining yourself playing at a variety of levels. Start with the level you’re currently most comfortable playing at (this could be high school, city league, club, etc.) and work your way up to your dream level (college, club, USA Ultimate National Team, etc.).

As you perform this exercise, think about specifics at each level: short throws, dump throws, hucks, in cuts, out cuts, dump cuts, setting the stack, cutting from the stack, cutting in the end zone, throwing for scores, calling fouls, etc.

The point is for you to find out how comfortable you are at each level. At what level is your confidence the highest? The lowest? How do you feel emotionally and physically? Where were your images the sharpest, and where did they start to get fuzzy? Where were you dominating the game, and where did you start to make mistakes?

Once you’ve completed the mental exercise, take a few minutes to write down what you’ve discovered. This exercise is designed to help you understand where your mind starts to limit you – a valuable piece of information. Keep in mind, though, that these self-images are not set in stone. In fact, the whole idea behind identifying your current self-image is to break the mold and build a new one.

Dennis Connor said, “You cannot outperform your self-image.” Therefore, we must create and believe in a self-image for ourselves, and our team, that allows us to play at the highest level with utter confidence.

Exercise #2 – Expand

Regularly imagine yourself playing at the level where your current comfort level ends (as discovered above). Pay particular attention to sharpening your images, correcting mistakes in your mind until you execute throws, catches and plays flawlessly and can see yourself dominating at this new level. Once you’ve done that, move to the next level and repeat.

Create multiple future-selves. You probably have at least one dream life laid out in your mind, but here I’m going to encourage you to create at least four or five different “future-selves.” While this activity can help you develop a contingency or back-up plan in case something goes awry with dream life number one, that’s actually not the point. The point is that expanding your mental self-image to include many different possibilities is a lot like expanding your skill set. You could have (or be working toward) the best backhand huck in the world, but practicing your other throws makes you a more well-rounded player and more dangerous opponent. You improve as a player by developing all areas of your game, and you’ll improve as a person by developing self-belief in many different paths.

For more on mental toughness, check out Petra’s full blog: The Ultimate Mindset at performancecolorado.com/blog-ultimate-mindset.