We’ve all had those days when everything just flows, the mind and the body work together, and we perform at our best. We’ve also had those other days – the body is ready, the training is complete, we’re competing at an event, but it just doesn’t click. Sports psychology or mental performance coaching can be the key to getting you to perform more consistently. Let’s look at a couple of different sports where professional athletes you’ve heard of are relying on the help of an expert. Once you get your mental capacity to match your physical capacity, you are so much more valuable.
Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O’Neal all say that working with sports psychologist George Mumford was an integral part of their success.
Bryant voiced his thoughts on the mental side of the game, saying that mental toughness really is all about not getting too high or getting too low, instead just staying on an even keel. He goes on to say that the trick is not to get too emotionally attached to the situation. Bryant knew that it’s one thing to be excited, but it’s important to watch out for certain emotions and learn how to react to them. It’s not that you won’t experience the emotion of fear or stress or frustration, it’s creating a plan of how to respond when they do come up. The plan creates the emotion from amplifying more and helps the brain perceive control.
Moving away from the fast-paced, intense game of basketball, mental training is just as beneficial in other sports. Nick Faldo is one of the most successful golfers of all time. He worked with Kjell Enhager to help bring his career back on track when he wasn’t performing at his best.
Nick Faldo said that Kjell was a big help in analyzing what happened, what was out of sync, and how the body tenses up. He added that you have to give yourself the opportunity to mess up or you are never going to learn from it. Kjell gave him more armor to deal with difficult situations and perform better. Another big tip from Nick Faldo is to do what works for YOU. For a lot of people, overthinking might mean you get paralyzed by too much analysis. Some people don’t like going over the technical pieces of the game as they compete. Faldo says he needs those thoughts to perform at his best. It just goes to show that mental training is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Finding a brain coach who understands who you are and adapts the mental training to your strengths is very important.
Whether you’re an elite skier or someone on vacation, the slopes can be threatening. An aggressive state of mind has helped Mikaela Shiffrin conquer her anxiety. Despite her incredible career, she began to suffer from doubt and anxiety in the starting gate. The pressure to win became a challenge. Suddenly Shiffrin was painfully anxious. She commented that she felt like she was going to throw up before every race and sometimes she did. She said she started to worry about disappointing people, so she sought the help of a sports psychologist, Lauren Loberg. During one competition, she played the Eminem song “Guts Over Fear,” Eminem took her somewhere new and says she felt aggressive and almost insane. The moment was transformative; the combination of lower expectations and new music set her free.
She says meeting with her sport psychologist wasn’t the kind of relationship that made her feel like she was seeing a shrink or made her feel like she had a problem, instead she felt like she knows her philosophy and her mentality.
Shiffrin recalls advice: “She told me that my biggest fear is that I’m going to disappoint people, that I’m going to disappoint the media or fans or my coaches or my family.”
Loberg helped the skier dispel her fear and anxiety by reminding her that, no matter the result, a race has no bearing on who Shiffrin is as a person. “You’re the same person at the finish as you were at the start,” Loberg told her. “If it was a great run, that’s awesome, but that doesn’t make you a great person. All the moments in between and the moments when nobody sees you are what make you who you are.”
Framber Valdez went from sluggish to totally focused in the ALCS in October of 2021, completing 8 innings in a postseason game! Dusty Baker commented that it seemed like he put the Game 1 start behind him and didn’t mess around forcing that breaking ball, and when he got behind, he was still attacking the strike zone.
Valdez credited his mindfulness practices as one of the factors in his strong performance. Valdez likes to close his eyes and began meditating, which he turns to when he needs to mentally reset. The process, which he started with his sport psychologist, Andy Nuñez, helps him control his emotions and visualize the success he hopes to achieve on the mound.
“That’s something that every time that I’ve used it, it’s worked for me 100%,” Valdez said. “My emotions don’t get out of hand. I don’t get in an altered state at all and I feel totally focused on what I need to do. That’s something I have been working on a lot and something that really centers me and allows me to be calm out there.”
Maximize the Mind
Mental performance coaching is far more than just positive thinking or believing you can win. It’s a collection of tools and strategies that everyone can learn, even teens and college athletes. Adding it to all the physical training will help you perform better. Gone are the days when the word “psychology” sounded negative. Now, it’s seen as an essential thread that ties everything together. If you have a way to maximize your mind to have a competitive edge, why not use your resources?