Getting the Edge:
Tapping The Power of The Mind
John F. Eliot, Ph.D
Why Mental Training Now?
What do Lee Iacocca, Walt Disney, and Pat Riley all have in
common? Two things. (1) They all created incredible dynasties
which dominated in their arena of competition. (2) They were
willing to go for it--in fact, there were already going for
it--when their opponents were busy saying, "That takes too
long, it's too hard, or it's too controversial."
Iacocca, Disney, and Riley are illustrations of what the psychology
of exception is all about. In order to be THE best in the
world, in order to be exceptional, you must be willing to
go an extra mile and take risks while everyone else is doubting,
protecting, and attempting to avoid errors and failure.
Riley, for example, was the first NBA coach to fully incorporate
strength training into his team's practice regime. At that
time, early in the 80's, lifting weights was reserved for
body building "freaks" like the Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno.
Or for weak kids bullied around the playground. Coaches were
afraid of weight training, focusing on misconceptions concerning
injury, loss of coordination and flexibility, and an insistence
that "tough" athletes don't need it. Meanwhile, Riley was
finding a way to make his team quicker and more powerful than
any other. Today every team has a specialist devoted to strength
Think about Walt Disney's pursuit of excellence. There's a
guy who decided he was going to build a multi-million dollar
"magic kingdom", featuring a giant mouse, smack in the middle
of a swamp, and that families everywhere around the world
would come pouring in to see his creation. Crazy! But exceptional.
Disney did not accept mediocrity. He didn't go with a business
plan that was easy or safe, or one that would kowtow to highly
educated businessmen who "knew" that a giant mouse wouldn't
sell. Following that route would have assured him a functional
business. But Disney didn't care about just doing business.
He was after the most successful business in history. And
the rest is history.
Today, the parallel for building athletic dynasties is a commitment
to holistic training--being on the cutting edge of mind and
body excellence. It is teaching athletes how to use their
mind as a weapon while every other team is busy playing it
In truth, yesterday's athletes could get away with not having
a great head. But tomorrow's can't. The number of competitors
is skyrocketing, physical training is becoming equivalent
throughout the league, and the amount of money at stake is
reaching astronomical figures. Is it worth gambling a couple
million on an athlete without having the appropriate resources
available to make sure he builds a superior mind in time for
him to make an impact?
The beauty of it is, while everyone else is making excuses
the doors are open for the next Pat Riley to find a way for
his organization to have the most finely tuned athletes, physically
and mentally. Which brings us to Lee Iacoca. Iacoca once remarked
that being a business genius was actually easy. "As long as
my competition stays in place, concerning themselves with
what works right now, all I have to do is keep moving forward."
As we approach the turn of the century, the teams that move
forward will be those that get a jump on the mental game.
Very few athletes have access to this type of leading edge
training. And, very few specialists are trained to provide
this elite service. But, that's good news. Good, anyway, for
the one or two teams that get this edge first.
What Areas of the Mental Game Need to be Tackled?
- Thinking Great All of the Time: Attitudes must be
consistent if an athlete is to generate the benchmark of a
champion--consistent performance. Why pay a huge salary to
a player who thinks great in practice but not in nationally
- Conditioning the Mind to Play an Extended Season:
Professional sports seasons are lengthy. In order to stay
sharp, an athlete must learn how to keep his/her mind strong
for months on end--a concern particularly relevant to rookies
who only have experience playing short high school or college
- Returning to Play After Severe Injuries: At the elite
level, athletes are used to playing through pain. Coming back
from major surgery such as ACL reconstruction, however, requires
a special confidence--taking that first hit and trusting your
knee will hold up.
- Maximizing Potential: Owners and GM's spend millions
of dollars recruiting, signing, and then training hot prospects.
It is ridiculous to make this size investment on an athlete
without assuring that he/she will perform up to potential.
Why risk the chance that his/her mind won't be where it needs
- Knowing How to Stay in the Present: Because of modern
technology, lots of analytical processing occurs off the field.
However, if athletes continue to analyze while competing,
they won't be able to stay loose, unconscious, and trusting
of their instincts.
- Taking Risks; Going For It: Trying to be the best
in the world puts an athlete in a position where he/she will
fail and receive criticism a tremendous amount of the time.
In order to make the "big" plays when opportunities present
themselves--to come through in the clutch--athletes must develop
confidence and learn to get past fear of failure so they are
not just playing "safe".
- Getting Past Setbacks and Preventing Slumps: It's
easy to think and feel great when you are winning, when everything
is going your way. But, what separates champions is how effectively
and efficiently they think regardless of external or internal
- Building a Winning Environment: Despite best intentions,
relationships between teammates or between athletes and their
coaches is sometimes strained. This inhibits learning and
productivity. Thus, having an impartial resource to promote
cohesion and chemistry is invaluable.
- A Focus on Holistic Training: Simply put, athletes
who feel valued and appreciated perform better. Hiring resources
to tend to every aspect of training demonstrates to players
just how much management cares about their success. A focused
on excellence from the top down will motivate players take
more responsibility and, in turn, get more out of their natural
John F. Eliot, Ph.D., is an award winning professor
of management, psychology, and human performance. He holds
faculty appointments at Rice University and the SMU Cox School
of Business Leadership Center. He is a co-founder of the Milestone
Group, a consulting firm providing training to business executives,
professional athletes, physicians, and corporations. Dr. Eliot's
clients have included: SAP, XEROX, Disney, Adidas, the United
States Olympic Committee, the National Champion Rice Owl's
baseball team, and the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Eliot's cutting edge
work has been featured on ABC, MSNBC, CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports,
NPR, and highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, Wall
Street Journal, New York Daily News, Entrepreneur, LA Times,
the Washington Post, USA Today, and the New York Times. Dr.
Eliot serves on numerous advisory boards including the National
Center for Human Performance and the Center for Performing
Arts Medicine. His latest book is Overachievement: The New
Model for Exceptional Performance. For more information, visit
Dr. Eliot's site at http://www.overachievement.com
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