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The Mental Game

Not playing the way you want? Your Mental Game may be the cause.

Have you ever thought that there was something that you could do better mentally to improve your performance in the sport that you love? In this blog post I'll take apart the Mental Game and point you in a direction that will help.

First, what really is the Mental Game? One psychologist that really seems to know this area is Jack J. Lesyk Ph.D. of the Ohio Center for Sports Psychology, near Cleveland Ohio. He has broken down the Mental Game into a list of nine elements that very successful athletes in any sport master.

Top athletes:

1) Choose and maintain a positive attitude.

2) Maintain a high level of self-motivation.

3) Set high, realistic goals.

4) Deal effectively with people.

5) Use positive self-talk.

6) Use positive mental imagery.

7) Manage anxiety effectively.

8) Manage their emotions effectively.

9) Maintain concentration.

These elements are a very well-defined and well thought-out set of practical ideas. In fact, they don't just apply to sports, but could easily be applied to almost any skill that a person wants to excel in performing. That's saying a lot! And while, once you read them, they seem reasonable and relatively simple ideas, the actual skills are not part of most people's skills in life.

Look at each one and ask yourself if you can do each and if you are skillful at each one. For example, can you "choose an attitude" and have that attitude be the one you maintain while performing in your sport. (Number 1 above) Can you find confidence or enthusiasm and stay in that state while you play? (Also 1 & 8) Or can you manage "tournament jitters" or "first tee nerves" effectively when you need to do so? (3 and 8)

These are a very short list of the difficulties that coaching on your Mental Game can help you improve. Most people will not be performing up to their potential on any of the elements above!

As important as the elements above are, there is an even more important idea that Dr. Lesyk states and that I'd like to strongly emphasize. He says,

"We believe that these skills are learned and can be improved through instruction and practice."

Think about what that means. It means that your sports skills, and especially the mental game you're playing, are not set by heredity at birth, a gift that you either have or don't have. You can build and improve them. You can get your brain and emotions to be useful to you, not just randomly happening to you. I'll say it again, differently. You can have your gut and mind aligned with and supporting the way you need to perform to have your peak performance in your sport.

"Hey! Wait a minute, that's bull! I'm 5'6" and I'm never going to be a power forward in the NBA!" you may say to yourself.

That's a good point. We all are physically different, and limited to some degree by those physical differences. Our height, relative muscle mass, age and coordination are physical elements that have some limits on our overall ability. You and I, and the people we know, will never be able to play basketball like Lebron James.

Given my body shape and size (slim, 6'1") I would not have been able to match Lebron if I had started training for basketball as a 10 year old. However, if you start training at your age (even with very limited basketball skills), if you maintain a positive attitude and high level of self-motivation (elements 1 & 2) and set high but realistic goals to practice dribbling, passing and shooting (3), if you maintained concentration on your goals in practice and performance (9) and used positive self-talk and mental imagery (5 & 6) you would be able to maximize your physical skills by using mental game skills, and probably could learn to shoot foul shots as well as Lebron's 74% lifetime percentage.

But even if you didn't shoot foul shots at that percentage, the real important idea is that you would be much, much better at basketball than you are now. Clearly, that would be a very large goal that would take LOTS of effort. But you have already had experiences with setting goals and achieving them.

The real questions are:

"Do you want to be as good as you can be at your sport?" and

"What parts of your mental game needs to be improved?"

Your physical characteristics create a range of potential for your skills in a particular sport, but your mental game is the part that determines whether your skills are in the top or the bottom of your range of potential. You can't know what your range of potential truly is until you have made a concerted attempt to achieve your top potential. That is, your mental game determines how well you develop your physical game. In fact,

"The mental is to the physical as four is to one."*

"I thought it was practice that makes you better. And you said that you'd have to practice dribbling, passing and shooting to get better. Right?" you may ask.

I'm not going to underestimate or underemphasize the importance of practice. I'm going to emphasize the importance of the kind of practice. We've probably all heard a variation of the sayings about "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." - Vince Lombardi.

Only the will to practice the correct skills with the right mental and emotional processes will produce excellence in performance. It is a thought process that sets up the type of practice, and a thought process that produces the great performance at the right time. It is emotions and attitudes that support those mental processes.

Without attention to the nine elements of the mental game you are practicing without proper direction, erratically, perhaps for the wrong reasons and making it more likely that you will have poor thoughts and negative emotions when you want and need to perform at your best.

It is attention to the nine elements that will have you knowing the goals you want to achieve, the path to get there, what you need to do to stay on that path and how to enjoy the results of achieving your potential.

So why, ultimately, should you focus on the mental game?

The answer is in the above paraphrase of a particularly brilliant and legendary coach's statement, "the mental is to the physical as four is to one." *

That means you will get four times the benefit by organizing and improving your mental game to go out and practice your sport!

*I'm offering a FREE half hour evaluation of your Mental Game to anyone who can name who said this, so give me a call at 843-216-6363 or email me at

(Some limitations and terms may apply)

Share your experience in the comments!

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