During the torturous uphill climb and the brief moment before the freefall, the rider of a roller coaster has very little control over what happens next. While all riders understand their ride is designed to be scary but safe, the reactions vary intensely. Some scream loud enough to be heard from across the park. Others possess a stoic calmness, fearless to whatever happens next. Which one are you? The different mindsets exist in sports and determines the elite.
Physical dominance can make you great. Whether genetic, artificial or the result of hard work, being physically dominant over your competition is an undeniable advantage. But it isn’t enough. Mental dominance is what makes the elite unstoppable. Elite athletes take comfort in being uncomfortable. The last mile, the last quarter, the last at-bat, the last attempt. When it is winning time, elite athletes ignore their bodies screaming, “NO!” and instead work harder and tell themselves, “Get it done. Now.”
The perfect example of an athlete with whose mental toughness continues to take him to new heights is Damian Lillard. Though he was selected to his first all-star game this season, Damian Lillard does not get the recognition he deserves. This is nothing new for him. Lillard graduated as a 2-star recruit, according to Rivals, with scholarship offers to mid-major schools. He chose to attend Weber State and arrived in Ogden, UT with a relentless hunger to get better. The team’s head coach, Randy Rahe, told Slam Magazine in April of last year, that Dame was, “The hardest working kid I’ve been around in 22 years.” He improved each year and at his press conference announcing is declaration into the 2012 NBA Draft he was asked what his next goal was. His response, “I want to be rookie of the year.” The once-unknown recruit from Oakland became the 6th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. When his first season concluded, he was named Rookie of the Year.
Lillard’s work ethic alone makes him a player worth following. However, the toughness he possesses goes far beyond an insatiable urge to get better. Each game he uses several mental tactics to Slam Magazine:
It starts with the breathing. During tight games, immediately following the third quarter or in the midst of a timeout early in the fourth, Damian Lillard sits on the bench. His routine has begun.
Ten or so deep breaths, in and out. Then the second-year point guard closes his eyes, concentrating his energy on his inner center – either down at his navel or within his forehead, between the eyes. Focus hard enough on a specific spot, he was taught, and you can block out all feelings of fatigue, gaining an advantage on your wind-sucking opponents in the process.
“It helps me,” Lillard says. “It’s a mental thing.”
Then come the final few minutes of the game, when Lillard leans on his overdeveloped mental toughness to keep pushing. His late-game heroics are forever chronicled on YouTube but an in-depth look at his statistics in overtime reveal a player with an unbelievable tendency to come up clutch. There is no doubt that his behind-the-scenes mental preparation plays a significant factor.
At Elite Sports Performance, we want nothing more than success for our athletes. While we work tirelessly to train their bodies in preparation for performance, the reality is that the six inches between their ears will play a larger role in determining their success. In the book, “Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence” by Gary Mack and David Casstevens, the authors develop the 10 qualities needed for inner excellence. They wrote:
One becomes an MVP – Most Valuable Person – by achieving excellence within. Inner excellence is a way of thinking and a way of acting. It is a quality of mind, a mentality that says no matter how difficult things become, you are responsible for your thoughts, feelings and actions.
10 Qualities of Inner Excellence:
1) The person who is a winner within has a dream. Imagination is like life’s previews of coming attractions. Pursue your dream. Turn that dream into action through goal setting.
2) Commitment. “I hated every minute of training. But I told myself, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” – Muhammad Ali.
3) Responsibility. Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with you can.
4) Openness to learning and growing. An MVP turns weaknesses into strength. Learn how to play with the paradoxes of sports. We don’t grow old. We get old by not growing.
5) Optimism. A positive mental attitude is essential to becoming the hero that is within you. Andre Agassi climbed from the bottom of the world rankings to number one in 1999. “I’ve always learned so much more from my downs than my ups. They’re really who I am.”
6) Self-confidence. Part of responsibility psychology is knowing that no one can take away your self-esteem without your permission. Have the courage to fulfill your potential.
7) Emotional control. Emotion is your enemy. If you start out hot, you can only cool over time.
8) The adversity quotient. An MVP looks at obstacles as opportunities and view setbacks as a springboard for a comeback.
9) Those with inner excellence possess the backbone of character. Pick people up; don’t put them down; walk your talk; live by your principles. If you don’t stand for something, you can fall for anything.
10) An MVP is persistent and patient. Don’t give up on your dream. Don’t let others dissuade you. Be with people who stoke your fire, not soak your fire. When times are good, be grateful and when times are bad be grateful.
Trust the program and take steps to find your inner excellence today!