What percentage of sports is mental and what percent is physical; a question that has been plaguing the sports world for decades. First, I think the answer heavily relies on what level of athletics we are analyzing. As players grow as athletes, I believe the game becomes more mental than physical. For young players who are just learning the basic skills, playing a sport is dependent on their physical ability. If we confine the parameters to only encompass players at the elite level, and to analyze athletes only during game day performances, I believe that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical.
Let’s start with the basics. Sports are physical competitions that demand physical and mental exertion in order to defeat an opponent. Athletes must be able to physically execute skills like throwing a baseball, sprinting to the end zone, and shooting a free-throw. On the other hand, they also need to employ mental strategies like knowing which pitch to throw on an 0-2 count, executing different defensive plays, and having the ability to detect and exploit your opponents weaknesses during a match. At the elite level most athletes acquire an edge over their opponent by utilizing the right strategies at the right time, like a squeeze bunt, or a Hail Mary.
There’s also the aspect of fluctuating performances to evaluate when analyzing the mental component of sport. I’ve played softball at the elite Division II collegiate level, and I know that everyday out on the field is significantly different than the last. Even the differences in performance between games can be monumental, but why? How is it possible for a pitcher to have full control of her pitches one game, and completely lose it the next? Forget games, this can even happen between innings. Without injury, it is impossible for a pitcher, or any athlete, to drastically decrease in athletic skill from one game to the next. The only component that has the ability to fluctuate so radically in a short amount of time is a mindset. Their mental approach to the game is what causes fluctuation in performances.
Athletes who compete at the elite level posses skills that are autonomic, performed without thought. These skills can be compared to a reaction; their bodies respond to a stimulus without consulting the brain first, they are programed to simply react. If the skills used to compete at the elite level are ingrained into the muscles, why do we see athletes “choke” on routine plays? This phenomenon is usually caused by pressure in intense situations which produces anxiety within an athlete. The anxiety the mind experiences creates a physical change in how the athlete moves, their muscles become tense and hinders them from performing eccentric contractions appropriately. This physical change is created by a mindset.
Sports Psychologist Dr. Doug Gardner sums it up perfectly, “Our thoughts influence our actions and our actions influence our thoughts… each physical movement has a mental component.” Our physical movements all start with a mental process, and produce a cognitive reaction. Due to my experiences and attained knowledge within my field, I believe that sports are far more mental than physical. In fact, I think they are almost completely mental, which leads me to my concluding answer to the proposed question; sports are 90% mental and 10% physical.
Quote of the day:
“I always felt that my greatest asset was not my physical ability, it was my mental ability.”- Bruce Jenner