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The Importance of the Mind


As I watch, listen and observe athletes in the art of competition at all levels of sport, it is becoming more and more obvious to me about the importance of the connection between mental preparation and self confidence. As I watched the Los Angeles Clippers react and deal with the derogatory comments made by their owner, Donald Sterling, it became ever so clear to me why having a good mindset can help you through the adversity that will inevitably confront you at some point in your athletic career. Former Clipper player, Baron Davis, an established NBA player with several years of experience, discussed how difficult it was for him to play as a member of the Clippers whenever Sterling was at the game. Davis was quoted stating, “If we were in layup lines and he wasn’t around, I’d be in a great mood. As soon as he walked into the arena I’d get like the worst anxiety, and I never had anxiety playing…and I couldn’t do it.” Even a two-time All Star player, playing at the highest level of competition, had difficulty handling his emotions!


I’ve often stated the quote my uncle told me years ago, “Sports is the greatest theatre in the world, everyone knows their part, no one knows what will happen.” One of the greatest aspects of sport is that we can never know everything about what will occur in the upcoming competition. However, you can take the time to mentally prepare for the unexpected. If you do have a mental preparation plan, it can definitely assist you at being ready. Most people talk about mental preparation in the same manner as they discuss mental toughness. Being prepared is often emphasized with being confident, being positive and haying a good mindset.

But to me, I think it also involves being ready for things to go wrong, for the negativity and for  an awareness of how you react when you get frustrated. When you practice your golf game, do you always tee up your ball on the driving range or do you try to hit balls out of a divot? Do you practice shooting free throws in a calm relaxed setting or do you try shooting with numerous distractions around you?


I like to discuss with my clients what I call Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is all about having a positive mindset about what you want to accomplish in your game or practice. It focuses on positive visualization, always looking ahead, believing in yourself and knowing that you have put the time and energy into your preparation to be ready to compete. Plan A is all about being positive and confident. It focuses on having the mindset that YOU WILL achieve your goals.

Plan B is about being prepared for the unexpected, whatever that may be. It is about having a game plan about how to react when things go wrong, because ultimately, they will at some point in a competition. You will hit a golf ball out of bounds, you will strike out, drop a pop up or double fault. It will happen because that is what sports competition is all about. The main emphasis here, is that successful athletes have a way to minimize these mistakes and not let them snowball into an out of control mental avalanche. When I talk with athletes about visualizing their games, I often ask them to visualize what they will do when they make a mistake. How will they feel physically and emotionally? What will they be thinking? And when these negative situations occur, what will they do to take control and not let one mistake turn into two, three or four mistakes in a row? Plan B is about taking control and being prepared for the unexpected event, whatever that may be.


Baron Davis probably never would have thought that seeing Donald Sterling would have resulted in him developing severe anxiety so strong that he couldn’t perform. That just doesn’t normally happen to NBA All Stars. But, Baron Davis is human just like the rest of us and needed to have a plan and technique to be ready for the unexpected. Perhaps we should all remember the Boy Scout Motto, “Be Prepared”. If you are, you will probably know that if something goes wrong, it was just one mistake and that you can take control to not let it become more. As always, your thoughts.

One thought on "The Importance of the Mind"

Tony Francis says:

Dr. Jacobs,

Great article! I lead a group of men and things do go wrong at times. We know people want to do well at whatever they do, but things happen. So, I have been emphasizing good recovery skills with them, which helps ease mistakes and still allows a sense of victory.
I am a typeI diabetic and enjoy playing golf (10-12 handicap, but I have blown many rounds due to low or high blood sugar levels. It seems to be getting harder as I walk the course and get older (47) to manage. Relying on my recovery skills is part of the game, but I seem to be relying on them more due to glucose levels and maybe age too. Any suggestions?

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