Mind Games

How do you explain a team losing a match by 50 points and then 7 days later winning a match by 40 points? How does a team of average players defeat a team of established champions? How come some athletes can raise and/or sustain their performance when the contest in which they compete asks them to go beyond their comfort zone in order to succeed?

The answer to all of the above is elementary ? ?power of the mind?. Belief, and commitment to that belief will enable the seemingly impossible to be possible. The best contests in sport occur when both combatants are mentally prepared, hungry and motivated to win. Sports Psychology is now implemented into the normal routine of most professional sports, but how seriously do the athletes themselves take it? For the ones that really need it I have my doubts. I don?t believe you can instil the desperation needed for superhuman efforts into someone that doesn?t naturally have it short of hypnotising them. On the physical side you can transform a 75kg winger into an 87kg specimen which will no doubt raise the confidence of same, but when push comes to shove will that winger have the mongrel it takes to match the Mal Meningas of the Rugby League sporting field?

South Sydney's new fullback Roy Bell weighs about 70kgs wringing wet yet he shows no sign of being tentative. When asked if he was ready to give the top grade a go his answer was ?you should have picked me ages ago?. This is the sort of attitude possessed by the most successful athletes. An example from the other side of the coin is Chris Walker ? a player not willing to put his body on the line and whose off field dramas over the years have paid testament to his lack of mental discipline and hunger to succeed. Walker does have great pace and will be involved in spectacular tries but whom do you think would win a match between 13 Chris Walkers and 13 Roy Bells? - The Roy Bells would win every time due to a superior state of mind.

A quote from Gorden Tallis ? ?when I cross that white stripe something clicks inside me and I hit as hard as I can and run as hard as I can?. It is interesting to note that after his serious neck injury Tallis was nowhere near as effective which he admitted was because the neck injury was in the back of his mind and who could blame him. There would be few players in the games history that could match Gorden Tallis?s mind power. When quizzed as to his toughest opponent on the field Gorden nominated Geoff Toovey ? the tiny former Manly halfback who also possessed the ?magic ingredient? that separates the great players from the ordinary players. Toovey weighed about 70kg when he debuted against Great Britain in 1988 and while he did build up his physique over the years the man never went in at anything less than 100%.

What about Motivators, can they get the best out of those attitude challenged athletes? I don?t think we?ve seen a major influence from motivators in Rugby League. We tend to be motivated by respect and admiration. Our great coaches have been primarily innovators and only motivators by stealth.

Many a sporting heroic has been fuelled by adrenaline. Adrenaline stimulates the heart and nervous system, and increases certain metabolic processes. It prepares the body for action - an adrenaline charged athlete would feel ready to meet any challenge. How is it produced? Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal gland, particularly during intense emotional states, again the mental connection.

There is no doubting the importance of being physically fit and prepared to play elite sport, however an athlete who is not mentally fit will not benefit from all the hard training in the world if they can?t back it up with guts and determination. But here is a twist - everyone has heard the saying ?A healthy body means a healthy mind?. There are a variety of ways in which exercise may influence the structure and function of the brain. The increased oxygen flow and resulting chemical processes can influence the brains health and integrity so one might assume that by training hard an attitude challenged athlete will increase their ability to overcome their mental barriers. But my opinion ? you?ve either got the attitude and hunger to succeed or you don?t.

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