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Why Mental Training?

by Karlene Sugarman, M.A.

Updated 08/25/11

The mind-body connection is a very powerful one. For everything you think in your mind, your body has a reaction, regardless of whether it is real or imagined. For example, have you ever had a bad dream? Usually, you will wake up and your heart is racing, you are sweating and very agitated, even though all you were doing was sleeping. But, in your mind there was something bad going on and your body was reacting to it. Here’s another example: if you are home alone and you hear a noise and interpret it as the wind, you are fine; but if you interpret it as a prowler, your fight or flight response takes over and you become fearful, your heart begins going a mile a minute, your eyes dilate and you are scared. These are just a few examples of how strong the connection is between your mind and your body. With this premise, it becomes unmistakable how necessary it is to train both the mind and body for peak performance.

It is encouraging to see more and more athletes, coaches, managers, etc talk about the importance of not only physical preparation, but mental preparation. They are working with consultants, reading books, and devoting time to team building and mental training.

In sports, so many things are left to chance. Sports are predictably unpredictable. Why let your mental mindset be one of those things? There's no reason for your mental game to be your Achilles heel! You have the power and authority to control that.

People are realizing that no matter how good you are, you can always improve, and one way to improve yourself is to become well-versed in performance enhancement techniques. There is no room for complacency; the complacent ones get left behind. This philosophy holds true not only in sports but in business as well.

Athletes spend so much time physically practicing to get an edge on the competition. Yet what teams and athletes can really do to get an edge is right in front of their nose, or more accurately, right above their shoulders! You hear the same thing all the time, "Sports is 90-95% mental." Athletes and coaches at all levels say it, but how many of them do something about it? It may be common knowledge, but it is not always common practice. Maybe they don't have the time, maybe they don't have the resources, or maybe down deep they don't really believe it. Whatever the reason, the fact remains the same, they are not utilizing their most powerful resource, the mind. Most athletes fatigue mentally before they fatigue physically, due to the fact that their mind is not in as good of shape as their bodies.

Competition is tight, athletes are physically fit, and the margin for victory is slim. Managers, coaches and players are realizing that to get ahead they need an added resource, and that resource is a trained mind. When there are two teams that are physically equal, it is the team that works together smoothly and is mentally prepared and confident that will come out on top. Keep in mind, though: no mental training will compensate for ineffective technique. You need to be strong, technically and mentally. Unfortunately, many times one aspect of your game is magnified at the expense of the other. You should give equal attention to both; that is the ideal approach. You are given the talent, it's your job to develop it and watch it flourish by combining physical and mental training with a great work ethic. Oklahoma State University's Baseball Coach Gary Ward says, "Combining the two elements [mental training and technical training] gives the players an opportunity to establish a consistent, peak performance every time they step on the field" (Brennan, 1990, p. 252). You want you and your team to be prepared mentally and physically to the best of its' ability to increase the chance of success. If your mind is always working, why not have it work for you?

[Adapted from Winning the Mental Way, a book on team building and mental training. For information on obtaining your copy, please contact Step Up Publishing at (650) 347-0826 or write 1312 Drake Avenue, Burlingame, CA 94010.]

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