Brooke Neal on the importance of attitude

October 11 2017

New Zealand representative hockey player Brooke Neal competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, and has visited more than 50 schools as an Olympic Ambassador. In 2017 she launched a new initiative to help high-school athletes achieve balance in their lives. She explains the importance of attitude in overcoming barriers to success on and off the field.

Video Transcript


My biggest injury would be to my right knee, which happened about four years ago. I started getting pain in it and I pushed through when I probably should have stopped. And it led to four years of chronic pain – every morning , every night, waking up in pain. And that really did a lot to my mind. I went through some tough times. But the biggest thing that I learned from it was that I just have to accept it.

When I stopped suffering from the pain and accepted that this was going to potentially be in my life was when I had the breakthrough and was able to manage the pain rather than resist it.

0:42 You are what you think about often

One idea that I have always had is that life isn't happening to you, you are creating it. What I mean by that is you are what you think about often. The more negative thoughts you have the more negative your life is going to turn out. So, I always try to think as positive as I can, even in the really tough situations. That has been one of my strengths, I guess, in the team especially.

My mum, growing up, instilled that in me because she taught me about the law of attraction – which is basically this idea that your thoughts become your actions, and your actions become things. So, what I would do is always tell her, put it out to anyone who would listen, what I wanted in my life. And often people would call me the luckiest person, because I would always be winning things or making teams. But, I really wouldn't put it down to luck; I would put it down to putting it out there, and what is the worst that can go wrong?

Playing hockey at the top level you do have to deal with the pressure, and we do get a lot of comments saying "Are you going to choke this time?" And that really plays on your head a little bit. But the biggest thing I learned about dealing with pressure is that instead of trying to do something different, trying too hard, you just have to let it go, let it happen.

The biggest tip that I could give to deal with pressure is mindfulness. I know it has been thrown out there, but it is being used by the top athletes in the world. Science has backed it up as well, and it is the whole idea of training your mind to be in the present moment. So, that is not being distracted by your thoughts or emotions, which obviously under pressure get sped up a lot. It is not focusing on the past because you can't change it, not focusing on the future because you are not there yet. Often you are looking at the score, or the time on the clock, or thinking about a past mistake you have made. But for me, being able to practice mindfulness means that I can be in the game and just focus on my role – not get distracted by anyone else. And that really helps me get calm and get focused, because I think when you resist or put too much pressure on yourself, that is when things go wrong.

I often think a lot about what you can control and what you can't control. Often we spend a lot of time, especially as a sportsperson, living in that box of uncontrollables – the ref, what the opposition are doing, the weather, how hot it is – all these things that you have absolutely no control over. And it does no good. What I think is that we need to spend most of the time in the control box. You can control yourself, your thoughts, what you say, what you do. And if you make that switch, or even be aware of these two boxes to begin with, that is a really good step in being able to manage the things that are within your control.

It is not only in a game, when I am talking about what you can control. It is everywhere. It is how you deal with failure. At the Olympics we lost our semi-final against Great Britain and we had one day to get over it before we played the bronze medal match, which was the single most important game that we played. So, I had a choice: I could stay in the past thinking about all the mistakes I had made, or I could learn those lessons but move on and focus on the next game. So, I think when we are talking about what you can control, we often just keep replaying situations in our head which do us no good whatsoever. It is important to learn those lessons from your mistakes, but the more we dwell on them the more harm it is going to cause.

4:30 A strong sense of 'why'

'Why' is such a big word, it is thrown around a lot. But I think it is probably the most important question to keep asking yourself: what is your 'why'? Often, when we get in these really tough situations, you have to really hold on to that. If it is not a bigger reason, if it is nothing special or outside yourself, if it is a selfish reason, the more likely you are to be on the wrong path. The purpose of having a strong sense of 'why' is that when you do get into the situations where you are not sure whether you can go on or not – and believe me I have been in many of those – you have that as a guidance, I don't mean to be clichéd, but like a torch in the dark. You can steer yourself in the direction you want, but for a purpose. I like to say it is 'on purpose' versus 'off purpose'. A lot of the time we walk around on autopilot. We do things, but we are not sure why we do them. I think switching off autopilot and taking control, and knowing why you are doing things, is a really big reason why everyone should reflect on themselves.

I could continue just being an athlete, and that is great, it is a big job. But what I have found is, I have launched this new initiative which is helping high school athletes to balance their lives socially, mentally, and physically. And I went through all of that not so long ago. And by helping them it has given me a greater sense of purpose.

There were a lot of times when I was launching my business when I had these doubts because, obviously, putting my name out there and starting a business – who am I to be teaching these kids? That is what was going on in my head. It was a lot of getting outside my comfort zone. I had to keep reminding myself and bringing myself back to that 'why'. Why am I doing this? And it is because I want to help and pass on these skills to potentially have a life-changing effect on these girls.

Having the right attitude definitely helps you get outside your comfort zone, and that is where the magic happens. 

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