by Thomas Kurz
“If everything is equal—each man has all the technique, the conditioning—it is the mental attitude that is going to win. All the time.” —Jim Brown, commentator, Ultimate Fighting Championship VI
The best athletes in the world and their coaches stake their careers and their performance on their belief in what Jim Brown said: Mental conditioning is the edge, always.
How do you develop this winning mental attitude? Can you develop it in the course of tough physical training? Yes, you can, but it may take long and the physical training would have to be very, very tough—so tough as to possibly break your body. And what is mental attitude worth if your body can’t compete because of severe overtraining or an accumulation of injuries?
And if you think that just working out religiously and sweating a lot is going to give you the advantage, remember—your opponent is training too!
But there is a more effective approach to getting the mental edge. It is doing mental exercises just as you do your physical exercises. More and more athletes combine mental training with their physical training.
What Is Mental Training
Mental training is a system of using psychological techniques (mental exercises) that improve control of emotions and behavior, quality of concentration, and increase mental toughness or stress tolerance.
Dariusz Nowicki, Ph.D., sport psychologist and author of Gold Medal Mental Workout for Combat Sports says: “Mental training works best if it is tightly integrated with physical training. Both these forms of preparing athletes for competition complement each other and lead to peak form and record results.”
After all, you can reach your full potential only if your mind will let you. The best conditioning can be wasted by an instant of doubt or hesitation during a contest. When two athletes of equal physical skill and ability compete with each other, the one who is better mentally prepared is the winner. It even happens that an athlete perfectly prepared physically loses against a physically weaker but mentally stronger opponent.
Athletes who do not control their minds will never fully control their bodies.
Control of your mind (your concentration, your emotions and stress tolerance) directly affect your ability to stay in a state of emotional comfort, often called the “emotional comfort zone” or simply “the zone. ”An athlete can have the best performance—maximal speed, perfect timing, flawless technique—only while being in that emotional comfort zone (Hanin, 1980; Sozanski and Witczak, 1981). Some sport psychologists call this state “peak performance” or “peak experience” (Ravizza 1977, Williams 1993). These emotions differ from person to person. For some it is a feeling of joy, or of playfulness, while for others it is cold fury (Poczwardowski 1998). With state-of-the-art mental training you can control your emotions so you stay in the zone and your concentration so nothing distracts you.
Do You Need Mental Training?
There is a simple way to tell if the mental training offered by sports psychology can improve your performance. If you answer yes to either or both of the questions below, it can.
— Do you do well in practice but not so well in competition?
— Do you get tense, lose concentration, and play or spar below your skill when you practice with some opponents or training partners?
Those two signs indicate that you do have the skill when in your emotional comfort zone, but as soon as stress increases, you leave your comfort zone and you “lose it.” You need to master your response to that increased stress—you need mental training.
So, once again, let’s read what Jim Brown said:
“If everything is equal—each man has all the technique, the conditioning—it is the mental attitude that is going to win. All the time.”
Hanin, Y. 1980. A study of anxiety in sports. In Sport Psychology: An analysis of athlete behavior, ed. W. F. Straub (pp. 236-249). Ithaca, NY: Mouvement Publications.
Nowicki, D. 2008. Gold Medal Mental Workout for Combat Sports. Island Pond, VT: Stadion Publishing.
Poczwardowski, A. 1998. Can You Ever Stop Building Your Mental Toughness? Stadion News vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 2-3.
Ravizza, K. 1977. Peak experiences in sport. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 17(4): 35-40.
Sozanski, H. and T. Witczak. 1981. Trening Szybkosci [Training for Speed], pp. 154-155. Warszawa: Sport i Turystyka.
Williams, J. M. 1993. Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield.
This article is based on Stadion books Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance and Gold Medal Mental Workout for Combat Sports: A Step-by-Step Program of Mental Exercises to Make You a Winner Every Time. Get them now and have all of the info—not just the crumbs!
If you have any questions on training you can post them at Stadion’s Sports and Training Discussion Forum.