I once came across an article titled, “The Most Dangerous Place in the World.” When I began reading, I was surprised to find that this “place” the author was referring to was not Afghanistan, a country plagued by endless war zones, nor was it Guatemala, a country viciously controlled by murderous gangs. Rather, this “place” the author was arguing to be the most dangerous in the world, was, well, our very own mind.
While an extreme statement, I do believe that the topic of our mental mindset is one that should receive more attention in the sports community. Here is why:
Inherently, most athletes spend the entirety of their athletic preparation training physically. Whether running, lifting weights, practicing foul shots, taking batting practice, or playing wall-ball, athletes everywhere are spending countless hours evolving their physical condition and form. And rightfully so, as athletic capability is essential to any sport’s success. But, and I know that many professional athletes would support me in saying this; athletes should also be training their own mind, as it to plays an integral role into athletic dominance.
We all have a mind, one that, as we play sports, can either lift, or drown our game.
If you use your mind right, it can be an incredible tool. If you are confident that a defender can’t guard you, you will likely blow right by them. If you are calm and composed as you take a penalty kick, you’ll likely bury it. However, like many things, an athlete’s mindset is a double-edged sword. Many athletes, as they play, lack confidence, feel anxious, or are stressed. And it is not to say that an athlete should not feel a bit anxious or stressed before a big game--they should. The issue comes when these feelings and thoughts hinder an athlete’s performance every game, every minute, and every play.
Frequently, we hear coaches, athletes, reporters, or parents make remarks such as, “He/she is a great practice player, but just can’t seem to perform when the lights are on,” or, “We lost because our star choked in overtime,” or, “He/she never got up for the game today,” or, “He/she just couldn’t focus.” So while we do in fact observe that athlete’s play is being strained by mental happenings, we, and speaking to nobody in particular, are rarely taking the steps necessary to tackle the issue. It's comments like these that urge us, as a sports community, to shine more light onto the mental side of sports.
The mental training of sports is an area worth addressing. And, luckily, it is an area that can be addressed! There are thousands of qualified sports psychologists, mental skills coaches, and life coaches, whose job is to help athletes with a wide array of mental barriers.
Maybe an athlete feels he/she is held back by negative thoughts as they play. Maybe an athlete just finished recovering from an ACL tear, and is nervous to return to the playing field. Maybe an athlete feels pressure to continue playing their sport at a higher level, but is unsure if he/she wants to. And maybe an athlete even feels they have no mental inefficiencies, but just wants an even stronger mindset.
Whatever the situation may be, discussing it with someone such as a mental training coach can be very beneficial. That someone can assist an athlete in identifying and better understanding his/her thoughts of stress, anxiousness, or distrust. That someone can help an athlete leap over the hurdles that come with injury or being cut by a team. That someone can be a listener, an advice giver, and even a confidence booster.
Whatever it is that an athlete is struggling with, or looking to strengthen, it is important they have an effective plan moving forward. Maybe this plan comes from a mental training coach, or maybe a trusted friend or coach. Wherever it comes from, it is important that it does indeed come, so that you, as an athlete, can be the best version of yourself.
Today, many notable athletes such as Tom Brady, Venus Williams, and Aaron Judge are utilizing mental coaches and mental strategies to enhance their game. And it is not to say these athletes do not work to perfect themselves physically--they do.
However, they recognize that if they are able to understand and use their own mind to their advantage, they can have an extraordinary edge over their opponents.
So, returning to the article title that I began with, it is true that in sports, and in life, your own mind can be crippling, dangerous, and relentless. BUT, it is also true that when understood and trained properly, your own mind can be the catalyst for tremendous success. It is with this final ~correction that I urge the sporting community, and whoever else, to shine more light on the importance of having a strong mindset. You wouldn’t enter a sports season without training your body, so why enter one without training your mind?
“The fact is, just as you can train yourself physically, you can train your mind to believe in your own self-worth.” –Armando Arrieta
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