PHOTO BY John Strohsacker

Learn from the pros. Players from the WPLL, PLL, MLL and UWLX all embody a mantra to boost confidence.

Murray: Mantras, Mindfulness and Mastering Your Mentality

Self-Talk The Talk

“Talk to yourself. Don’t listen to yourself.”

I don’t recall exactly when I first heard this saying, but whenever it was, I wish I had come across it sooner.

That's because growing up, I remember a different side to mental toughness – a side that was all about not giving in to fear, doubt or weakness, not showing vulnerability, not cracking under the pressure.

It wasn’t about working hard to become the best. It was about working hard enough so that you wouldn’t lose your spot, your opportunity, your funding – that you were lucky to have in the first place. This was especially the case for female athletes.

With so much heart, energy and brain power spent trying to "not fail," what did we really learn about building toward success? More importantly, what did we miss? 

In moments of conflict or uncertainty, we can be our own worst enemy, quick to call out flaws and reasons why not: 

  • "I’m tired."

  • "I’m not good enough."

  • "I’ll never get there."

It can be tempting to give in to the doubts and the doubters – to let them win, to be so clouded by the weight of the challenge you can’t see the solutions. 

Or, we can also be our own best advocate for success and champion of growth:

  • "I’ve got this."

  • "Nobody is more prepared than I am."

  • "I will get better today. Watch me."  

This idea of talking to yourself, knowing that you are capable of taking empowered action to steer the ship and drive your own success?

Now that’s powerful. 

Because it’s so personally driven, positive self-talk isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.

In my time at Northwestern, our coaches stressed the value of developing mental strength equally to if not more so than physical fitness. From guided meditation sessions to team book assignments to goal-setting journals, they regularly provided us with new opportunities to flex our mental muscle to grow as a team and as individuals, both on and off the field. 

As with anything else, you get out what you put in. 

So in my junior year, when the coaches first tasked us with creating our own personal mantras, I was off to the races in a caption contest party of one. I wrote an exhaustive list of pithy phrases and affirmations that I believed captured the essence of my mentality and would unlock the gates to my untapped potential. I was so eager to test out my favorites the following day at practice, and rotated through the shortlist only to find that not a single option felt right. 

What else to do but return to the drawing board, this time with a different approach. 

I spent our next few training sessions noting moments of the day when I felt like I wasn’t performing at my best. Like in a set of six 300s, when I coasted on the fourth run to catch my breath so I could finish fast on the last two, or the minute I was thinking about an exam during an explanation of a drill and ended up wasting the first repetition for myself and my teammates for a careless error. Even when I tweaked my herniated disc in a drill and spent the next few plays shying away from contact. And again in post-practice recovery, when the risk of reinjury made me question the strength and stability I just spent months rebuilding. 

When I returned to my mantra project, I had a better understanding of the outcome I was looking to achieve. I needed something that could ground me in the moment and refocus my full attention and effort to the present.

“One at a time.”

It was simple, but it worked for me. I could activate it whenever I needed it. On the line before a laundry list of sprints? One at a time. Looking ahead to days of exhausting and sometimes painful physical therapy sessions? One at a time. At first I had to train myself – identify the need, give the cue, receive the cue, react. Over time, what once felt very manufactured became natural. I was calmer in high-pressure situations. My fitness times improved. I was lighter. 

A few months later when we entered the season, it became clear to me how mantras and other expressions of positive self-talk can be super flexible and responsive, when after all of that discovery work, I switched it. 

Had I fundamentally changed as a human? No. But my needs changed, so naturally, my mantra did as well.

As daily wear and tear started to set in, I needed something to keep me going. My mind and my body. I wrote “RUN” on my wrist every day that spring. Clearing the ball with five people on you? Run. (Also probably pick your head up, but at the very least just keep your feet moving.)  

That summer when I returned home for break, I experienced another phase – not being able to tap into the external motivation from an endless supply of teammates. So I changed it again to dig from within

Maintaining an awareness of my needs and crafting messaging around them helped me to perform and achieve on the field, and the benefits extend into other aspects of my life. From high-stress professional moments like interviews or presentations, to recreational activities like singing at an open mic, self-affirmations help anchor me in my identity, my preparation and my purpose. In moments of uncertainty or doubt, positive self-talk gives me the confidence to break through and the ability to quickly and confidently pivot when things don’t go exactly as planned. 

