When the Top Dog is No Longer the Top Dog
Many athletes have difficulty going from being one of the best on their team to a team where they are fighting for a roster spot or playing time.
Transitioning from youth competition to high school, high school to college, or college to the pros can be challenging.
Likewise, some athletes who were stars on their previous team feel intimidated when they try out for a more competitive team or when their team has an influx of talented athletes or recruits.
When you feel you have to prove yourself in a new competitive environment, you can feel your every move is being scrutinized. You become fearful of making that one big mistake that will hurt your chances of earning a spot on the team.
To add to your anxiety, you fear disappointing others, risking embarrassment, or assuming you are not talented.
This negative mindset puts you at a disadvantage, physically and mentally, among the athletes around you.
Turning around your mindset and perspective is crucial to maintain your confidence and motivation–and to maximize your performance.
You can modify your mindset through the following four steps:
- Understanding the situation – A realistic view of your circumstances will help you assess where you stand and what you need to accomplish to achieve your objective.
- Being ready for your opportunity – Let nothing deter you from putting in the necessary work, developing your mental skills, working on your mechanics, and advancing your game.
- Avoiding comparisons – Often, comparing yourself to players in front of you on the depth chart can hurt your confidence. Stay focused on improving your game and competing daily.
- Making the most of your opportunity – When it’s your time, go for it. Don’t hold back!
Philadelphia Eagles undrafted rookie Eli Ricks was always one of the top players on his teams from youth to college. Ricks was a five-star recruit and 2020 All-SEC as a freshman at LSU.
After a year at LSU, Ricks transferred to Alabama, then declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, eventually signing with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent.
Ricks went from being on the top to having to prove himself at the professional level.
RICKS: “This has been a very hard experience for me. I’m usually the first guy called on ever since I played football. Now, it’s totally the opposite. I gotta prove myself to be here. That’s where my focus has been, to shift my mindset.”
Throughout the preseason, Ricks has kept the focus on himself, competing and improving his game.
RICKS: “As an undrafted guy, you have to do a little bit extra to stand out. I feel I’ve done all I could to prove why I should belong (on this team).”
Elite athletes have a steadfast focus on growth. They are not intimidated by talented athletes around them. Instead, they compete whether they are the top dog or fighting to become the top dog.
Proving yourself requires commitment and dedication more than raw talent. To maximize your ability, you want to develop a strong mental game.
You can improve your mindset for sports by:
- Becoming a better team leader.
- Improving mental toughness and patience.
- Working on mental skills that give you a distinct advantage.
- Keeping your goals in mind and staying committed.
Related Sports Psychology Articles
- The Mindset to Perform at the Next Level
- Do You Have the Confidence to Play at the Next Level?
- How Elite Athletes Develop Mental Skills
Download a free sports psychology report to improve your mental game!
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