During a long, particularly gruelling training session, a famous rugby union coach bellowed loudly at his sweaty charges, urging them to finish the session strongly. “Your body can do it. It’s your mind that wants to give up and go home,” he shouted. Everyone, including your correspondent, did.
The advice, a rudimentary example of sporting psychology, offers a reminder of the mind’s power, a topic explored more fully in an often fascinating book in which Martin Brolin endeavours to discover how more than 100 elite sporting performers can set aside any fears that they might fail and focus exclusively on knowing how they will succeed.
Leading sports psychologists are in great demand, while the subject at the heart of their profession has spawned several well-written theses, the best of which is Matthew Syed’s Bounce, though Sam Walker’s The Captain Class and another book written by Syed, The Greatest, are also worth reading. As is In The Zone, for like Syed, Brolin has performed at his chosen sport’s highest level and understands what it’s like to enjoy periods when, shorn of distractions, a sportsman or woman can move, almost seamlessly, onto a higher plane and perform feats which, to the outsider, appear super-human.
For a long time, the phrase ‘in the zone’ applied almost exclusively to golfers, but Brolin reminds us that this detached state is a nirvana sought by everyone from snooker player Steve Davis to gymnast Nadia Comineci who famously achieved a perfect ten for her uneven bars routine at the 1976 Olympics.
Brolin’s introductory tale of Dan Wheldon, who won the 2011 Indy 500 by 2.1 seconds was, he says, thanks mainly to a “finely-tuned piece of machinery that had been firing on all cylinders: his brain.” As the race entered its final 20 laps, Wheldon had been tweaking his vehicle’s controls to extract the maximum possible performance from it. “I did it without even knowing,” he said. “When you get in the zone, you have the ability to do things totally naturally.”
A multitude of sporting champions repeat the “Conceive, believe, achieve” mantra which, when combined, to varying degrees, with confidence, courage and attitude, separates them from their competitors. Readers will be left thinking they can do something similar – provided they can control their mind.