While it is true that often the differences in wins and losses in sports come down to sheer physical strength and related abilities, you might be pleased to learn that the “mental moments” of sports can be won by less physically able athletes, allowing for wins and successes due exclusively to mental strength. Furthermore, there are countless mental moments in every game, and every athlete, regardless of size, strength, speed, or quickness can win those moments. So if winning the mental moments of a game provides athletes with a distinct advantage, the question then turns to how do athletes actually win the mental moments?
The term “mental toughness” is a generic term often ascribed to a variety of non-physical traits, including confidence, motivation, focus, and resiliency. Mental toughness can be broadened even further when you take into account self-discipline, particularly as this term applies to social responsibility and related decisions, diet and sleep schedules, and proper pre-game preparation before practices and games. While the degree and extent mental toughness plays into accelerated athletic abilities and more victories on the field may be debatable, there is generally consensus that mental toughness does, in fact, play a distinct role in peak athletic play.
The reality is that athletic abilities can only be maximized when athletes train in three inter-related dimensions. More specifically, I am talking about physical, technical, and mental training. Drilling deeper, physical training includes strength training, speed work, diet, and exercise; technical training involves knowing the “X’s and O’s” of the sport; and mental development means learning how to refine focus, improve confidence, and minimize anxiety. Only when athletes focus on all three areas do they reach their full athletic potential.
Winning the mental moments
While there are literally countless “mental moments” to be won in sports, the following 6 moments are some of the more key to win:
- Rest. Yes, sounds simple, but if you don’t discipline yourself to get adequate rest many bad things are likely to occur, including injuries due to lethargy and poor focus on the field because of fatigue.
- Nutrition. Similar to rest, athletes looking to maximize their abilities must learn the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, including the choices they make pertaining to nutritional supplements.
- Social choices. Athletes today are constantly tethered to their virtual devices and social media, making it vitally important that they participate responsibly if they are to stay clear of controversies and other reactions that could be detrimental to their on-field success.
- Pre-game routines. Having your mind and body fully ready to go doesn’t happen by chance, but instead because of maintaining an approach unique to your cognitive and physical needs. What you think, how you stretch, what you focus on, and how you relieve the tension in your body before games often dictates whether you will have a successful or unsuccessful day.
- Focus. Knowing exactly where to direct your attention moment-to-moment is key when it comes to sport success. Are you focusing on what you control and what is relevant to your success?
- Resiliency. Failure is a part of life, but athletes who learn how to quickly bounce back from failure are the ones who win the mental moments on the field.
While you might not have been blessed with the best natural abilities and talents, you can dramatically improve your game by winning the mental moments of sports. The tips I have outlined here are realistic things athletes can do to improve their mental toughness, thereby allowing them to reach their full athletic potential. For more help on mental toughness or to arrange for a seminar at your school or league please click here.