How You Can Use the ABC Model in Your Sports Career

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Almost everyone who has played a sport at any point in their life knows how stressful the experience can be. The pressure to win when playing any sport is intended to be motivating for the athlete. The “fear” of failure creates anxiety, which pushes the athlete to give everything they have in an attempt to win. The key factor in this scenario is that the stress should remain a positive force, driving the athlete toward success. Healthy stress drives all people, not just athletes, to work harder and make sacrifices for success. However, sometimes the stress becomes so severe that it no longer pushes a person toward success, but causes them to freeze in fear. When this happens, the stress stops being a positive force and becomes negative. The ABC Model, which uses cognitive behavior therapy, seeks to help the athlete manage stress rather than be paralyzed by it.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT, is based on the idea that our thoughts dictate our behavior. Thoughts are powerful, and they can directly influence the way we have over long periods of time. This connection is so strong that it’s possible to change someone’s behavior, often dramatically, by changing their thoughts. The ABC Model is one method employed by professionals to use CBT to changing behavior. In this article, we’ll take a look at what the ABC is method is and how it can be used as part of successful Cognitive Behavior Therapy. All of these things are used for the ultimate goal of helping athletes succeed by changing their thinking. No one does well if they are paralyzed by fear. The ABC Model can help athletes get out of a negative slump and get back to winning.

What Is the ABC Model?

The ABC Model falls under Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, so it’s important that you have a solid understanding of CBT before you attempt to use the ABC Model. CBT is a term that includes several kinds of therapy, including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT, and Cognitive Therapy. These two theories were developed by Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck. Cognitive theories suggest that all abnormality comes from faulty cognitions, or beliefs, about the world and other people. The reason we have these faulty cognitions is that of deficiencies like lack of planning or distortions from failing to plain. Ellis believed these distortions come from our own, irrational thinking. Beck believed in the cognitive triad.

What all cognitive theories have in common is the idea that we all interact with our world based on how we feel about the world. What we believe, whether we think we are loved or hated, whether we believe things will be easy or difficult, shapes the actual outcomes of every situation, including sports. When any person, and especially athletes, can learn to cast off irrational beliefs by proving them wrong, their overall mental health will improve. This belief in a positive outcome can actually cause a positive outcome. This is the foundation of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. The ABC Model is a type of REBT.

The ABC Model Is a Type of REBT

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is a type of therapy that encourages a person to identify irrational beliefs, which are assumptions a person makes about the world around them. Examples include, “I’ll never win,” “This is impossible,” and “It can’t be done.” REBT, including the ABC Model, push people to reject these assumptions and intentionally see what’s possible. Let’s break down how the ABC Model helps a person use REBT to change their way of thinking.

The ABC Model

The ABC Model is a way of evaluating your irrational beliefs and turning them into more positive beliefs. The method was developed by Albert Ellis. The steps of the method are broken down like this:


Activating Event





The Activating Event

This is the situation that causes the irrational belief. For example, if you are an athlete, the Activating Event is the sporting event that you’re about to participate in. This event causes irrational thoughts that you won’t be able to win no matter how hard you play or other negative feelings.


These are the irrational beliefs that trigger an inability to perform at the sport, For example, you may believe that you will never win a game or even score. The pressure may be so great that you cannot see any scenario where that outcome is positive.


The consequences of these irrational beliefs are usually the same for most people. They can range from simply feeling bad al the time all the way up to being paralyzed and not being able to play your sport.

How Does the ABC Model Apply to Sports?


REBT and the ABC Model apply directly to athletes in their sporting careers. There is tremendous pressure on athletes to win, sometimes at any cost. It’s very easy for an athlete to end up in a dark place where they don’t see any possible positive outcome. When an athlete ends up in this mental health space, they often set into motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. This type of mental “game” can be to blame for losing streaks and slumps. Using the ABC Model helps athletes get into a better mental health place.

It’s a Mental Game

All athletes know that the “game” is not just played on the field, pitch, court, or diamond. Any sport as much a mental game as it is a physical game. Cognitive behavioral concepts come into play in almost every aspect of sports. One of the most basic ways you can see this in action is through the common, “Home Field Advantage.” This is the idea that a team playing on their home field, or in their home city, they have an advantage. There is no physical advantage as all the venues must be the same when it comes to the playing area. So what is the advantage? It’s mental. The home team has their fans cheering for them. They are surrounded by their colors and their band is playing. All these things come together to create a mental advantage. The home team feels more positive about the game, which can cause them to win.

