I was recently asked by an athlete how important the mental side of sports was to success. Was it more or less important than having the physical skills? Well, that’s kind of similar to asking whether peanut butter is more or less important than jelly in a PB&J sandwich. You can’t be successful without having both!
Here are two true story examples to illustrate. A few years ago, I had a young but enthusiastic player sign up for a tournament I ran. He was athletic and was very confident he would overcome any technical difficulties playing a more skilled opponent through his superior athletic ability. His confidence never wavered until he lost to his more skilled but much less fit opponent. Although his mental game did not fail him during the match (I might argue it did before he started), he lacked the skill to execute when it was necessary. He was very confident he would make the shot, but he couldn’t execute.
I had another friend who was also extremely athletic, and I thought he had an excellent chance at winning the division. Yet, to my astonishment, in his first game he swung and missed the ball seven consecutive times. He never recovered from that, fell apart with nerves, and came out of the course visibly shaking.
Based on these two stories, is physical skills or mental skills more necessary? Both right? I have many years of training in physical education, and an expectation of PE teachers is that they train students across three domains. The affective domain addresses ethics, behavior, and attitude. The psychomotor domain teaches physical skills and the cognitive domain teaches the mental skills necessary to be successful in sports and exercise. All three are necessary to develop a well-rounded sports participant.
What’s the point of this piece beyond the understanding that an athlete’s mental skills (cognitive) are just as important as their physical skills (psychomotor)? It’s this: why do so many train so much on their physical skills yet train so little on their mental skills? It makes no sense to train your body to perform at its best but ultimately under perform or fail completely because you didn’t train your mind.
Mental training is difficult for some athletes, coaches, parents, and sports organizations to believe in because the results are not always as obvious. You can’t always visually see progress like you can with physical skills. But don’t be arrogant enough to think that without mental training an athlete will ever achieve their potential. It’s why so many professional athletes and teams spend a significant amount of their time training minds to control body. Will you?
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