In order to make this blog post personally valuable to you, I’d like to start by asking you a couple of questions.  First, whatever sport you play, how often do you play up to your potential, in other words, if you rate your best performance a 10, how often do you play at a 10? …

The next question I’d like you to answer is: If you can play at a 10 sometimes, why can’t you do it more frequently?  You obviously have the physical skills and ability or you wouldn’t have been able to do it that one time. …

I’d like to suggest that the reason your game isn’t consistent and you don’t play up to your potential most of the time is strictly mental—specifically, your beliefs, attitudes, and feelings—all of which are within your power to change.

Obviously you need the appropriate skills for your sport but, as Jim Loehr (a sports psychologist who has worked with a number of successful professional athletes) points out, “the distinguishing trademark of great players in any sport is not so much their exceptional talent, but rather their exceptional ability to consistently play at the peak of their talent.”

Many others agree.  For example, a story in USA Today pointed out: “For years, golf’s top players have agreed: little separates the physical capabilities of the world’s 100 or so best players.  The difference between personal success and failure, they agree, largely depends on their approach, their handling of crisis situations on the course, their response to pressure, the ability to handle their emotions and fears and doubts.  In short, it’s the mental side of the game.” (Italics added.)

If you’re like most serious amateur competitors, you don’t complain very much about your physical limitations.  Here is a list of some of the most common complaints.  Which sound familiar to you?

  • “It’s not that I don’t know what to do, it’s that I don’t do what I know.”
  • “The harder I try, the worse I seem to perform.”
  • “I know exactly what I’m doing wrong on my forehand (or my putting, or my footwork, or my swimming stroke, etc.), but I just can’t seem to break the habit.”
  • “When I concentrate on one thing I’m supposed to be doing, I flub something else.”
  • “I’m my own worst enemy.”


Notice that every one of these complaints is a mental one.  Moreover, all of them are the result of pressure you put on yourself.

In fact, Loehr contends, “If you can take the pressure off yourself, then winning will take care of itself.”

Why?  What’s the connection between pressure and your ability to perform?

Tony Schwartz points out in a New York Magazine article that “Thoughts about losing or playing poorly may lead to fear and anxiety, which prompt an array of physiological reactions such as increased heart rate, muscle tightness, shortness of breath, reduced blood flow to the hands and feet, and even narrowing of vision.  All of these reactions make it impossible to play up to one’s potential. ”


“The emotional downfall for most players is mistakes,” according to Loehr.  “Mistakes can trigger strong emotional responses (disappointment, embarrassment, anger, temper, low intensity) that can cause inconsistent or poor play.  For some players, nearly every mistake represents an emotional crisis.  But it’s interesting to note that everyone manages mistakes the same way when they’re playing well.  They simply turn and walk away confidently, as if nothing happened.  Ideally, the best emotional response to mistakes is to get challenged.  A mistake is simply feedback to the mental computer that the shot wasn’t perfect, that some adjustment is necessary. And the simple fact is that without mistakes, the learning process would be permanently blocked.  No mistakes, no progress.  But negative emotion also blocks the progress and is a natural response to mistakes.  So what’s the answer?  The answer is that players must train emotionally so that mistakes produce the right emotional response.”  (Italics added.)

It might be possible to “train emotionally,” but ultimately emotions are the result of beliefs and conditionings.  Eliminate the beliefs and conditionings and the emotions change automatically. Imagine the following: You have the belief that a ball being hit into the net (or into the water, etc., depending on your sport) is a mistake, and mistakes mean there is something wrong with you.  Now imagine that the ball hits the net or goes into the water.  What would you have to feel? … Angry at yourself, annoyed, frustrated, hopeless, etc.

Now imagine this scenario: You have the belief that there is no such thing as a mistake, that every result that isn’t what you intended is an opportunity to learn how to improve your game.  Moreover, you believe that not achieving your intended result means nothing about you. Now imagine that the ball hits the net or goes into the water.  What would you feel in this situation? …  You might find it difficult to imagine right now that there are only outcomes and no mistakes, but just do your best to imagine the scenario I’ve just described.  Okay? … What would you feel?  …  Challenged, calm, curious, or possibly nothing at all.

What happens physiologically when you think you’ve made a mistake?  Too much negative energy, which gets translated into being too excited, too angry, too anxious.  Some typical signs of over‑arousal include:

  • Legs feel weak and rubbery.
  • Difficulty in concentrating and focusing.
  • Everything seems to be going faster than it really is.
  • Inability to think clearly and accurately.
  • Attention gets focused on one thing and refocusing is difficult.
  • Become fatigued very quickly.

Changing your belief about mistakes would minimize these conditions.

Stress Is an Interpretation

“The greatness of a Gretsky, a Connors, a Palmer, or an Evert is not that they perform well under pressure,” Loehr contends.  “No one performs well under pressure.  Their greatness is in their learned ability to take the pressure off. …  In the face of great external pressure, these

[top] performers felt almost no anxiety.  To the contrary, they felt calm and peaceful inside but also highly energized, positive, and enthusiastic…

“It is this skill that separates the superstars from the troops—they have the ability to take pressure off, transforming crisis into opportunity and threat into challenge.  All that stands between you and that ability is your own head!  …  Pressure is something you put on yourself.”  (Italics added.)

Nothing is inherently stressful.  In other words, stress doesn’t exist “out there” and nothing “out there” causes stress.  Stress originates in the mind and exists only in the mind; it’s the result of an interpretation.  Change the interpretation by changing beliefs and the stress will disappear.

