The Common Sense Approach to Peak Sports Performance

It’s agreed that 90% of winning is mental.
So why do the majority of individuals and teams spend an average of 10% on mental conditioning?

Even though I’m very competitive, I had never thought of competing in sports in my early life. The only athletic endeavor I participated in, as a result of being picked on by bullies at a young age, was weight lifting for strength and later, the martial arts.

All that changed in my 30s when I was working as a psychotherapist specializing in subconscious conditioning. Because of the high-level people I was working with, which took me frequently out of the country, I was recruited to participate in special government assignments. And because much of my training encompassed the use of weapons and tactics, my trainers, Michael Harries (who created the famous handgun/flashlight technique) and Jeff Cooper (considered the godfather of modern combat techniques) thought that I should, as part of my training, participate in combat/speed shooting competition.


After a relatively short period of time, due much to my mental conditioning process, I joined the ranks of the top 14 shooters in the world. Bear in mind that the other shooters were professionals with great resources and spending about 20 hours practicing to every one of mine.

Sports Psychology:

Early on, when I first became interested in sports psychology, I discovered that while there was a lot available, the books and CDs were being produced by ‘sports psychologists’, many of whom had never even competed in a sport and the rest of the available information was filled with psychobabble. So I started reading books by athletic coaches and a few of them were very good. They seemed to naturally understand what athletes needed to learn in order to improve but most importantly how to improve.

Increasing Athletic Performance: Do’s and Don’ts:

Generally, sports psychologists will tell you that in order to have an edge over your competitors you must give 110%. Then in the same breath they tell you to stay relaxed. Well between you and me you cannot do both at the same time. Tense up your fist as hard as you can at the same time keeping it relaxed. Impossible.

Staying relaxed and giving 95% will give you your best chance in beating the competition because it takes a little bit of the edge off which helps reduces stress. I learned this when I was in high school.

One Saturday some friends of mine and I we’re sitting on a grassy knoll (no, not the infamous one) overseeing the track team that was practicing. The track coach started yelling for the sprinters to lineup. Some of my friends knew that I was fast and dared me to go down and run. Well, I couldn’t turn down the challenge. So I went down and asked  the coach if I could run the hundred yard dash with the sprinters. He saw I was barefooted so he said I would have to run on the grass next to the track. The sprinters had track shoes and starting blocks. Pete, one of the sprinters, was the fastest guy in our school and a friend of mine. So I really didn’t care if I won or lost. It was all about having fun. And that was the key. I was running, you could say, with about 90% effort. I won the race by a wide margin and a time of 10 seconds flat.

Don’t be lazy, just don’t try too hard.  There is a law of the mind called ‘The Harder You Try To Do Something, The Harder It Is To Do It’. Example: you’re trying to remember something, it’s on the tip of your tongue, and the harder you try to remember it, the harder it is. Relax, maybe think of something else, and what you tried to remember will pop up.

Relaxation equals smooth working muscles and smooth actions equals speed.  If you look at sprinters breaking the tape at the finish line, you will see more winners with a relaxed facial expression than a face reflecting stress.

Muscle memory is obviously very important in sports. But you only get good muscle memory from practicing good quality techniques. It would be better to practice something 10 times properly than a thousand times badly. Your focus should always be on quality not quantity. There was a world Champion in combat shooting from South Africa. Because of the law in his country, he was only allowed to practice with a small amount of ammunition. So every time he went out to practice he only fired one hundred rounds. But he made each shot count. Some shooters here in the states would go through a thousand rounds in a day while making the same mistakes over and over.

Practice makes better, but only if you’re smart in your practice sessions. You will never be perfect. It is unattainable. But if you strive to be better in you workouts, learn from your  mistakes, you will experience a wonderful progression of increased skill.

Conditioning Your Mind:

What I’m about to say is going to be difficult for some of you to accept. But here goes. You cannot really care if you win or lose, just as long as you played according to the level of your practice sessions. What that means is that your real skill level will be revealed in your practice sessions. If you’re doing things right in your practice sessions you’ll be happy with your results. So you want to take the confidence you achieved in practice and make it work for you on the days that you’re competing.

No matter what your skill level, keep a positive attitude because a negative attitude definitely creates stress. I’ve seen many competitors in different sports, after not doing well in the competition, swear, yell, throw their equipment on the ground, etc. It’s very important that you remember, that when you’re very upset, your mind is hypersensitive and all that negativity is going deep into your mind which, if you do it enough times, will lead to a breakdown in confidence and skill.

I found on some days you can play beyond your best and still get beat. Or you can play your worst and still win.

Two examples: I competed in a shooting match where the top score had held up for many years. On this particular day I was shooting my best and shattered the record. I was feeling pretty good about my performance when at the very last minute someone came in and beat me by two points. In another match I was shooting too fast, missed a target completely, costing me a serious penalty and I still won the match. Bottom line, all you can do is your best.

I also found that when you look at the physical abilities of the top players, their skills are evenly matched. Anyone of the top players has a chance to win. What makes the real difference is their ability to control their mental capabilities: concentration, confidence, focus and their ability to execute their game plan.

Practice, Practice, Practice.  If you aren’t, your competition is!
If you don’t practice smart, why practice at all?

You hear a lot about visualizing what you will do at the competition. But some players can’t see things in their mind. But that’s OK. If you can’t see it in your mind just imagine what it would look like.

I’ve proven it scientifically, that when you properly visualize what you want to accomplish in a competition, your muscles will react as if you were actually practicing physically. The muscles move almost microscopically but they do move.

So the best advice I can give you is to get in a nice comfortable position, relax and visualize exactly what you want to accomplish.

Some of you will react better by giving yourself very direct suggestions such as “I will stay calm, I am confident in my skills, I stay in the Zone”. But some of you will react better by giving yourself implied suggestions such as telling yourself “It’s after competition and I’m smiling; I feel great”, which implies that you did a good job and you’re happy with your performance. It’s very important to always remember to match your positive suggestions to you’re Learning Type.

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