7 Pep Talks That Inspired Top Athletes To Face Their Fears & Win

Photo: Steven Lippman

When it comes to competitive sports, there's no question that so much of it is a mental game. Whether it's struggling to keep going physically or working to improve self-esteem, a passing comment or short pep talk goes a long way.

Because we all need a little inspiration once in a while, whether it's to get through that last mile or recover from a bad day, we reached out to top athletes to find out what pep talks and words of wisdom have helped them ace their competitions. Here's what they had to say:

1. Give it some gumption.

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"The best advice that I have ever heard stemmed more from a very vital word—an integral word that means so much to me personally: gumption. I learned this word from my high school field hockey coach, Ms. Horton, before our team won the state championship title in Ohio. This word is forever ingrained in my soul: Give it some gumption."

Meredith Kessler, professional triathlete, Ironman champion

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2. Don't overthink it.

"To be honest, I really prefer pep talks that are short, sweet, and simple. When I was competing, the best thing that I was told was to just 'have fun.' When things were broken down too much for me, I tended to overthink and thus underperform. I would think more than I would actually race. That being said, I am a big hugger. If I was told to 'have fun' or go out there and 'kick some butt,' followed by a big hug, I was a happy girl. Jokes, hugs, and comments to make me laugh are everything."

Caroline Burckle, Olympic swimmer

3. Trust your body.

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"The best pep talk I’ve ever received was from a former coach, Marcel Rocque. At the time, I was having trouble performing under pressure in big games and he said to me, 'Trust in the work you’ve put in up to this point. Your body knows what to do, so don’t worry about making or missing shots, about winning or losing the game. Stick to the processes that have been working for you, and have confidence that they will hold up under pressure. We play the game for these big moments, and you’re more than prepared to excel in this environment. So get out of your head and go have some fun out there.'"

Joanne Courtney, member of the Canadian curling team

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4. Trust yourself.

"I was a kid with low self-esteem and anxiety issues. I always thought I would never be good enough for anything. My mom kept telling me to trust myself, which I never really understood the meaning of until years later. She would tell me to stop overthinking, and to come back to reality. She told me that no matter what happened during the day, I would still be able to eat dinner with my family and that my family would love me no matter what, even if I didn't succeed at first. And she told me to trust myself and not let anybody tell me I wasn't good enough."

Aurelie Rivard, competitive Canadian swimmer

5. Think like a big tree.

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"One day I was mountain biking with Olympic gold medalist Billy Demond, who won the gold for the United States in the Vancouver games in the Nordic combined. Bill told me that to build endurance, you need to think like a big tree. 'If you look at the oldest, biggest, and strongest trees on Earth that have hundreds of rings, you can see that they grew slowly and consistently over time.' That has always stuck with me. Whether you are training for your first marathon, or your first 10K, stop going so fast all the time. Go longer and slower to build lasting endurance."

Brock Cannon, elite ultra-endurance athlete

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6. Have a shared mission.

"One quote that always gets me through even the most difficult of moments is, 'When a group of men comes together with a shared mission, and they are willing to die for that cause, they cannot and will not be defeated," by Urban Meyer. "Teamwork is a powerful thing."

Todd McCullough, former college football player and creator of The TMAC Method

7. Lose the word "can't."

Photo: @teamhetzel

"When I was little, my dad said 'you can do anything you set your mind to. Don't let anyone ever tell you differently.' He taught me to never use the word 'can't.' If I ever said 'I can’t' when I was little, he would say, 'No. It’s not that you can't; it's that you won't.' It made me realize that the power to achieve anything and accomplish what I wanted was within me."

Kristen Hetzel, duathlete and member of Team USA

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