For example, assume you had a project to complete and had a number of limiting beliefs, including I’m not capable and Nothing I do is good enough. What would you feel as you began the project? … Some level of stress. And it would feel as if the project was causing the stress, wouldn’t it?

Now let’s assume you had the same project but had the opposite beliefs, including I am capable and Whatever I do is good enough.  If your beliefs made you feel confident that you would do a good job, do you still think the project would make you feel stress? … Unlikely.  Same project, but different beliefs would result in different levels of stress.

By changing your beliefs, something that had been experienced as stressful can be experienced as fun or challenging.

Control your mind, improve your game.  It really is possible.

Thanks for reading my blog. Do you agree or disagree with the points I made in this post?  Why?  Do you have something to add?  Your comments will add value for thousands of readers.

Please feel free to share my blog posts with anyone you think might be interested (as long as you tell people where they came from) and to provide a link from your own website or blog.


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Copyright © 2009 Morty Lefkoe


  1. […] Originalartikel „How the mind determines athletic success“ ist auf Morty Lefkoes Blog […]

  2. ジェイコブス 時計 September 6, 2013 at 3:38 am - Reply


  3. Dominic Carubba October 2, 2009 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Hi Lou,
    I appreciate what you are saying. In effect, it is that you “do the exercise, and take what you get.” or “sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug” analogy works for me. I think that the most interesting thing in your comment was that no matter how you felt or what you thought, you were out “doing your job.”
    You were “on the court” and paying attention. That says volumes about what it really takes to succeed. There is NO CORRELATION between success and feeling good. You were doing the work… and that’s the factor that makes the biggest difference in whether or not you are successful.

    The flaw in positive thinking is that it is supposed to affect results. You have to do the action to get the result, and that takes commitment. Simple, clear and concise… the pathway to success is commitment to do the work.

    I try to ignore my feelings all together and remind myself of what I am committed to in order to get what I want. Sometimes I remember, sometimes I forget. Most of the time, I just start doing what I am committed to as soon as I remember.
    I don’t waste time worrying whether or not it was because of my “attitude” or my “beliefs” that kept me from remembering. I just get back to work.

    Thanks for an opposing point of view.

  4. admin September 30, 2009 at 9:33 am - Reply

    Hi Khizar,

    Thanks for your interest in our work and for taking the time to write. I’m thrilled that our work is making such a difference in your life.

    We are planning a training in the future and if you please send me an email with your contact information, I will notify you when the next training is planned. Send it to:

    Regards, Morty

  5. Lou Fogel September 30, 2009 at 5:45 am - Reply

    I completely disagree with this article and premise.

    Just because someone with a vested interest in the idea of the “mental side of the game” (i.e. a “sports psychologist”) claims the premise, doesn’t make it true.

    Nor do the anecdotal stories by athletes.

    I’m a nationally ranked athlete, and I train with dozens of others, many of whom are internationally ranked. Luckily, I and quite a few of those athletes have kept training logs that include our “mental state” before and during practice and performance.

    We’ve all noticed the same thing: There is no relationship between how I feel or what I’m thinking and performance.

    Some days, we’ve all noticed, we’re convinced we just can’t get it together … and then we’ve set personal bests.

    Other days, everything feels great and we’re confident and focused, and we have personal worsts.

    And, of course, some times we do poorly when we feel bad, and well when we feel good. In other words, again, we see no relationship.

    Human beings LOVE to try to figure out what the causative factors for success are. Unfortunately, study after study demonstrates not only how inaccurate our conclusions are, but how stubbornly we cling to those fallacious theories once we’ve concluded they’re accurate.

    As far as I can tell, the only advantage that these theories provide is to the person selling workshops about the application of these theories.

  6. Khizar Hayat September 30, 2009 at 2:07 am - Reply

    I agree with you that the pressure and stress is result of our interpretation and it is all in our head. I remember when I used to go for Shotokan Karate or for working out at gym, there was some negative self-talk inside me and I felt a burden on my self. When I changed a couple of self-esteem beliefs, I felt that burden was taken off my shoulders and the events that once I thought as stressful became fun and I felt stronger. It was as if someone turned down the volume of negative chatterbox every time I eliminated a negative belief. In relationships what once used to make me feel insecure because I believed I was not important, now doesn’t effect me as well and I feel their is a charm that attracts others because they rarely find someone who is so self-assured, calm and not an approval-seeker at all.
    I have been reading self development books for years but I have to admit your program was a breakthrough and has really changed my life. Now rarely do I feel stress and when I do, I identify the belief and eliminate it and become at peace. Your program is phenomenal and I recommend it to everyone. Moreover, I want to learn advanced stuff in it as well, so that I and people around me can benefit more out of it. How should I proceed?

  7. Adalia John September 29, 2009 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Your are absolutely correct. I am beginning to conclude that everything we do or not do is based on a belief and that many of our experiences is created in our minds. When we change our thoughts we will transform our lives and control our destiny.

  8. Erik Hyland September 29, 2009 at 11:29 am - Reply

    As a personal trainer, I think this is a great article. I see clients as well as my peers feeling stuck or think that they have hit a plateau and can’t do anything about it. It’s so important that we be aware of how our attitudes and feelings can manifest physically. This is such a great resource for my clients that are hitting a wall as I once did. I recommend that they give this a try since it helped me and it’s free by clicking on the link above. Thank you Morty.

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