As a pro athlete, you not only have to be in impeccable physical condition, your mind also has to be sharp and ready for competition, adversity, and greatness, you need mental strength. I have picked five books to help you develop and sharpen your mental strength to see external and internal pressure as necessary elements for greatness and embrace them every moment in your career.
There are external factors like the business side of the professional world, competition, the media, and expectations from fans, team, etc. You also have to deal with internal factors like the pressure of expectations you put on yourself and the standards you set for your career. Most important is your response to big moments, injuries, mistakes, criticism, judgement, and success.
THE ART OF WAR – SUN TZU
At first glance, this may feel out of place because it talks of war, but Sun Tzu’s treatise is used by militaries, CEOs, and leaders in walks of life for centuries. It is more than just war; it is about knowing yourself, the opponent, your environment and learning the awareness to use all this information to gain an advantage.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu
THE CHAMPION’S MIND; HOW GREAT ATHLETES THINK TRAIN AND THRIVE – JIM AFREMOW
In this book, Jim Afremow, a renowned sports psychologist, talks about the mental aspects and mindset that set apart greatness from elite pro athletes. Do not be shocked to find that it is not your talent or ability that makes you great, but rather your approach to your work. Your confidence, mental preparation, and concentration are essential to being a cut above the rest; they give you a mental edge in the big moments, the defining plays, the history-making moments of your sport and career.
“The vision of a champion is someone who is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion when no one else is watching.” – Jim Afremow
THE INNER GAME OF TENNIS: THE CLASSIC GUIDE TO THE MENTAL SIDE OF PEAK PERFORMANCE – TIMOTHY GALLWEY
Having tennis in the title might make you sceptical. Still, Gallwey’s masterpiece on how to be a mindful athlete who overcomes the external and internal noise of doubt, fear, negative criticism, judgements, mistakes, and self-imposed limitations, is much more. The Inner Game of Tennis teaches you how to get out of your own way by training your mind not to hinder your performance. Great champions like Steve Kerr, Tom Brady, and Pete Carroll have spoken highly of the book’s impact in their championship years and mindset to victory.
“The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.” – Timothy Gallwey
THE UNFETTERED MIND – TAKUAN SOHO
The inventor of the Takuan pickle and friend to the most famous swordsman in Japanese history, Takuan is one of Zen Buddhism’s most notable monks and was very influential in the 17th century. In the unfettered mind, Takuan uses the art of sword fighting and Zen principles to teach us the secrets behind immovable wisdom (focus and concentration), mental strength, and the state of no-mind, decisiveness in action.
“Preoccupied with a single leaf, you won’t see the tree. Preoccupied with a single tree, you’ll miss the entire forest.” – Takuan Soho
MAMBA MENTALITY – KOBE BRYANT
Kobe Bryant is known as one of the world’s great in basketball and as a competitor because of how he approached the competition, his mental strength was formidable, he once shot free throws on a torn Achilles! Relentless, unyielding, passionate, obsessive, and self-disciplined, Bryant never cheated the game and largely attributed his success to his mindset and preparation, both physical and mental. In Mamba Mentality, Bryant details precisely this, taking you through his process to being one of the most revered, and mentally strong athletes ever.
“The only way I was able to pick up details on the court, to be aware of the minutiae on the hardwood, was by training my mind to do that off the court and focusing on every detail in my daily life. By reading, by paying attention in class and in practice, by working, I strengthened my focus. By doing all of that, I strengthened my ability to be present and not have a wandering mind.” – Kobe Bryant