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Are You Mentally Strong Enough
To Be A Successful Athlete?
by Samuel F. Hirschberg

Most athletes know that competing has something to do with the mind but the majority do not know to what extent. Many athletes think that mental strength just randomly happens, as if at any given moment you either have it or you don’t. Why then do competitors of lower athletic ability frequently compete at a higher level than those of superior athletic ability?

For example, Matt Biondi was an average athlete. He didn’t reek of fantastic athletic skills although he had the Midas touch when it came to swimming. Every time he touched water it seemed to turn to gold. Biondi won 11 Olympic medals, seven of which were Gold. What makes him different from other athletes desiring similar results? The difference was that Matt Biondi developed mental toughness.

"You never conquer the mountain, you only conquer yourself."

—Jim Whitaker,
Mountaineer, during an
assault on Mount Everest

Athletes of all skill level are always trying to reach peak play; it’s what athletes do. It’s why we spend countless hours training and getting in better shape.

Players of all levels attempt to reproduce that infamous level known as ‘the zone’ by recreating their pre-game routines. Some athletes are known to do some pretty funky things like wearing the same socks for a week, or, worse yet, the same underwear. As funny as it may seem it works because they make it a habit in an attempt to achieve peak mental strength.

Basketball players such as the former #1 NBA draft pick from Duke, Elton Brand, or 3-pt stand-out Steve Kerr, duplicate their pre-shot pattern to raise their probability of success. They perform the same stance and the same breathing pattern; they even bounce the ball the same way and the same number of times. This repetitive behavior is done in an attempt to put their mind at ease before they shoot.

Superstar football athletes Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders create a ritual as they line up their clothes before their games.

While creating a pre-game routine may be helpful to the athlete in some cases, but it really has nothing to do with the outcome of their performance. Simply because the routine performed does not necessarily mean that success is guaranteed. Staying relaxed during performance is the real test.


‘You have a 95% chance of losing or performing badly if your heart rate
is above 150 beats per minute at the time of competition.’

-From Mental Strength
And Peak Performance,
quoting Martina Navratilova
Page 52


In Winning Ugly, by Brad Gilbert, Andre Agassi said,

"… it’s amazing how players limit their physical talents by not utilizing their mental talents. My mind used to be my weakness because I didn’t think I needed to use it. I thought I could just go out there and hit harder than the other guy."


Here are six steps to better mental performance. For best results, use these steps as part of your normal training routine. Set a time each day, usually in the morning when you get up out of bed, and/or just before you go to sleep at night. Be just as strict with your mental training as you are with your physical training and watch your results skyrocket!


Here are 6 steps that you can apply today to achieve better mental performance

  1. Set specific training and competition goals – Get a 3x5 card and write down 10 training objectives that you would like to reach. Then put a date next to each one. List them in order of importance. For example, "To lose 10 pounds of fat by December 1, 2000."

  2. Accept 100% responsibility for your actions and attitudes — Understand that you are where you are and what you are because of you.

  3. Improve upon your basic skills — Practice, practice, and practice. Focus on correct form, strategies, and performing the ‘basics’ that will lead you to better results.

  4. Use mental affirmations. A singular, positive, present tense statement stated with emotion.
    Example: "I totally enjoy setting and reaching my training goals!"
    Get another 3x5 card and write down 10 affirmations for your highest priority goal. Remember that the affirmations must be a single statement, stated in the present tense, and must be in the positive. If you need help, feel free to contact me using this form.

  5. Use mental visualizations. Create a mental movie in your mind of yourself achieving your goals (exactly to the detail). In this example, you would create a picture of you new, lean, muscular body. And you would imagine the feelings that are created when you have achieved your goal of dropping 10 pounds of bodyfat. Your mind responds best to details, rather than muddy generalities, so be sure to focus ion the details. If you need help with visualizations, you can go to www.MentalStrength.com for the ‘Total Confidence for Winning Sports Performance’ 2-cassette audio program, by Dr. Jonathan Parker.

  6. Act as if it were impossible to fail under the guidance of a personal trainer or good coach, as if there is nothing that can keep you from obtaining your goal.

"To become a champion you must first look and act like a champion!"
—Muhammad Ali


Sam Hirschberg is a CFT with ISSA, USPTA tennis professional, and the senior editor of MentalStrength.com’s free monthly newsletter. At MentalStrength.com, you can order the 84-page MENTAL STRENGTH AND PEAK PERFORMANCE training manual, and enroll for their free online newsletter.

If you wish to provide a comment to the author of this Wild Cards column, please use this form. Tennis Server will forward the comment to the author.

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