How to develop a winning mindset: An interview with an esports mental skills coach

How to develop a winning mindset: An interview with an esports mental skills coach

Dominic Sacco
7 min read | 11 Jan 2017

Esports titles have little physical demands on the body when playing competitively. They do however demand an enormous amount of mental effort in order to win and improve. We interview mental skills coach, Chris Alphenaar, to discuss how players can build a winning mindset…

Having a masters degree in counselling psychology has allowed Chris to begin his career as a mental health therapist in his home state of Michigan. His passion for competition from traditional sports and esports came at a young age and he’s been able to add to his love of psychology in the world of esports by teaching mental skills to professional esport athletes. He has coached athletes from H2K, Splyce and TSM on how to increase their mental skills.

What is a winning mindset?

Chris Alphenaar: For me, the idea of having a winning mindset comes from the idea of having a ‘growth mindset. Instead of having a belief that ‘I’m good at this or I’m not good at that’, it’s more like: ‘My experiences allow me to become better at what I want to put my time and effort into’.

A winning mindset allows you to see failures as an opportunity to grow, rather than something that keeps you stuck. Instead of running into that wall because you lost the game and saying ‘I must not be good enough’, you say ‘I learned about this, this and this that I can improve on and I’m going to find a way to improve on them’.

Instead of taking defeat as something that now becomes you as a person, see it as an opportunity. Too many times people take defeat as ‘I’m just bad at this’, and that doesn’t have to be the case.

What are your top four tips for adopting a winning mindset?

  • 1.Learn how to develop a growth mindset
  • 2.Have at least one goal each game that you specifically are in control of
  • 3.Make a gratitude journal
  • 4.Develop a mindfulness practice

What do the first two mean and how do you implement them into your game?

I would suggest having at least one goal per game that is tangible, so you can see if you achieved it or not.

For example, you want to make sure you hit a certain percentage of your skill shots. You set that number. Then you play your game and your goal is to do that specific thing along with everything else you’re normally doing, but you’re training skillshots for that game.

Afterwards, you review your game and you see if you met your goal. Based on whether you did or didn’t, that’s when you can either find ways to get closer to your goal, or you realise that your goal was to hit 80% but you only hit 40%, and you can adjust your goal to something that’s closer and can make progress towards. Once you get to your goal, you want to raise the bar even more.

You want to set your overall goal high, but for a specific game you may want to lower it so you can continue to see progress and identify areas where you can keep on improving.

How can players overcome ’tilt’, or a negative spiral of losses or bad performances that affect players’ confidence?

Some players internalise when things go poorly, as now they are afraid to take ‘that chance’. Maybe there’s a play that is really hard to do, which, if they do poorly, could snowball their team to defeat. But, it’s something that if they make it, will snowball for their own team.

Sometimes players are afraid to push the limits and practice those limits, because they don’t want to feel that loss, so instead they hold back, they don’t go for it all the way.

I think that when people get stuck sometimes, it’s because they are afraid to push their limits further because then there could be more setbacks, they could feel that sense of defeat or loss – and that they were the ones that may have caused that loss.

Create an atmosphere in scrims and solo queue where you’re purposely trying to improve those areas where you just ‘go for it’ – even when it’s a high risk/high reward type of situation.

That way, when you’re actually in a competitive game then the players have the opportunity to look back and say ‘I’ve done this before, I know I can do it’. And then they will do it without hesitating.

What is the gratitude journal you mentioned?

It’s a journal in which you write down three things per day that you see as positive in your life. This can be really helpful.

What it does is allow you to see it more often throughout your day. This increases your ability to find more positive experiences and keeps you from having negativity in you. You don’t see as much of the negative stuff, because you have purposeful focus on having gratitude in your life.

Things aren’t going to always be positive, but you can see the positive even in something that you may feel is negative, such as a loss.

Going back to the growth mindset. You may say: ‘Oh well we lost, but I learned this this and that from it.’ Don’t say you are okay with it, or that you like it, but rather that you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

How can you develop ‘mindfulness practice’?

A mindfulness practice is super powerful to have each day. I would suggest 20 minutes each day.

It’s like having mindful breathing – paced breathing. Four seconds in the inhale, six seconds on the exhale. Just focusing on the breath. Train your mind to be focused on one single thing in the moment.

When you are in game you’ve already been training your brain how to be able to focus on the thing that you want, rather than having all the extra thoughts that come in to your brain and take control.

You’re going to have thoughts that come in to your head when you’re doing the mindful breathing, but you’re practicing acknowledging, observing it, letting it go on – and returning the focus to your breathing.

You can do the same thing in game when, for example, you miss a Smite on the dragon in League of Legends. You acknowledge what happened, observe the feelings that are going on but then you keep going on with the game, without letting it tilt you to the point where you feel you are worthless.

If you want to see more of Chris’ content, follow his Twitter here and check out his website.

By Rob Allen

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