Pro-Soccer Player Kelley O’Hara Shares the ‘Life-Changing’ Mindset Shift That’s Helped Her Find Success

Photo: Getty Images/Erin Chang/ISI Photos
In 2015 at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, US Women’s National Team player Kelley O’Hara found herself full of anxiety and self-doubt. Why wasn’t she getting playing time? When would her coach put her in? Wasn’t she good enough?

But then she had a realization: No amount of validation from team management would help her feel like the soccer player she wanted to be, and knew she was. That confidence had to come from within her.

In that moment, she resolved to practice and think like she would be playing every minute. To give it her all, no matter what the external circumstances were. She went on to get put into the semi-finals and the finals, and help lead her team to victory. O’Hara credits her change in mindset with the results she was able to achieve. It's why she thinks motivation needs to be internal, not external.

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“Being able to find that validation internally and look and get that competence from yourself is kind of life-changing, honestly,” O’Hara says. “If I hadn’t had that shift in mentality, I don’t know if I would have had the success that I did at that World Cup.”

Sports psychology recognizes this distinction as well, with the categories of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when what moves you to exercise or perform comes from within, like wanting to feel good or sleep better or something along those lines. While extrinsic motivation is about winning awards or recognition from other people.

O’Hara acknowledges that, of course, it is great to get validation from authority figures and others. Winning is also part of what motivates her. But you need the foundation of self-recognition if you’re going to go on to achieve, she says.

To get there, finding your motivation is key. That’s part of the reason O’Hara has signed onto a partnership with a new digital sports coaching and motivational platform Versus. On the site, pro-athletes and coaches like O’Hara share stories and advice from the world of professional sports. It’s also about building a supportive community.

Having both elements—the internal strength, and external support—is what O’Hara believes people need to thrive.

“Support systems are incredible, and they're amazing, and they're crucial to just, like, thriving in the world,” O’Hara says. “But you have to find that belief in yourself before it can be validated.”

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