The Forgotten Side of Sports: The Mental Game

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 a country plagued by war zones or a region 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 it may seem to be an extreme statement, I do believe that  the mental game is a topic that should receive more attention in sports.

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 athletes’ success in any sport. But—I’m certain that professional athletes would support me in saying this—athletes should also be training their mind. It plays an equal or greater role in athletic dominance.

The mental game within sports is what separates the good from the great

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 lack confidence, feel anxious, or are stressed. That is not to say that an athlete should not feel a bit anxious or stressed before a big game—they should. Rather, the issue comes when these feelings and thoughts hinder an athlete’s performance every game, every minute, and every play.

We often hear coaches, athletes, reporters, and 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 just couldn’t focus.” So, while many people observe that athlete’s play is often strained by their mental game, there are rarely steps taken to tackle the issue itself. It’s simply harder to train the mind than it is the body.

Mental training in sports is an area worth addressing—fortunately, 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 variety of mental barriers.

Maybe an athlete feels they are held back by negative thoughts as they play. Maybe they just finished rehabbing an injury and are nervous to return to competition. Maybe an athlete feels pressure to continue playing their sport at a higher level, but is unsure if they want to.

Whatever the situation may be, discussing it with a mental training coach can be very beneficial. They can assist an athlete in identifying and better understanding their 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. Wherever it comes from, it is important that the mental game is addressed, so that athletes can be the best versions of themselves—both on and off of the field. 

Today, many notable athletes such as Patrick Mahomes, Venus Williams, and Aaron Judge are utilizing mental coaches and mental strategies to enhance their game. These athletes are some of the best at what they do, and the attention they pay to their mental game is a key component to that.

Your own mind can be crippling, dangerous, and relentless in sports and in life. However, it is also true that when understood and trained properly, your mind can be the catalyst for tremendous success. I urge all athletes, and anyone else who reads this, to shine more light on the importance of having a strong mental game. You wouldn’t enter a season without training your body, so why enter one without training your mind?

baseball drills, mental game, winning mindset

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3 Responses

  1. Great article and just deep enough for someone older or intellectual but so so deep that someone young or someone who doesn’t think too deep can’t understand.

    Yes, string mind and body are both important for sports! Priceless information 👌🏽

  2. we have/use the scoreboard to tell us the basic differences in offensive contributions in a game, but somebody should have a scoreboard indicating how/which team is making the smartest decisions; maybe not even an electronic board, but charts kept on the sideline of the basic errors, and basic smart decisions players are making…make a running total for half and game stats…the individual players don’t need a run-down totals each half but rather a sit-down explanations of each play that created the smart decision or error in decision making…keeping track, like in baseball, of each players contributions is a good start…hits/runs/errors/ elaborated to: throw to wrong base, poor slide attempt, missed signals, missed ‘back-ups/cutoffs, etc…no names need be used, just situations plus or minus….

  3. A strong mind is as important as a strong body as an athlete but applies to so many other occasions and things that we encounter daily. This was a great post and a necessary post because the school year is about to start for all levels of students and all generations are stimulated or tested more now than ever mentally.

    Give me someone any on my Together.Everyone.Achieves.More. any day that understands the importance of mental training, skills or enhancement over physical. The Physical is challenging to develop or enhance but strong minds develop strong bodies and create great athletes!

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