NWSL Player Bethany Balcer on Self-Talk

NWSL player Bethany Balcer of the OL Reign has had an incredible start to her young professional career. Balcer was the first player in history to get drafted to the NWSL out of the NAIA collegiate league and soon became the Rookie of the Year.

However, she also garnered attention for her openness about her mental health. In a July 2020 match, Bethany had a panic attack and ended up taking herself out of the game. She opened up about the event on Twitter, reflecting on mental health and the importance of the mental game. Bethany recently posted on her blog about the power of self-talk. Read more from her on her blog.

“I hate myself.” These are words I uttered this past weekend, under my breath, assuming no one else heard. A friend noticed and said, “Don’t ever say that again.” Her daughter was right beside her. I immediately regretted saying it and worried what kind of thought it put into that 10-year old’s mind. And it led me to a place where I needed to address a major problem in my life– how I talk to myself.

I always admired people who were naturally good at encouraging others. Regardless of circumstance, some people have this innate quality to always say something beneficial that uplifts those around them. I’ve wondered for years now why I have never been that person, chalking it up to the fact that I had other strengths and feeding positivity to others wasn’t one of them, and there was nothing I could do to become that type of person.

What I’ve learned is that people are that way because they speak life over themselves first, which allows them to be a light to others. I have been speaking poorly to myself for years now, so it’s no mystery why I struggle to compliment others.

I remember last year in the Challenge Cup, before one our games I looked at myself in a mirror and said, “I’m confident. I’m beautiful.” And I instantly started crying, because that was the first time I ever said those words over myself. I also couldn’t get myself to fully believe it, because lies have been rooted in my mind telling me otherwise. I’ve spent the last few years questioning my worth and value as opposed to believing and declaring that I am right where I need to be and growing at the perfect pace and learning everything in due time. I am not behind. I am made for this. I am where I need to be, both in life and mentally.

Self-talk is interesting because you think one thought or say one word, and that’s all you think it is– just a one time thing. It’s just a thought, it came and went. It’s not there anymore. But the reality is that word or thought has power. More power than we realize until it’s too late. Letting one negative thought fester can open the floodgates for more. And it makes it seem “normal” that all these harmful, self-degrading thoughts are floating in our minds.

Well, your mind is a sacred place! There shouldn’t be thoughts like “I’m not pretty,” “I’m not qualified,” “I’m not ________ enough.” Easier said than done, though. I am fully aware that when I mess up, compare myself, or struggle mentally, it feels easier to explain it away with a problem I possess internally.

I learn a lot about myself in my worst moments. When crap hits the fan, I tend to tear myself down. In a world plagued with comparison, it’s so easy to take a simple thought like, “I wish I was more fit” and have it turn into, “I don’t belong playing professional soccer.” Which sounds like a crazy jump, but that’s what happens. And that’s why it’s easy for me to spiral out of control. One negative thought can ruin my whole day.

So, what is one supposed to do in these moments? How do you find tangible solutions to the struggles of the mind? It’s been hard attempting to control the thoughts in my head. The other day I had a lot of anxiety, and I wasn’t handling it the way I wanted to. My thoughts led me down a dangerous path. I got to a point where I was too overwhelmed to think anymore, and I heard in my head, “You’re so weak.”

Where on earth did this thought come from? I tried not to listen to it, but there it was, sitting front and center in my mind, dictating what the next thought would be. There comes a moment when you have to stare the doubts and the lies in the face and muster up all the courage you have and say, “No. This isn’t true. You don’t get a say anymore. I won’t let you have any more power.” You also have to practice speaking positivity into your spirit. For me, this was journaling a few things I like about myself each day and repeating them over and over again. It also was taking a step back from the moment I was in, and looking at the big picture and thinking, for example, “this one bad pass I had in the game does not mean I am a bad soccer player.”

Thoughts are tempting. I want to toy with them all the time. I’m really good at overthinking, so good that I could probably put it on my resumé as a skill. In my head lives all the worst-case scenarios and my mind loves to play out all of them. That’s why when I think a negative thought like, “you aren’t good enough,” my mind can come up with five reasons to back it up. The mind is where all the battles of my life are being fought. It’s spiritual warfare. It’s worldly versus heavenly. It’s truth versus lies. So, I MUST speak love over myself to combat every war waged inside. Here is something I journaled the other day…

“I will be positive today. My emotions and thoughts in a moment will NOT define the rest of my day. I can choose how to carry myself through the day and today I choose joy, positivity, and gratitude. This day I choose to have power over my thoughts and words. I am capable. I am strong. I am ready for whatever comes my way. And today I will grow and learn.”

Just starting the day with this encouragement completely changed the course of my day. It set me out on the right foot, and I carried this optimistic energy through the rest of day.

Circling back to the story I shared at the beginning, the younger generation takes note of what we say and do. If I talk to myself poorly in public, it makes younger boys and girls think they can do the same. But I want to be someone who speaks so much life and love over herself that people notice and say, “I want that same joy.” People are always watching, and it’s important to watch yourself too.

The overflow of what’s inside of you will come out. So, if you’re feeding yourself damaging thoughts, eventually damaging words come out of your mouth towards you and others. You can only give out as much joy and love as you are speaking over yourself. Remember to give yourself grace, because change won’t happen overnight, but it will start, you just have to make the effort. Being cognizant of what comes and goes in your mind is important. It takes time and practice to take hold of negative thoughts and crush them. Equally, it takes time to speak life over yourself enough until it’s all that flows out of you.

A final point I want to make is that we say things to ourselves that we would never say to anyone else. I’ve called myself stupid, ignorant, naïve, and too needy, and I would never say that to a friend or even stranger. Why am I meanest to myself? I need to think, “if my best friend was going through this, what would I say to them?” Because for me, it’s a whole lot different than what I would say to myself, and that’s where I’ve noticed the problem. Just as I would speak encouragement and boldness over a friend, I need to do the same to myself.

Whatever area of your life you need to uplift, whether it’s your body image, your athletic ability, your personality, your decision-making, etc., know that it takes just one positive thought to start switching the narrative. Just as we have a dangerous power to tear ourselves down, we have that same power to courageously encourage and create a future we want with our most beautiful, bright self.

If you need a kickstart towards positive self-talk, let me help… you are beautiful, you are invaluable, and you are NEEDED.

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