Compete with a 'nothing to lose' attitude

There is so much pressure to win that athletes do not want to ruin their chances and opportunity for success. Athletes who only view competition in terms of “win or fail” are ultimately setting themselves up for long term disappointment in sports and life. This is a common problem in sports today, from pressure put on youth athletes all the way up to professionals. 


Athletes usually hold back in competition because they are afraid of making a mistake. We are afraid to make a mistake because we are afraid to fail. 


Being afraid to make a mistake has paralyzed so many athletes mentally that the majority of athletes “wish they did more” after the opportunity passes them by. The problem compounds as athletes never learn how to break their state of mind and end up giving into the same habits, thoughts and actions during the next competition, falling further into a negative tailspin of performance paralysis. This regret comes from not giving your all, not so much wishing you won. I want to repeat this: The regret is that you did not give your all, not that you didn’t win!

We hear a lot about controlling your effort, but athletes need to take calculated risks as well. There is a saying ‘fortune favors the bold’ for a reason. A bold person has courage, takes risks, and isn’t afraid of the outcome. If you can learn to accept the outcome before competition, you can now remove the mental obstacle that is holding you back and compete with courage. A great example of courage is taking a risk without guarantee it will work, but believing it will!

When analyzing athletes who performed at their truest potential, reaching heights they have never achieved before, there is usually a common theme. They all said “I felt like I had nothing to lose”. So let’s let’s break this down in a logical sense:

What exactly do you have to lose?

The result?, The competition?, first place?, advancing?, ....Out of all those things none of them are guaranteed. We are not guaranteed anything in competition other than the opportunity to execute our technical skills with a level of effort we control. There are no points on the board for being higher ranked, seeded, older or more experienced. 

This is what people mean when they say “it’s all mental”. We create guarantees in our head, expected results based on rankings or potential talent but don’t realize that athletic performance isn’t guaranteed.  Additionally, our minds will always try to play tricks on us, and look for the easiest way out giving into our flight response. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing is set, no one is lucky enough to never feel doubt or nerves. Some people handle them better than others. Champion athletes train these areas and are less likely to fall into the traps and compete to win instead of competing not to lose. 

Sharp Tip: The easiest way to knockout the doubt is to do what you fear the most. If you are afraid to make mistake, the only way to prove your negative mind wrong is to attack that routine or technique as if it is going to work! 

Here is a quick exercise and tips to implement into your game when feeling the pressure, or fear making a mistake or failing in competition.


  1. Write down what you feel you have to lose. 
  2. Then ask if it is guaranteed (putting a Yes or No next to each statement).
  3. Write down what you have to gain by competing to win.
  4. List the most important action you must take to squash the doubt that is holding you back..
  5. Make a promise to your closest teammate that you are going to compete to win and give it your best! Athletes who give their all have no regrets. Studies show athletes who write down goals, and make a promise to a teammate are much more likely to hit their target!

Remember you have nothing to lose because expectations are not points on the board!

We wish you the best on your athletic journey, and always remember to stay sharp!

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