Sport Psychology Excerpts
John F. Eliot, Ph.D
Every smart coach I've known, if he has to choose between
an athlete who lacks a great mindset and an athlete of lesser
physical gifts but whose mind is ready to maximize his potential,
will pick the confident player.
A player who can win the inner battle knows how to win. He
knows his game will hold up under pressure -- the most crucial
element of a clutch performer, of someone who will carry his
team to championships. Players who spend all their time on
the physical game only know how to block, run, lift, shoot,
or swing. There are a lot of athletes who know how to do those
things. Only a few really know how to win.
Quantity versus quality is like trying to dig a hole with
a thimble. Yes, you're working hard, but you're going to get
beat by someone with a shovel. Give athletes great coaches
and someone to teach them about maximizing performance and
youíre giving them a shovel.
In this age of videotape, media coverage, and slow motion
instant replay, our attention is drawn to the visible aspects
of performance. Sports analysts go on ad nauseam about the
skills a dominating athlete displays rather than commenting
on the preparation they put in behind the scenes to make those
skills soar. Why? Because mental preparation is not glamorous
or easy to videotape. But itís what got them on top in the
Study after study shows that physical size and IQ are not
nearly as helpful in predicting success as are accurate measures
of confidence and attitude. People who have a great mindset
tend to succeed. People who haven't yet learned a great mindset
tend to fail. Yet most teams don't train their players in
confidence, or don't devote nearly as much time and effort
to it as they do to teaching something like passing skills.
That's because passing skills are tangible and measurable.
Confidence happens to be neither. It also happens to be more
There are no guarantees. If there were -- if every time you
thought great, you succeeded -- everyone would be thinking
like a world champion. What people fail to realize is that
the converse is almost always true. Every time your thinking
falters, you will likely come up short of your potential.
Athletes with the edge understand this, and want to work hard
to ensure their mind is always where it needs to be. It doesn't
guarantee success, but it does set the table with the best
possible chance. And that's what they're after. That's what
separates them from the pack.
Peak performance is often a matter of small graduationsóa
few millimeters here or there, a few seconds on the clock,
just a touch more rhythm or timing. Such is the case with
the mental game. Athletes who win, and similarly teams that
become dynasties, may think only slightly different from those
who don't. They marshal the right thoughts and attitudes on
nearly EVERY play, EVERY day. Others admit distractions several
times a game. Over a long season, subtle differences become
magnified. They add up to have an enormous impact on results.
At the professional level, athletes from team to team are
all fairly equal in talent. They all put in the same amount
of practice. They all hit the weight room. They all have good
coaches to learn from. What generally separates the teams
on top is a commitment to excellence. Great thinking is usually
the difference between finishing .500 and winning Championships.
Great example: John Daly wins long drive contests everywhere.
375 yards! But he can't seem to win golf tournaments. All
that talent adds up to zero with a sub-par mental game. Thank
goodness heís not team sport athlete or his teamís owner would
be getting zippo on a hefty, multi-million dollar investment.
Success in athletics is not a matter of how much you know
about the mental game. Lots of people, coaches included, know
the principles. It's a question of who applies those principles
consistently and who applies them at the right moments. Physicians,
for instance, have the best and most expensive education thatís
available on human wellness. They understand better than anyone
how to stay healthy. Yet polls clearly show that their diet,
sleep, and exercise efforts are among the poorest of any single
occupation in the country. Knowledge isn't much good unless
you use it.
The optimal state of mind can be fleeting, maddeningly elusive.
It emerges from a confluence of factors, some very subtle.
And the factors can vary from athlete to athlete. The optimal
state of mind, therefore, is something an athlete must have
help with and work on patiently, every day.
An athlete whose attitude enables him to tap a higher percentage
of his store of God-given talent can and will beat the one
who doesnít know how to maximize what he has. Itís man against
man -- letís find out who can tap everything heís got. Thatís
what sport has always been about, to the time of the legendary
Greeks and before. Thatís what it will always be about.
Being the best in the world means freeing it up and going
for it. Obstacles are part of the equation. No one has even
become great by sitting on his laurels, or sticking to what
worked in the past. Every year in sport, the slate is wiped
clean, and the team that keeps moving forward is the team
that winds out on top.
John F. Eliot, Ph.D., is an award winning professor
of management, psychology, and human performance. He holds
faculty appointments at Rice University and the SMU Cox School
of Business Leadership Center. He is a co-founder of the Milestone
Group, a consulting firm providing training to business executives,
professional athletes, physicians, and corporations. Dr. Eliot's
clients have included: SAP, XEROX, Disney, Adidas, the United
States Olympic Committee, the National Champion Rice Owl's
baseball team, and the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Eliot's cutting edge
work has been featured on ABC, MSNBC, CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports,
NPR, and highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, Wall
Street Journal, New York Daily News, Entrepreneur, LA Times,
the Washington Post, USA Today, and the New York Times. Dr.
Eliot serves on numerous advisory boards including the National
Center for Human Performance and the Center for Performing
Arts Medicine. His latest book is Overachievement: The New
Model for Exceptional Performance. For more information, visit
Dr. Eliot's site at http://www.overachievement.com.
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