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The legendary Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.” I know what you are thinking… The math here seems a bit fuzzy. But anyone that has played their sport at an advanced level can tell you that Yogi is 100% right! In fact, most elite-level athletes will tell you that the “mental” is actually more important than the “physical”. If you are a high school athlete aspiring to play in college and beyond, it’s time to start paying attention to more than just how much you can bench press!
This week, I sought out an expert opinion into the world of sports psychology and was lucky enough to talk to one of the best in the business! Dr. John F. Murray is a well-known author, speaker, clinical psychologist and sports psychologist. Known as “the most quoted psychologist in America,” Dr. Murray provides mental game coaching for all athletes in all sports, speaking and executive coaching services for the corporate world, and general clinical psychology services to all of his clients. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: How important has psychology become in sports?
A: It has always been important. It hasn’t just become important, it’s just that more people are now discovering it because of the impact that it is having at the highest levels of the sports we love. The field of sports psychology is recognized worldwide and as it continues to grow, you will continue to see athletes reaching their fullest potential.
Q: When should athletes start to consider “training” mentally?
A: That really depends on the maturity-level of the athlete. If the athlete is mature enough, you can start introducing ideas at a fairly young age, say 10-12. Certainly, by the time an athlete gets to high school, they are well beyond the point from which they should have started. If a high school athlete isn’t doing something to mentally train their mind for what they are doing to either reduce distractions or build particular mental skills, they are missing the boat. It’s imperative to start young, but even if you haven’t, it’s never too late to start.
Q: Why would you recommend that athletes invest in mental training?
A: There are really two primary reasons. The first would be that no matter the sport you play, you are simply going to perform better. Unquestionably, mental performance combined with the talent or inherent physical ability equals total performance. If you miss out on the mental side of that equation, you’re missing a huge part of how successful your performance can be.
The second reason is there is a lot of stress, pressure and anxiety associated with high level athletics, including high school, college and professional sports. Having the ability to manage the distractions and stressors caused by performance will make you a much healthier athlete. A mentally and physically healthy athlete is a successful athlete.
Q: What role does psychology play in advanced-level athletes?
A: There are mental demands that go beyond any talent. You might be the most physically gifted athlete in the world, but how do you perform under the lights when you are facing the best competition? How do you perform when it counts? How do you handle the pressure? There are so many elements to a high-demand situation like playing a sport and you are required to cope with a lot of things, all at once.
Having a prepared mind in these situations allows an athlete to be automatic, if you will. You don’t want to be thinking too much, you want to have these situations well-rehearsed long before you compete.
Q: How can sports psychology affect an athlete’s life outside of their sport?
A: In every which way! I often tell the athletes I work with that they are getting a secondary benefit from it. The same skills that you need to be successful in the classroom, boardroom, or even in relationships are the skills you learn through your mental training as an athlete. There is a generic quality to mental skills that can be applied in any situation you encounter. Being disciplined, having confidence, staying focused, controlling your emotions and having fun is what we learn through sports. Those are the qualities of successful people, not just athletes.