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Elite athletes have an exceptional ability to rise to the occasion when called upon to perform. Whether it is making that big shot to win the game or making a dazzling pass that scores the winning goal, most coaches want their best player to have the ball when the game is on the line.  But how do they build the confidence, concentration and instincts among their top athletes to pull off such feats time after time?

Champion athletes become the best at what they do because they work hard physically and mentally. They enjoy challenges and are driven to improve not just by winning, but also by thriving under pressure. They have a mindset where nothing is impossible. They have also built mental strategies that over the years have helped them to be able to pull off spectacular sports feats.

Staying positive

When LeBron James gets the ball to make the winning basket, he has no doubt that the ball is going in. Being positive eliminates doubt and gives you confidence you can accomplish your goals. Having a positive outlook also enables you to better cope with stress and anxiety associated with big competitions. As an athlete you want to put everything in your favor and it starts with thinking positively.

Be in the moment

While in competition you need to be in the present moment and concentrate on the task at hand. Focus on the here and the now not on what has happened in the past or will happen in the future. Being present in the moment eliminates over-analyzing, negative thoughts or dwelling on what your competitors are doing.


Your performance can be affected if your intensity is too high or too low. You want to be able to find the appropriate intensity that will best produce and motivate you to do your best. Some athletes prefer to listen to music while others would rather calmly sit while analyzing their game plan – learn what works for you.

Learn from failure

Elite athletes understand that failure is part of learning and a process of development. They take what they do well and implement it within their repertoire while learning from their mistakes. They do not dwell on mistakes but learn from them and move on.

Great athletes are also great students of their sports. To be able to rise to the occasion and perform in clutch moments, they first have to learn the mental strategies to execute for such situations. They are positive, focused on the moment, have the right intensity and know what works well for the pressure-filled settings. Lastly, they enjoy and cherish the big stage, since this is what ultimately elevates good athletes to become championship athletes.

References Available from the SIRC Collection:

1. Heishman M, Bunker L. Use of Mental Preparation Strategies by International Elite Female Lacrosse Players From Five Countries. Sport Psychologist. March 1989;3(1):14-22.

2. Kahrović I, Radenković O, Mavrić F, Murić B. EFFECTS OF THE SELF-TALK STRATEGY IN THE MENTAL TRAINING OF ATHLETES. / EFEKTI SELF-TALK STRATEGIJE U MENTALNOM TRENINGU SPORTISTA. Facta Universitatis: Series Physical Education & Sport. March 2014;12(1):51-58.

3. Mattie P, Munroe-Chandler K. Examining the Relationship Between Mental Toughness and Imagery Use. Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology. April 2012;24(2):144-156.

4. Miller A, Donohue B. The Development and Controlled Evaluation of Athletic Mental Preparation Strategies in High School Distance Runners. Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology. December 2003;15(4):321-334.

5. Taylor J. A Conceptual Model for Integrating Athletes’ Needs and Sport Demands in the Development of Competitive Mental Preparation Strategies. Sport Psychologist. September 1995;9(3):339-357.

6. Weinberg R, Butt J, Culp B. Coaches’ views of mental toughness and how it is built. International Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology. June 2011;9(2):156-172.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.