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Becoming my own Sensei as a Surfer

by: Colby Harris


One of our most recent developments here at Grit.org has been Grit Club. Grit Club is a mental performance coaching program for young athletes all the way up to business professionals. We focus on helping them excel in physical performance by developing their mental game. Essentially, when you are discussing someone's mental game, it refers back to that voice in their head that can truly make or break performance. Grit Club aims to educate you on your own pre-existing habits and tendencies while also implementing positive life and success principles that you can carry with you from baseball to the boardroom. Mental performance is something that has been truly brought to life over the last 20 years and is needed now more than ever. Throughout the course of my life, I have been able to immerse myself in a lot of different healthy habits but never truly dissected my own mental game. Today I want to share some of the insight and experiences I gained when developing Grit Club while also working on my own mental game in the process.


I have been playing sports for as long as I can remember. With two older brothers, playing sports alongside them came naturally and I always wanted to follow in their footsteps. We played everything as kids but basketball and soccer were two of our favorites. It wasn't until I was 11 years old that I ever picked up my first surfboard. From there I was hooked and began competing just 2 years later as I was a very quick learner. Competing became something I did regularly all the way through high school. While competing at a young age, I managed to win over 10 straight events in my hometown on Amelia Island. I had not done a surf contest since senior year of high school, but recently in October 2021 I got to put on the jersey once again. At this time I had just spent the last year or so discussing Grit Club with Grit.org founder Brian Harbin, and I spent my first few months at Grit.org truly deep diving into mental performance and what it entails. I completed a mental performance coaching course, read articles, and watched every top coach in the world to learn more about what it takes to build the strongest mental game possible. For me, I knew the best way to further my understanding of mental performance coaching was to step into the shoes of the athlete and test my own tendencies and abilities while trying to truly control my headspace. Luckily, I had just been brought on to the Fernandina Beach Board Riders team, a local competitive surf team. Our first event was just around the corner.

The Board Riders events are held in various locations throughout the globe, so naturally Florida has its own meet-ups. There are 3-4 events held every year at different locations across the sunshine state. Spanning across Florida there are nine different teams and we will all show up to the designated locations and surf our respective divisions. For 2021 I have competed in the 15-19 division, and in October we had our first event of the season. As previously mentioned, I had not done a surf contest in nearly 2 years but at this time I had never felt better as a surfer. Thankfully this created some natural confidence for me as I knew I could hold my own with the best from my division. I knew I wanted to perform well, but I also knew that by implementing some of the mental factors I had learned I could have an upper hand on surfers who might be more skilled than me. As I showed up at the contest zone around 7am I was feeling a little nervous, but also very excited to compete. I was the first heat of the day at 8am which meant I needed to get a quick warmup in before competition began.

At this time I began implementing some positive mental game factors to get myself in the zone. Before I paddled out to warm up, I just took a few deep breaths while stretching. There were nearly 50 people in the water warming up and this briefly caused some anxiousness within me. I used to seek social approval in my athletics and wanted to impress everyone, but now with my understanding of the mental game I knew that this was irrelevant and I could not let it cloud my mind. I hit the water with no concerns besides myself and it was quickly paying off. I felt great in warm ups and felt highly motivated to do well in the contest. Following warm ups I came in, got my jersey on, and waited for our heat to start. During this time I dissected the waves and created a game plan as to what wave I was looking for, what maneuvers felt strongest that morning, and reminded myself to focus on my own performance and nothing else. Once I hit the water, I knew exactly what I was looking for and had the confidence to perform at my best. Well, first wave I started off with a great turn but then got a little ahead of myself and ended up slipping up before the second turn- this wave would not be a keeper. Now at this time I would usually fall apart and become upset with myself, I botched a good wave and didn't know if I would get an opportunity like that again. I reminded myself to stay calm, take a breath, and have confidence that another opportunity would come. I felt very relaxed, and even had a smile on my face! Sure enough moments after my first wave, another came through and I hopped right on it. I had a few nice turns and finished the wave on the sand. This would be a keeper! I had one of the highest single wave scores in my division and the Fernandina 15-19 team came out in 3rd place! This is the best result we have had since joining the Board Riders.

I thoroughly enjoyed surfing in the Board Riders event and am excited to participate in future events. Having a chance to put myself in a competitive situation was thrilling and gave great insight into what athletes experience during these make or break moments. I am so excited to be launching Grit Club in the near future and helping best prepare athletes for these “game on the line” moments. If people can implement these principles in athletics, then they can carry them over into school, business, and relationships. To understand the mental game a bit more, let's refer back to the process of my day as a competitor so you can acknowledge a few key factors that helped me lead a successful day:

High levels of Confidence Confidence is the single greatest mental strength to have. If you can't even believe in yourself, then you have already lost. I was able to achieve these levels of confidence through acknowledging my own practice I have put in and appreciating the skills I do have. I may not be great at doing airs, but at 180lbs I can lay down some heavy turns!

Focusing on myself As I stood on the beach looking out at this huge crowd of surfers, I almost became nervous. As a grom (young surfer) I always compared myself to other surfers my age. This is negative in various ways but the key component is that comparison takes focus away from myself. I need to worry about my skills and my performance only.

Having a pre-performance warm up and creating a plan Before I paddled out, I made sure I was loose and ready to surf my best. I also paid close attention to the surf and tried to formulate an idea of what I wanted to do. I knew my frontside turns felt great and if I could piece a few together, I would be on my way to a good score.

Remaining cool, calm, and collected Following my hiccup on my first wave, I would usually lose confidence and slowly fall apart. On this occasion, I almost laughed at my own mistakes because I knew I was going to make up for it. I told myself that it was okay and that I would have another opportunity. I manifested another great wave to come my way and once on it, I knew I wouldn't make the same mistake again!




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