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How The Words of Dr. King Can Help Us Improve Our Performance

Mindset Made Simple Tip #79 – Watch or listen HERE.

Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream.

We are all very familiar with his dream. And recent events around our country have reminded us of the need to continue to pursue the dream he so beautifully shared a few short decades ago.

I was not yet born when Dr. King led such transformational change. Like most of you, I read about it in history books and learned about it in school, but it seemed like it was SO long ago!

However, my dear friend, Dr. Patricia Hill brought the struggles to life for me one day in our graduate assistant office at Cleveland State. She and I were preparing to teach our COM 101 Public Speaking. We were reviewing Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and began talking about its importance.

It was that day, 22 years into my life, my whole perspective changed. I went to school in Akron…with people of all colors and creeds. Even so, the Civil Rights movement, segregation and everything that went along with it seemed like distant history.

Until that day!

Pat shared with me stories about visiting her family in Alabama as a child. She was almost twice as old as I was at the time and explained that when traveling to the south as a young girl, she had to drink from a “colored” water fountain and use facilities for “colored” people.

I was stunned…and pissed…and I cried!

How could my friend be subjected to such racism?

How could someone so kind, beautiful and smart be separated out and labeled just because she looked different than whoever was in charge at the time?

This day changed my life. And every year since, I have told this story to someone on this day of remembrance.

Prior to MLK Jr. Day in 1993, I saw this day through the eyes of a young woman who understood history I was taught in school, but had not been directly affected by it.

Since then, I have looked at this day through enlightened and more educated eyes.

Today, I look at this day through the eyes of a mental performance coach and see that Dr. King’s words can help us improve as competitors, and more importantly, as people!

Here are a few thoughts on his words and performance.

“Not everybody can be famous. But everyone can be great, because greatness comes from service.”

One of the best ways to manage pressure is to walk into any situation and ask, “how can I help?”

Pressure is enhanced when we focus on ourselves and the thoughts in our head about what might happen, what might go wrong or what others will think.

When we focus on what we can do to help our team or teammates, our perspective is changed immediately! We take the pressure off or our performance and begin to look for ways to make things better.

The definition of “help” is “to make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one's services or resources.” This moves us from looking at problems to searching for solutions!

How awesome would it be if our players came to practice each day with this attitude?

If they want to be great, Dr. King’s advice is a great place to start!

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

As I read these quotes, I think of those athletes who are not having their “A” game, the ones not playing the role they want to play or those facing injury.

Can you imagine the frustrations Dr. King faced on his journey (let alone the threats on his life that finally came to fruition)?

I am certain that he lost confidence, wanted to quit, and questioned his commitment to the cause in the privacy of his mind.

Although the enemies we face are not nearly as nefarious, we all feel a lack of confidence, a desire to move forward and waiver in our commitment at some point in our athletics journey.

When our athletes are faced with a situation that trips them up, reminding them that they have a choice on how they react is vitally important.

We may not be able to practice all out. We may not be in the starting rotation. We may not feel much excitement for practice or the game today.

But what can we do to move forward?

The first thing we can do is remember that no matter what happens, we can choose our response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next.

The greatest tool we have against anxiety, lack of confidence, negativity and stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. We can train our minds to make the best of what is in front of you, even when it is different or less than we expected.

Instead of focusing on what we CANNOT do, we can choose to focus on what we CAN do. Can’t run, walk. Can’t throw, visualize it. Can’t shoot, work on your footwork.

Even more importantly, instead of telling ourselves what NOT TO DO, we can choose to tell ourselves exactly what we WANT TO DO!

This creates positive pictures in or head replacing those that have us watch ourselves screw up!

There is ALWAYS something we can do. Our brain is with us ALL THE TIME, so we can always work on our skills, our confidence and move ourselves one step closer to our dreams at any time!

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

Our personal history, or experience, shapes us and has a huge influence on how we perceive what is in front of us.

No matter what we have faced in the past, how we frame those experiences affects our ability to perform in the future. Had Dr. King allowed the painful experiences of history to cripple him, our country would look very different today. Although I do not know what he thought, he, like all champions, seemed to allow history to propel him forward.

Again, we have a choice on how we use our past experiences. Will we allow them to taint our future opportunities? “I screwed this up last time, so I am destined to do it again!”

Or will we rescript it, see it how it should be done in our mind’s eye, and watch ourselves as capable, confident and successful?

We all have good experiences to relive. Taking the time to pull those to the forefront of our minds and watching ourselves be great can help remind us that our history made us who we are and since history has a tendency to repeat itself, there is more good to come!

How we choose to see our history will affect our future. Relive the good. Rescript the bad. Perform in with the lessons of both in the present!

Dr. King was an amazing leader, competitor and champion and these words and so many others ring true today for us as performers, teammates, leaders and community members.

We owe a debt of gratitude to him and all of those who fight injustice. For as he said, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!

Have a wonderful week!


P.S. If you find your team on a COVID pause, reach out!

I would love to be part of your quarantine programming and share a few ways they can turn that adversity into an advantage!

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