If you’re on the fence about whether or not the mental game is worth your time, I recommend you check out Mind Gym. Mack and Casstevens pack their pages with story after story of professional athletes discussing the importance of the mental game. Elite performers from a variety of sports are used as examples in this quick and accessible resource, and it is made very clear that winning the game within has been vital to all of their successes**. The premise of the book is best summarized in one of Mack’s chapter conclusions; “Competition is won or lost on the 6-inch playing field between the ears.”
The book is simple, straightforward, and briefly covers a wide variety of mental game topics. The book’s chapters are short, making it an easy book to pick up whenever you have a little bit of time, or to simply flip to a chapter and read a particular anecdote; the book doesn’t need to be read in any particular order for it to be impactful.
While the book covers a wide range of topics within the mental game, a few resonated with me more than others, and are worth emphasizing:
“Kaizen”: The word means consistent daily improvement, and is mentioned more than once. While it is obvious that we strive to help our players improve every day it is important for both coaches and players to understand the importance of small, incremental gains, and take pride in that daily growth.
Confidence: Mack believes this is the ultimate goal of the mental game, and it is hard to argue. He writes that “confidence comes from the emotional knowing that you are prepared mentally as well as physically.” It is important that we help our players build authentic self-confidence, and in order to do that we must develop mental skills alongside the physical.
Playing present: This is a simple idea that comes up a number of times throughout the book. At the time of competition you cannot be concerned with past outcomes or future possibilities, you have to be immersed in the moment. As Mack explains, “You must be present to win.”
Mind Gym contains messages that, on their own, could be helpful to teams or individual athletes, but I’m not sure its best use is a whole-team reading. Here is how I would suggest using it:
- While reading, compile your favorite anecdotes—ones that you think will be most useful for your team—then use those examples specifically in individual or team meetings with your players. It can be very powerful for athletes to realize that elite-level athletes have dealt with similar issues. This allows you to have that benefit while requiring less of a time commitment from your players.
**It’s worth noting that, by no fault of the book or its authors, many of the subjects of the stories are outdated (Tino Martinez, Chris Chandler), or have since gained some negative attention (Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire). I would be mindful of this when choosing specific examples.
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