Even though physical aspects such as strength, speed, and power are indescribably important in sports, sports are played mentally.
You think about where you should throw the ball. You think about where you want to shoot the puck. You think about what spin you should put on your serve. You think about how much draw you should put into that golf swing.
Thinking is, in essence, life. It's what makes humans humans. No other species of animal on the entire planet can think the way humans do. We have the thinking ability to form governments, design currency, build bridges, and most importantly, to make choices.
Thinking has led to many things, including the invention of the light bulb, the creation of Google, and many other things. Thinking has lead to Barry Bonds' prowess at the plate, Greg Maddux's dominance on the mound, and Cal Ripken Jr.'s fabulous fielding skills.
Now, the mental side of sports is taught.
Some athletes never thought about what they were doing in youth athletics, high school sports, or college sport events.
The great Yogi Berra once said, "How can you think and hit at the same time?"
Apparently, Berra was wrong. Thinking is a key part to hitting a 90 mph fastball or a hanging curveball.
Thinking is a key part to throwing a fade route. Thinking is a key part to stopping a puck. Thinking is a key part to shooting free throws. Thinking is a key part to...
Just about anything.
Now, can athletic thinking be taught? It very so may be able to.
Sport psychology has had a huge impact on athletes in recent years. Athletes are taught mental skills by sports psychologists, including goal-setting, relaxation, visualization, and self-talk, to name but a very few.
Athletes are taught to set goals. If you want a Super Bowl win, a World Series title, or anything that will gain you prestige in athletics, you must set a goal before you are able to reach it. Many athletes write their goals down. Dwight Howard, the Orlando Magic's superstar center, keeps his goals on a sheet of paper, taped to a wall by his bedside.
Relaxation is an extremely important technique taught by sport psychologists. Free-throw shooters in basketball have improved tremendously from the learning of these relaxation techniques. A hitter who is calm at the plate is a better hitter. A goalie who doesn't feel pressure will stop the puck better. A quarterback who can block out crowd noise is that much more likely to lead a game-winning drive.
The most common relaxation technique is deep breathing, as it is the easiest and quickest relaxation technique to perform. Some athletes may have little quirks that help them relax. Ever watch a NBA player shoot free throws? You see all the dribbles, spins of the ball, and phantom throwing motions for a reason. The basketball player's routine at the foul line is almost always part of a relaxation technique. The object is to take the crowd noise and other variables out of your mind by focusing on those few dribbles and spins.
Visualization is a very important technique for athletes. You cannot score a goal if you don't see yourself shooting it in the top right corner of the net, correct? Creative visualization, as it is known, puts the athlete into a positive mental state. A happy player is a better player. Many pitchers use visualization as a mental training technique in order to achieve peak performance on the mound.
Ernest Solivan, author of Mastering The Mental Side Of Pitching, recommends that pitchers should visualize what they want to do in tomorrow's start the night before in order to consistently pitch well.
Self-talk is one of the odder mental skills practiced by professional athletes. Self-talk is basically, talking to yourself after visualizing something. A pitcher may visualize where he wants to throw his next pitch. Some pitchers, including me, may say (mentally) where they want to throw the pitch to themselves. This just helps you get closer to your visualization. If you visualize where you want to throw your pitch, and then you say to yourself where you want to throw your pitch, you are thinking more about executing your pitch. This gets you closer to your goal, which is throwing your pitch where you want it to be thrown.
Since athletes are finally learning the mental side of sports, performances have become better and better. Fans are getting to see higher quality athletes because athletes are putting more effort into thinking more than ever.
As you can see, thinking pays off.