Your Best Game is All In Your Head

Best Game

What allows an athlete to play the best possible game ? His ability to visualize the outcome in his mind. Your brain is the physical expression of your mind.

“Your mind is the most powerful weapon you have,” wrote Darrin Donnelly. “It affects everything.”

Elite athletes and sports psychologists know that talent and hard work will get an athlete in the door, but attitude will be the greatest measure of success. Lawrie Montague and David Milne noted that one of the biggest challenges an athlete faces is to stay true to their “course of learning without being side-tracked along the way.”

Thinking interferes with performance. The more you are distracted, the less you are capable of learning. So if you strive toward success, you must decide how to think on the field of competition. Your mental focus becomes your destiny. Success begins in your mind. But, so does failure.

Certainly, you can focus on the mechanics. All athletes know practice hones specific skill sets. The idea that “practice makes perfect” is a false concept; practice makes permanent. Yet, practice does train the brain not to overthink. It reinforces, repeats movements, and is proactive. For example, a golfer hitting balls on the practice range reinforces his or her timing and technique to create a repeatable swing.

However, hard work does not guarantee success. Doing the wrong things in practice can ruin your performance. Poor techniques become ingrained in the mind and difficult to overcome. Additionally, tweaking with technique may correct one fault but may produce problems in other areas (usually from overuse or neglect in other areas).

Tweaking techniques cause inconsistency. You may not immediately see the results. Thus, more tweaking is done because you see no noticeable change. No change erroneously means more tweaking must be done. Every time you tweak, and change is not noticeable, you lose trust.


Best Game

Bob Rotella said, “To improve, you must practice. But the quality of your practice is more important than the quality.”

The best way to improve your game is to improve your mental game. To be successful, an athlete must work hard and work smart. Tim Grover, a trainer to elite athletes as Michael Jordan and Dwayne Wade, noted, “to be the best, whether in sports or business or any other aspect of life, it’s never enough to just get to the top; you have to stay there, and then you have to climb higher.” You need to be relentless. You need to be mentally tough.

Improving your mental side of the game is just as important as the physical side.

To develop mental toughness means to improve your confidence, play with trust, sharpen your focus, keep your emotions in check, stay in the present, reduce anxiety, improve learning, and build trust. Athletes, who practice and acquire strong mental skills, learn to sharpen their minds and focus on the little things.


Here are eight mental training tips that can help.

  • Set goals — Realistic and measurable.
  • Commit to your sport — Do what it’ll take to be the best physically and mentally.
  • Be confident — A positive attitude and success begin in the mind.
  • Mental composure — Anxiety and pressure can be overcome. Become aware of what you are feeling and decide how to respond. Turn anxiety into positive energy (“I care about this …”).
  • Coping through difficult situations — Choose how to respond in different situations.
  • Challenges are opportunities — Rise to the challenge and view challenges as opportunities for positive outcomes.
  • Visualize — Imagine becoming successful at a task. There is no risk of physical injury. See yourself successfully winning a race, batting a ball, scoring the winning goal.
  • Relax — Learn to breathe. Practice relaxation techniques.

These eight tips are not the only tools an athlete can use to improve his or her mental game. However, they will provide the beginning of the strong foundation of success. As Glover noted, “Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.”


Dr. Kevin Goddu, Ph.D.




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