Are Sports More Physical or Mental?
As an athlete, would you say you give more attention to the mental side of the game or the physical side of the game?
If you're like the majority of athletes, you give most of your attention to the physical side of the game. And that’s okay, and honestly expected.
I mean, the physical stuff is more in your face and tangible. It's easy to go practice your shooting form or take some cuts off the tee. It's much more difficult to train your confidence or work on your focus...or it at least seems that way.
With physical training being a lot more accessible, and focused on more during practices, it makes sense why athletes give more attention to it than the mental side of their game. But does that mean it's more important?
Absolutely not! Okay, so does that mean the mental side is more important? No, that's not what I'm saying either. In fact, I think looking at it this way is a problem in and of itself.
Instead of thinking the mental side of the game or the physical side of the game is more important, I want you to see both as equally vital ingredients to you reaching your potential as an athlete.
Balancing the Mental and the Physical
You can have all the confidence in the world, but if you can't hit the broad side of a barn with your fastball, you're not going to go very far as a pitcher.
Likewise, if you are an absolute sharp shooter from beyond the three point line in practice, but experience intense nerves and fears during games, those skills will not translate and you'll find yourself underperforming in games.
As a mental performance coach, you may suspect me to come out and say I believe the mental side of the game is so much more important than the physical side. But as I said in the introduction, I think that creates a problem.
When you split it up into the mental and physical parts of your game, you begin to separate yourself, taking an either or perspective.
Instead, through my work with athletes, I've realized we need to take a more harmonious view. Seeing the athlete as a whole, and recognizing the physical and mental parts of their game as just that...parts.
Two parts that must work together to help the athlete perform their best and have a healthy mindset in the process.
By taking this sort of approach, true progress will be made. Because we can't improve confidence, for example, without taking physical training into consideration. And drills used to improve certain mechanics won't be of much use if the athlete has poor focus.
So we want to combine the mental and physical parts of an athlete's game when it comes to training and performing. By doing so, training becomes more effective and performing becomes more natural.
Why Proactive Training Matters
When we stop taking an either or approach, we are left with the job of simply helping the athlete train. This means both mental and physical training tools and techniques can be used.
I think this helps counteract one of the most common challenges I see in relation to the mental side of the game...thinking mental skills cannot be trained.
When an athlete doesn't have their physical technique down quite yet, they'll work with a coach on applying drills to help improve.
But when it comes to an athlete not having high confidence yet, or good skills in relation to calming their nerves, it's easy to not see this as something that can be trained. They either have it or they don't.
That couldn't be farther from the truth. I've seen many athletes apply mental training tools and have mental skills improve as a result.
By recognizing the importance of training both the physical and mental side of the game, the athlete will take a more proactive approach to mental training, just as they do with physical training.
This is where we see the athlete finally begin putting it all together and performing well in practices just as they do in games.
How to Develop Both the Physical & Mental Side of the Game
Knowing that it's not an either or, and both aspects of your game are equally important, you want to ensure you are giving them both as much attention as is necessary.
When you give one more attention than the other, this is where imbalances develop.
Remember, we are after a strong combination of the physical and mental side of your game. This means you need to be giving attention to both in order for them to work well together to help you play your best.
What I'm going to do is break down a strategy I use with the athletes I work with to ensure you are training your physical skills well enough, and also a way you can begin incorporating mental training into the mix.
Using Routines to Train Physical Skills
I'm going to guess you’re training your physical skills a lot more than your mental skills right now. So you may not feel like you need to do anything in this regard.
But what I want you to think about is how consistent have you been recently with your training, and how much attention have you been giving to the small details you need to work on.
Have you been coasting through training, or have you been pushing yourself and working on your weaknesses?
As an athlete, you want to make sure you are always building upon your strengths and working to improve your weaknesses. That's what this strategy will help you do.
Identify Your Strengths & Weaknesses
The first part of the strategy is outlining your current strengths and weaknesses in terms of your physical play.
Make yourself a list of both, and go into as much detail as you can.
Depending on yourself and your personality, it may be more difficult to identify one or the other. But take your time and get as specific as you can about what right now are strengths in your game and what are weaknesses.
Choose Your Drills
Once you have your strengths and weaknesses listed out, you want to choose which drills and exercises you'll use to train them.
Be sure you are building upon your strengths while you are working to turn your weaknesses into strengths. You don't want to forget about your strengths, or they'll run the risk of turning into weaknesses themselves.
Now, when I say drills, this is a general term meaning the way in which you will work on improving a skill.
