As an athlete, it can be easy to get in the daily, weekly, and monthly pursuit of perfecting your physical skills. You can go to workouts, practice, the weight room, recovery, and so on, with everything locked in on perfecting what your body can do.
And while this is all very important, it can be easy to neglect training your mind as well. Without having a conscious plan to include your mind in everything that you are doing throughout the week, it is very easy for mental growth to fall by the wayside.
The great thing, though, is that you can be working on your mind while doing all of these physical activities that were already listed. It just takes you, as an athlete, deliberately focusing on training your mind, and putting yourself in situations to grow your mind as you train.
Be Willing to Get Uncomfortable
If you look at players like Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and so on, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that their skills are all a natural gift. A little bit of research, though, and you will find that they are also known for their work ethic. They develop their mental toughness every day by getting out of their comfort zone during workouts. Even though they are the best players in the world, they are working like they are still trying to make it.
One of my favorite players of all time was Kobe Bryant. Part of it was because of how skilled he was, but what really drew me in was his mental capacity. His offseason workouts were legendary, and you could see how this transferred into how he played the game. He was mentally prepared for any situation, and you could just see that he was always there to battle.
So if you want to develop your mind as a basketball player, get used to getting out of your comfort zone every time you step on the floor. Continue to push yourself to work harder and longer, and you will continue to see how your mentality continues to grow along with your physical skills.
It is important to note that it is not just about pushing yourself to go harder, but that you are also staying clear-minded as you do. You want to push yourself to go as hard as you can through a drill, but you must also be thinking the game and understanding what is going on as well. As a basketball trainer in Tampa, Florida, I look to put my players in situations like this, and it is easy to see the mentally engaged players and those who are only able to focus on how tired they are. All I have to do is throw in a small adjustment to the drill, and the players that are checked out mentally won’t remember it, while the players that are mentally locked in can execute it without a problem.
Regardless of what you are doing physically, it is critical to note that as your body speeds up, you want your mind to stay calm, cool, and collected. So make sure that you are focusing on that as you train.
There are several different types of players when it comes to conditioning. There is the player that feels like they are about to die the whole time and is just looking for a way to get through it. There is the player that is in good enough shape to pass all of the running without much effort and gives the minimum needed. And then there is the player that recognizes that conditioning is about more than just “getting through it.” These are the players that push themselves to win each sprint, challenge their teammates to give their best, and continue to push their body and mind to provide just a little more.
Only you know what category you currently fall into, but the great thing is that you can always choose to be in the third one. When it comes to conditioning, your body and mind are in a battle with each other. Your body is saying, “I am tired, I need a rest,” and your mind can either agree with your body or tell it to be quiet and push it to give more. This is where the mental growth comes into place. If you are always challenging yourself to give your best and push yourself to give that little bit more, you are going to not only be strengthening your muscles but also developing a strong mind.
One thing that helps me, even today, when I run is thinking back about what one of my college coaches used to say when we were doing conditioning. “In 10 minutes,” he would say, “this will all be over, and you won’t even remember it. You can do anything for 10 minutes.” So instead of getting caught up in, “I am too tired, I can’t continue,” I would switch my brain to, “Yeah, I can do this for 10 more minutes.”
Another one that I use when running is thinking about how thankful I am that I am able to run. There are so many people out there that aren’t able to run, and I think about how gladly they would take this small discomfort of being tired in order to run, and it challenges me to push on and give even more effort.
It doesn’t have to be either of these, but find something that works for you, and teach your brain how to think about succeeding, not about how tired you are.
In the Weight Room
A big part of a basketball player’s growth and development is going to happen in the weight room. Whether it is doing bodyweight exercises or putting up a new PR with squats or bench, your mental toughness will determine a lot about what you are capable of doing. This happens when you get tired, similar to conditioning, but also in your belief of what you can lift. For example, if you unrack the weight and think, “Oh, this is too heavy,” you most likely are going to fail. On the flip side, though, if you pick up the weight and think, “I am a beast, I am going to crush this,” you will be much more likely to succeed (don’t lift heavy without a spotter).
