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A Stress-Defeating Hack for high school students

Start playing Like a Champion Today!

   | “When you develop the right skill, then even big events that stressed you out before will no longer affect you. Because with those new skills you become the champion.”

Unhealthy, unmanaged levels of stress can have damaging effects on our bodies. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Today, I want to give you a tool that I’ve been using for a long time. It will help you learn how to schedule "champion’s days" in your life, increase your productivity and get you through those overwhelming situations without stress. A tool to help free yourself up to enjoy more meaningful activities in your life instead.


  • Big, important lessons I learned in my high school & at Harvard
  • How to approach your exams without experiencing unhealthy stress
  • A mindset to help you schedule "champions day’s" into your life
  • Effective ways to help increase productivity without adding stress
  • A skill to get you through overwhelming situations in life

     And so much more.


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Too many people are overwhelmed, stressed out, and frustrated about college admissions prep. I created this podcast to help you build a standout college profile and boost your confidence. Enjoy!

– Steve Gardner, Founder

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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

If you are listening to this because you subscribe to my podcast and you listen to all my episodes, then bless you. I am so grateful that you're here and supporting me and supporting the podcast. On the other hand, hopefully some of you are listening to this because you've received this podcast specifically from a friend, because you are about to or are in the middle of something extremely stressful.

And I really want to give you a tool that I've used for a long time that's been extremely helpful in helping me through the most stressful or the most overwhelming events that I've encountered throughout my life. If you're in school, maybe this is finals week that's coming up, or it's a stressful project or a bunch of stressful projects all planned during the same time, and you didn't set the schedule. Teachers set the schedule, or someone else set the schedule for you.

And here you are, the victim of circumstance. You have to deal with extremely stressful things piling up on each other, and it feels overwhelming. So let's get right to it.

When I was in high school, I played on our high school basketball team, and above the doorway, coming out of the locker room onto the basketball court, there was a wooden plaque that said, play like a champion today. Every time I left the locker room to go play a basketball game on that basketball court that was so important to me, I jumped up and I slapped the plaque with my hand and just used that as a reminder to me to play like a champion today. Okay? And I did.

When I played basketball, I gave everything I had to the game of basketball. I was exhausted by the end of every single game. So the important thing is, here I was playing basketball and everything was and it was so important to me, but I didn't feel stress.

In other words, I didn't feel the kinds of things that you feel when you're overwhelmed. Like, I never got headaches. I wouldn't feel tight shoulders or a tight back.

I never felt stress in my body. It didn't manifest in that way. Even though these games were really important to me, it didn't stress me out the way that I see so many students feeling stressed out when exam time comes.

And to be honest, as a student, I didn't feel stressed out when exam time came. And it's because of this little trick that I want to teach you today. Throughout my time in university and particularly at Harvard, when I had big tests or big projects or big papers due, especially when they piled up on top of each other, a project in this class, a test in another and a research paper in another plus a group project that was coming up two days after.

Sometimes the really big summative exams or these really big assessments ended up piling on top of each other and making it extremely stressful. Now, here's how I approached that, and here's what I encourage you to do as well. Instead of approaching that as an incredibly stressful, overwhelming experience that was outside of my control, I changed my approach.

And I figuratively, in my mind, I jumped up and I hit that plaque at the top of the doorway heading out of the locker room that said, play like a champion today. And I just decided, hey, this is where champions step up. Holy cow.

This Wednesday, I have 18 hours worth of work to do and only about 14 hours to do it. And that's if I don't eat. So today is the day for champions.

I really need to be on my best game. I need to step up and conquer the challenge. And that different mindset makes all the difference in the world.

I've continued to face really challenging experiences that could be overwhelming and could be really stressful. Throughout my life, I've been in negotiations where millions of dollars were on the line. I've spoken in front of thousands of people from the stage.

And I think it's really important to understand how powerful this little tool is, because you're not just going to use it in school. It's not just when the tests pile up on each other that it's important that you shift your mindset away from being overwhelmed as the victim of circumstance and shift it towards being the champion. You're going to conquer that challenge because you're the champion.

You play like the champion today, you're going to have deadlines. You're going to have pressure. You're going to have important things pile up, and you're going to have that experience throughout the rest of your life, especially if you're a high performer in high school and you choose to continue to be a high performer throughout your life.

As you know, from what we've discussed on this podcast and in the Ivy League challenge, when you focus on your sphere of influence, instead of focusing your energy on your sphere of concern, when you focus on your sphere of influence, that sphere of influence grows. And so you're going to continue to have big events that arise. And here's the cool thing.

You get to the point where you develop this mindset, you develop this skill so that even big events that might have stressed you out before no longer stressed you out because you're up to it. You can handle it. You are the champion.

You don't just play like the champion. You embody the champion. You've become the role model.

You've become the champion that others look up to because they need you to champion their needs and to help them. It's an incredible shift of mindset. It's simple, but very, very powerful.

In fact, I want to even tell you one more story to take this even further. Once you've developed this mindset to the point that it just works for you, right? You might even begin to use it to your advantage. I'll tell you, when I was at Harvard, I scheduled the Champions Day.

Wednesday, for me, was the Day of Champions. And you just step up on Wednesdays. You know that it's coming.

You're not afraid of it. You know it's coming. In fact, you almost look forward to it because you know you're going to accomplish so much.

And so I would schedule some of my harder classes or as many classes as was reasonable every Wednesday. And I would just know that Wednesday is my focus day. It's my day of champions.

I get a tremendous amount of work done on Wednesday, plus I'm in class most of the day. That's my day. That's the day of champions.

And I turned it into a strategy for myself, and it worked brilliantly. So this skill set is something that you can develop now as a young student. You'll continue to benefit from developing this skill all the way through university, through graduate student studies, and as far as you want to take it in academia.

And I can promise you it will pay dividends when you get out of university and you begin solving bigger problems that have greater scale and greater significance. This ability to shift your mindset towards the champion, the one who steps up and plays like a champion today, not the one who feels overwhelmed by circumstances that are outside of their control, when you shift that mindset skillfully, it will pay dividends the rest of your life. So go ahead and begin developing it now with the challenge that you're facing or the next one that's coming up.

I promise you, you're going to see a major shift. Go and step up. Play like a champion today.