There may be a few different drills or training techniques you use. The goal of this step is for you to get clear on how you will work on your strengths and improve your weaknesses.
Create a Training Routine
The third part of the strategy is to take the drills you chose and turn them into a routine.
To make sure the physical side of your game is given as much attention as is needed, you want to be training it consistently. Routines help with consistency because they ensure you are training on a regular basis.
By creating a training routine, you can feel confident you're focusing on all the small aspects of your physical game that will lead to success on the field or court.
For your routine to be effective, you must take the first two steps seriously and think through them carefully. But if you have come up with a good list of your strengths and weaknesses, and then chosen solid drills to use, you can feel confident your physical training routine is going to ensure you're as prepared as you can be in terms of your physical skills.
Training the Mental Side of the Game
As you're training your physical skills consistently, you want to be combining this with good mental preparation. This means training your mental skills in a very similar way.
By doing so, you can feel confident both your physical game and mental game are working together to help you perform up to your potential.
Check for Mental Blocks
In a similar way to identifying your strengths and weaknesses of your physical game, you want to check and see if there are any mental blocks holding you back.
Mental blocks are patterns of thinking or mental states that hold you back from performing your best. Here is a list of the main mental blocks athletes face:
- Sports performance anxiety
- Fear of failure
- Poor focus
- Negative self-talk
- Social approval
Sports performance anxiety is when you are overly worried about what may or may not happen. And for the most part, your worries are focused on not wanting to make a mistake.
That's why it is often seen accompanying fear of failure. Because the fear of failure in sports is defined by you being afraid of what may happen if you make a mistake.
Poor focus is when you have a difficult time controlling what you're focused on during practices or games. With poor focus, it will be easy for distractions to pull your attention away from the present.
Perfectionism, as it sounds, happens when you demand yourself to play perfectly. This makes it difficult to focus on the process, and to bounce back from mistakes during games.
Negative self-talk involves unhelpful and negative thoughts. These can occur at any time, but are most often seen before, during, and after games. Especially if you don't feel like you played well.
Negative and unhelpful thoughts will make having confidence very difficult. Which is why, if you have negative self-talk, you will likely experience self-doubt as well.
And then with social approval, this means you are focused on trying to impress others. This happens a lot if your confidence is too heavily reliant on other people and their opinions of you.
Proactively Train Mental Skills
If you recognize that any of the mental game challenges I just outlined are impacting you, the next step is to focus on building more positive mental skills.
By developing stronger mental skills, mental game challenges go away. For example, if you are dealing with a lot of sports performance anxiety, by building the skill of calming your mind and increasing your confidence, anxiety will be reduced.
Think of this in a similar way to training physical skills. You know how you chose specific drills you want to work on to train your physical skills? You want to do the same thing with mental skills.
There are going to be certain tools and techniques you can use to train different skills.
Here's an article you can read that goes into detail on all the mental training tools you can choose from. Go through that article and decide on the best ones that will help you strengthen your mental game.
Create a Mental Training Routine
Then the last step is where you create a routine for yourself. I love routines when it comes to training both your physical game and mental game because of the consistency it instills.
One common factor with any kind of training is repetition. You cannot get highly skilled (whether in terms of your mental game or physical game) without repetition.
You have to put in the work to develop the skills. A routine helps ensure you are putting in the necessary work on a consistent basis.
With your mental training routine, take the tools you chose in the previous step and decide on when you're going to use them each day.
With mental training, a great time to implement your routine is in the morning or in the evening.
Here's an example of what a good mental training routine may look like...
- Self-reflective writing
- 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation
- Repeat self-talk
- Visualize for 5 minutes
In total, this routine should take about twenty minutes. That's not much of a time commitment to ensure you have a strong mental game.
By building a strong mental game, along with a strong physical game, you will be doing all you can to help yourself reach your potential as an athlete.
Because remember, it's no longer a question of Which is more important to athletes, the mental game or the physical game? They are both simply two parts that combine to help you become the best player you can be.
It's not an either or, but a balance. And you want to be sure you are giving as much attention as is needed to both sides of your game.
Now, when it comes to mental training, this can oftentimes seem more difficult to train than your physical game. Which is why there are a couple resources we have that will help.
One is our mental training course, Mental Training Advantage. This course is perfect for athletes ages 14 and up, and covers all the mental training skills you need to build a championship mindset.
If you are looking for a course for athletes between the ages of 9 and 13, we also have The Mentally Tough Kid. This course covers the six key fundamentals that make up a strong mind in young athletes.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
Contact Success Starts Within Today
Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.
Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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