Middle school to high school. High school to college. College to the pros. Taming such transitions is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and just being physically prepared isn’t enough. Your athletes also need to be mentally ready. This doesn’t happen by accident but requires consistent mindset training. In this week’s post, Samuel Upshaw Jr. shares how the Champion’s Mind program helped him make the leap from college competition to professional rugby.
How did you first get interested in mental skills training?
Like most athletes, I’m always looking for a competitive edge. And what separates an amateur athlete from a pro? Mindset. Once I realized this, I started looking for a tool that’d help me learn the techniques and put them into practice. The Champion’s Mind program breaks everything down into digestible chunks and makes it easy to get my daily reps in, just like I do with my physical skills.
When do you feel mindset is most important?
At the end of the game, everyone is out of gas physically. Then it’s all mental. If your mind gives out, then so will your body. Before that, it’s important to stay focused and be in the moment. When you throw a bad pass it’s very easy to dwell on that or to worry about what’s about to happen, but it’s crucial to remain in the present. Everyone’s so focused on getting bigger, stronger, and faster, but when I compete against better athletes, I’m usually able to come out on top because mentally I’m more prepared.
How are you using mental training to help you off the field?
It’s definitely helping me to level myself out emotionally. The breathing and relaxation audios calm me down in the evening. I can also get more reps in mentally through visualization than I can physically. I do what Jim [Afremow] suggests and see, smell, and hear what’s happening on the field. By the time I get to a game, it’s no longer difficult because I feel like I’ve been there already.
The audios also enable me to chill out before combines and tryouts. Listening to a couple of daily sessions helps me keep my composure so I can go out and perform my best when it really matters. With the app, I have the tools to quiet the noise around me. I can’t always impact what’s happening, but I can control what I think and feel. It’s also allowed me to take more responsibility.
Which features in the Champion’s Mind app do you find most useful?
The course provided me with the structure I needed and helped me stay consistent in my mental training. It covers all the bases. I also find the affirmations helpful. If you speak something out loud, you’re most likely to achieve it. There’s a lot of power in the real-life examples in the app too. It made it easy for me to put myself in the shoes of athletes who truly have a Champion’s Mind, which got me closer to developing my own winning mindset.
One of my favorite audios is predator power. I chose a wolf as my predator animal, because it can work in a pack like I do in rugby and hunt alone, like I do in training and in the weight room. A wolf is at its strongest when it’s leading the pack, which encouraged me to really pay attention to the leadership and teamwork module. I listen regularly to the audio about having a hot competitive fire on the inside while being cool and composed on the outside.
Speaking of teamwork, how has daily mindset training made you better in that area?
I used to blame a teammate when he dropped a pass but now understand that I was making the situation worse by acting like that. I have to own what I’m doing and let other people handle their actions. The Champion’s Mind course has made me a better teammate by showing that I have to watch how I act, because people are looking to me as a leader. It’s important to keep positive and stay together when things get hard and to pass the right kind of energy on to my teammates. I’ve become a better listener and am able to adjust to different personalities, because not everyone reacts the same when you’re trying to motivate them or offer advice.
How have mental skills become part of your game day routine?
One of the Champion’s Mind audios encouraged me to write out my whole pre-game routine and dial in my self-talk. When I’m lacing up my cleats, I remind myself that it’s time to fly on the pitch. It’s like flipping a mental switch – I click on and I’m ready to go.
What areas of your mental game are you focusing on right now?
Mental toughness is still the thing I struggle with the most. Going into a game or tryout is like having pre-test anxiety in school. I need to constantly remind myself that I’ve done all the hard work, and now it’s time to prove it. It’s easy to get discouraged when I’m competing against someone who’s naturally a freak athlete and has never had to train hard for a day in his life. But I’ve learned that I have to accept that he’s gifted and play my game. Instead of letting his physicality beat me down, I now use it as fuel to play harder. You can’t hope to win if you’ve already defeated yourself in your head.
There have been times that I’ve felt like quitting and questioned whether I can play at this level. But knowing I have this mental toolbox has helped me stay motivated and keep going. I’ve seen how players who’ve been at the top for six, eight, or 10 years carry themselves, and now I feel like I’m equipped to do the same.
What advice do you have for other athletes about the mental game?
Use an app like Champion’s Mind to be consistent. Always think gold, and never settle for silver. If you don’t want to come in second, you have to prepare like you’re going to finish first. Also realize that a real champion always finds a way to win, no matter what. Mindset training only takes up a small part of your day, but in those few minutes, you can separate yourself from the rest. Mental training is THE game changer in sports performance and life.
Want Your Team to Think, Feel, and Act Like Champions?
Samuel wasn’t born with a Champion’s Mind gene but needed a structured, consistent program to help him develop a winning mindset. All your athletes could do the same with a Champion’s Mind team license. Click here to learn more.
Or if you’re an athlete, unlock the 12-module course, daily audios, and other features Samuel mentioned by upgrading to a Pro account today.
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If you have a Champion’s Mind gold story to tell, please drop us a line, as we’d love to hear about your experiences. If we decide to publish your case study, you’ll win a lifetime Pro license!