I have always been a good teammate: constantly encouraging my team, picking them up after bad plays, and being the “second coach” on the court. However, I have always been hard on myself: never satisfied, demanding more out of me than any coach, and criticizing myself after every mistake. After being presented with this simple question, my whole perspective flipped: “Do you talk to yourself like you talk to your teammates?”
My freshman year, our basketball team earned a spot in the sectional semifinals against our local rival, Neenah. Lacking playoff experience, I was flustered by the incessant cheering of Neenah fans. Every mistake I made led to an uproar in the stands. Quit turning the ball over. You don’t belong out here, occupied my thoughts. My teammates and I were unable to bounce back from our previous mistakes, ending our season with a heartbreaking loss. Walking off the court, I was barely able to see the red jerseys celebrating through the heavy tears running down my face. Due to the lack of self-talk, I was not mentally tough and let the atmosphere overcome my training, despite our team being more skilled than Neenah.
One year later in the same round of playoffs, we faced off against Eau Claire Memorial. If people were betting in Vegas, we would have been double digit underdogs. The low point in the game occurred in the second half when the scoreboard lights glared down a fifteen point deficit. Everything was going against us, and frustration levels among my teammates climbed. I kept self talk positive, using phrases such as “Next play” and “Shake it off” to overcome mistakes. Eau Claire Memorial mentally shut down when we began to make our comeback. Their captains started yelling at each other, heads dropped, and the tension spilled over onto the court. Their coach called a timeout with five minutes left to try and stop the bleeding, but in the players’ minds, the game was already lost. The difference in the game was my team's positive self-talk, which helped us secure a spot in the finals.
Ever since my freshman year, my cross country and basketball coach introduced my team and me to mental skills training. It consisted of finding perspective, visualizing success, and practicing positive self-talk. Initially, these concepts didn’t resonate with me; they seemed cheesy and abstract. Eventually, I gave this training a chance. In the state cross country meet my sophomore year, I hit a wall at mile two. I was struggling in the desolate back stretch of the course when negative thoughts began to creep inside my head. I recalled our mental skills and used positive self talk to power me to the finish line. Our team finished third overall. Without the mental skills training, I am not sure we would have even qualified for state.
During my junior and senior seasons, my basketball team won the state tournament. We faced adversity many times, but relied on our positive self talk to get us through those tough games. My team and I completely bought into the power of mental training, and it played a large role in our success during those seasons. I believe that positive self talk has a meaningful effect in high pressure situations on and off the basketball court. By practicing these skills, I am much better prepared to handle stressful life situations in the future.
- Kari Brekke
About the Author: Kari Brekke is a native from Appleton, Wisconsin. She attended Appleton North High School and then went on to play Division 1 basketball at the University of New Hampshire. After her first season she transferred to Bentley University. Last season she earned third-team All-Northeast-10 honors after averaging 12 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists ... was second on team in both scoring and assists ... led the Falcons in minutes played (32.8), steals (36) and three-pointers (48)
Kari is extremely passionate about mental training and because of this she has joined our team of Mentors in our Rising STARS Program. Kari is currently available for all High School Athletes looking to work on the Mental side of their game. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org