Because it’s so personally driven, positive self-talk isn’t a one-size-fits-all model. I can’t possibly map out what works for everyone because my perspective is based on my own experiences. 

So in an effort to extend the conversation, I tapped into the most competitive pool of high-achieving individuals I know – male and female professional and collegiate athletes. 

Read the mantras, responses and key themes from athletes who represent the PLL, WPLL, MLL, UWLX, and top collegiate programs across the country: 

What is your personal mantra?

  • "All out."

  • "Be the teammate you would want on your team."

  • "Be uncommon amongst uncommon people."

  • "Carpe Diem."

  • "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."

  • "Fast and strong."

  • "Have fun."

  • "I am a badass."

  • "I am so strong."

  • "I belong."

  • "I’m here for a reason."

  • "Killer instinct, full throttle."

  • "Leave it. Move on. Stay present."

  • "Life is 10 percent what happens to you, 90 percent how you react to it."

  • "Live by faith, not by fear."

  • "Love what you do."

  • "Made for this."

  • "Mind over matter."

  • "Never satisfied."

  • "Next play."

  • "Old ways won’t open new doors."

  • "One more."

  • "Play for God’s glory."

  • "Play for something bigger than yourself."

  • "Put your name on it."

  • "Relax, play hard and have fun."

  • "Shine bright. Do not let anyone dim your light."

  • "Still waters run deep."

  • "Success is a mindset."

  • "To whom much is given, much is expected."

  • "Tough times don’t last. Tough people do."

  • "Trust yourself."

  • "Work hard, but work harder when no one is watching."

  • "Work hard, play hard."

  • "You are strong. You are confident. Play like it."

How did you come up with it?

  • "After years of playing at a high level, I always wanted to be better. It wasn't until I truly started playing with confidence that I became the player I wanted to be."

  • "I realized being angry or negative won’t solve the problem, but being positive can."

  • "I really started to understand that no moments should be taken for granted and it’s important to make the most of every opportunity you have on and off the field."

  • "In order to play with confidence, I needed to remind myself that I was selected to be on whatever team it was for a reason, and that I belonged there and could compete with the best of the best, or else I wouldn’t have been put on the field." 

  • "I started living by this saying so that I never allowed myself to wallow in self-pity when faced with adversity. I couldn’t blame anyone for mistakes or misfortunes. It makes me work hard and appreciate each and every day."

  • "I wasn’t the fastest. I wasn’t the biggest. I wasn’t the most skilled. I had to earn everything, and worked hard whenever I had the chance and didn’t care about the satisfaction of someone seeing me do it because it was for me."

  • "Reminding myself how much I am made for this and love this always brings me to a place of gratefulness and reminds me how badass it is that I choose to push harder." 


All professional lacrosse players take the time to positive self-talk, focusing on messages such as "playing for something bigger than yourself."

When do you use your mantra on the field?

  • "After a tough loss or a mistake."

  • "In high-pressure moments." 

  • "When nervous or lacking confidence."

  • "While recovering from an injury."

  • "While training, pushing past physical limits and mental blocks."

Off the field?

  • "As a general guide for attitude, or to counter a bad mood/negative thoughts."

  • "Gearing up for high stress situations like presentations, interviews, meetings, tests."

  • "Powering through difficult or frustrating tasks."

  • "When making big life decisions."

  • "When things don’t go as planned."

Describe the effects on your body and mind.

  • "Allows me to face fear and be brave enough to overcome it."

  • "Gets me locked in, fired up and ready to take on any challenge."

  • "Gives me a burst of new energy, strength and extra motivation to push through any struggle."

  • "Gives me the confidence I need to control my actions and attitude."

  • "Helps me keep my head up no matter what."

  • "Loosens me up, calms me down when tense or stressed."

  • "Shifts my attitude and effort from negative to positive."

A mix of men and women, representing different professional leagues, from different Division I through Division III collegiate programs, inclusive of all field positions. 

My favorite part? It’s impossible to tell who wrote what. We are unified by the desire to reach our fullest potential and succeed at the highest level. 

Nobody has a roadmap and there isn’t a recipe for success. But whether you’re preparing for the game-deciding plays on the sport’s biggest stages, or gearing up for another day on the practice field, I hope you’ll consider talking yourself through it.