This all goes back to the battle between your mind and body. Your body is capable of so much, but only if your mind believes it. If you allow yourself to tell your body that you can’t, it will accept it, and you won’t. But if you are always telling yourself that you can, you will continue to develop that confidence in your mind. Both your mind and your body will experience success, and you will continue to see unprecedented growth.
An excellent example of this is benching with assistance bands. This is done in a squat rack by placing the bands on two pegs above the bar and then down around the ends of the bar. The bands work as a natural spotter and make the weight easier to lift back up the further the bands stretch. It allows the lifter to get more comfortable handling heavier weight and also works on finishing through the end of the bench press motion (getting through the sticking point) because the band starts to become slack (which means less assistance) as the weight is lifted back up.
What it does for the mind, though, is it allows it to get used to the unracking of heavier weight. If you have ever maxed out on the bench before, you know that feeling of taking the weight off of the rack and thinking, “what did I just get myself into, this is so heavy!” After using the assistance band to bench a few times, you will be used to unracking a heavier weight, and your mind will believe that you can do it. It isn’t that you are that much stronger, but that you believe it is a light enough weight for you to lift.
You are already capable of doing so much more; it is just getting your mind to buy into believing this.
When it comes to high-intensity situations, even the simplest of tasks can be accompanied by pressure. When the game is on the line, it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. But why? Why should it be more challenging to make a free throw at the end of the game compared to the beginning of one? It is the same physical action, so why should it be any different? The answer is the pressure that your own mind puts on you. In situations like this, your own mind can be your biggest enemy, or it can be your biggest ally.
The more you can prepare your mind for situations like these, the more you will be able to take this pressure off and trust yourself. A big part of this is spending time in the gym working on your skills to earn the right to be confident, but it is also how you prepare yourself mentally. As a player, you want to have the mindset of embracing the moment, not being scared of it. These are the types of moments that you work for every day, so step up with confidence and let the chips fall where they may.
On the flip side, if you allow yourself to think and worry about failing, you most likely are going to fail. It all comes down to how you approach the situation.
The great thing is that you can put yourself in high-intensity situations to help prepare yourself and give yourself practice for when it really matters. Playing pick up, in practice, workouts, etc., any time you have the chance to step up and make a game-winning play, don’t hesitate, don’t overthink it, just step up and make the right play. If you succeed, great, if you fail, scientifically evaluate what you could’ve done better, work at it, and face it the next time with confidence. What you can’t do is think, “I failed; I am no good.” Because what will happen is the next time you will think, “I failed last time, I am going to fail again.”
I love this quote by legendary UNC Coach Dean Smith, “What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.”
Read, Watch, Listen, and Learn
Up to this point, all of the keys have been developing your mental strength while also doing something physical. You must also be investing in your mental growth by reading, watching, and listening. There are so many excellent podcasts, videos, and resources for psychological development, but it is up to you to take advantage of them.
Just as you are willing to spend time in the gym, weight room, etc. working on your physical development, you must be willing to do the same with your mental development. Before you know it, you will be approaching everything that you do in basketball with a winning mindset.
The human body is absolutely amazing in all of the things that it can do. Most people, though, are only using a small portion of what it is capable of. It is those that understand that it is their mind that unlocks their bodies’ potential that leave us all surprised, impressed, and ultimately, cheering.
So while it is essential to continue to develop your physical skills, if you can also develop your mind as a basketball player, you are going to see growth in your game like never before. You will have games where it seems like you are “playing out of your mind” because you are free to play without pressure. You will be able to step up and embrace the big moments because you have prepared your mind over and over before.
This only happens, though, if you buy into training and developing your mind regularly. So take advantage of these five ways to train your mind as a basketball player, and start maximizing what you are capable of.
This is a guest article written by Kyle Ohman from Basketball HQ