Locus of Control: An Athlete’s Guide to Shifting Focus to What They can Control

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by Jonathan Mahoney, LCSW
Mundelein High School
Social Worker
Assistant Girls’ Track and Field Coach

Success, after all, is in the attempt, not necessarily in the outcome. It’s in putting yourself in the position where you might fail. The only failures are those who won’t try. Barry Temkin, former Chicago Sun-Times Writer

Congratulations! If you are reading this piece, that means you have taken a step. You have chosen to put yourself out there and join a team. More than likely, you are going to attempt to do something you have never done. While this is exciting, it can also be pretty stressful. You may feel unsure of yourself and your abilities. You may question whether or not you are “good” enough. Perhaps you are experiencing expectations from family, friends, or others in your life.

In addition to expectations and stress relating to this team and the season ahead, there is a strong possibility you are dealing with demands from others in your life. Challenging academic work, long days, relationship drama, family stress… the list of what you deal with each day is long. Many teachers, family members, and friends approach you as though their class or issue should be your priority. You have a long list of people each day who can’t wait to tell you what to do and what is important. All that occurs every day, before you even show up to practice.

With all of these demands, it can be easy to become overwhelmed. To feel like you aren’t doing enough, like you’re not good enough. The challenge is to change that view. To hone in on what aspects of your life you can control and influence those aspects in the best way possible. For instance, perhaps you struggle in a certain class. You receive a poor grade on the first test and are now feeling defeated and unsure what to do. At this point, you can just do what you always do, or you can reexamine your study habits, use resources, meet with the teacher regularly, etc. This is a guaranteed way to change your grade, but it is also an example of controlling where you put your effort. If you have used your resources and put forth your best effort… what more could anyone truly ask of you?

This change in focusing on what you can control relates to the idea of “Locus of Control.” This is a concept from psychology which highlights the degree to which an individual believes they can influence their current situation. Those with a more External locus of control tend to believe that they can’t control much of their lives or what happens to them. Those with a more Internal locus of control tend to believe that they can effect change in their lives. Identifying areas of your life that you can actually influence and then work on ways in which you can begin to bring about positive change in those areas can have a significant effect on your life over time.. In short, developing and strengthening your Internal Locus of Control can have a positive effect on multiple aspects of your life.

Think of this season in the same way. There may be times where you are feeling strong and improving at an excellent rate. There may be other times where you are struggling, plateauing. At times like these, the initial reaction may be to do twice as much… or to give up. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Am I resting and recovering enough? Am I injured? Am I eating enough? Sometimes taking a step back and controlling the pieces you can, in a positive way, is all you can do. This can be helpful in competitions as well. Instead of approaching a race thinking, “That girl looks way faster than me,” try thinking, “I’ve prepared for this. I’m ready to go and I’m excited to see improvement!” That’s the shift. It’s about you. Your lane.

Please know, throughout this season, your best is always going to be enough. Your true best effort will always fit with this team. The goal for each season is to put forth the best effort you have to perform better than you ever have. That performance may earn a state medal, it may be last place at a JV meet. The effort is what will always be honored and appreciated.

Do stuff.

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