This same “mental advantage” can be obtained by individual athletes. Athletes who can use the ABC Model to get rid of their negative thoughts stand a better chance of succeeding on an individual level. Their performance is better. Their stats are better. The mental game helps an athlete succeed.

How Can You Use the ABC Model in Your Career?

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There are several ways to use the ABC Model to help in your athletic career. No matter what sport you’re involved in, it’s possible to use REBT, including the ABC Model to create more positive outcomes for your career. Let’s look at some examples of the ABC Model being employed to help athletes.

Activating Event

In our example, Sam is a soccer player. He’s been struggling with completing a play when he’s passed the ball. The play is well within his skill set, but he’s had trouble over the past few games. This repetitive situation creates an Activating Event. Sam is now having constant negative thoughts about his games and his ability to complete a play and score a goal.


The more Sam dwells on his negative thoughts, the more he validates them. This is an example of the power of the human mind. It’s possible for Sam to convince himself that he cannot score a goal simply because things have been going badly. His mind is actually overriding his ability in this state.


The consequences of this situation for Sam are that he is not able to score goals for his team. The more times this situation plays out, the more ingrained it becomes in Sam’s mind that he will fail every time he tries to execute the play and score a goal.

Changing the State of Mind

In order to help Sam use his mind to correct his problems, Sam must first confront the irrational thoughts that led where he is now. He will be given a series of exercises by a therapist where he must identify all the times things ended in positive outcomes. He may list or describe all the goals he can remember scoring, especially for this particular play.

Use the Positive Thoughts

Now that Sam has positive thoughts to focus on, he must use those when he’s in the game. He should focus entirely on the positive when he’s playing the game. In his mind, there must be no reason why we can’t score a goal. He must focus on the possible and probable. By using positive thoughts, Sam will start scoring goals again, slowly removing the irrational belief that was holding him back.

Another example of how the ABC Model can be used in sports careers in the team dynamic. It’s possible for a team to be affected by a communal irrational belief that affects them as a group. The method can also help change a group’s beliefs.

Activating Event

The Activating Event for a team is generally the state of not winning for several games. Even though there is a complex set of reasons why a team goes on a “losing streak,” some of it is mental. They begin expecting to lose. The Acting Event, in this case, is a normal occurrence—losing one or more games.


The incorrect beliefs of the group this time are that they “just can’t win.” It may feel as though it’s not possible to win a game. The more they lose, the more the team focusing on this flawed logic.


The consequences for this team are that they fall further and further into a slump. Even the best coaches can’t pull a team out of a slump if the team refuses to believe they can. Teams not only have to work together physically, but they also have to be on the same page, mentally. A collective negative attitude will result in negative outcomes. But a collective positive attitude can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Using Positive Thoughts

By casting out the irrational thoughts, a team can change their whole dynamic and create a positive “vibe” that improves the performance of the whole team. The team members can hold each other accountable for being positive, and this will result in more points scored.

Other Applications

These same principles can be applied across all manner of sports and even beyond the athletic world. All athletes can benefit from regular training in the ABC Model and cognitive therapy. By maintaining a positive outlook, athletes can improve their individual and team performance. The same can be said for people in non-athletic industries. Employees who work as a team can benefit from routinely expunging negative thoughts and finding the positive.


The ABC Model for changing outcomes using behavior is based on the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy model. This holds that behavior can be modified to affect outcomes. These theories have stood the test of time of the past 100 years, proving that there is truth to “mind over matter.” If you are an athlete, this can greatly improve your career. If you find yourself in a slump, force yourself to examine what is true about the situation, including what you are doing to cause or allow negative outcomes. Can you practice more? Is there a skill that needs improving? Are there tools that would help you succeed? Once you find these tools and make use of them, refuse to focus on the negative. Don’t dwell on what we went wrong. Figure out how you can make it go right.

The ABC Model is based on the idea that you can allow negative thoughts to take over and cause negative things to happen over and over again. By taking control of these thoughts, you can turn a slump into a winning streak. Refuse to believe you are anything but great at what you do. Remember the times you succeeded. Focus on those positive events and you will turn the tide in your mind. Once you’ve changed your mind, your mind can change your body and create more positive outcomes.

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