Mental fitness: How to bring your mind into play

Want to putt straighter? Bike further? Whiz your backhand right past your startled opponent? No matter your sport - from walking to wall-climbing, from jogging to javelin-throwing - you will do it more easily and with better results if you pay attention to the mental side of your game. And why is that? Because your mind and body are One Thing. We call that One Thing the mindbody - or bodymind, take your pick. And the sooner you start thinking about your own bodymind as one integrated, educable whole, the better athlete you’ll be and the closer you’ll come to playing in The Zone.

Every athlete dreams about The Zone, that mystical, magical place of peak performance, where your body is relaxed, your mind is focused, time slows down and you don’t have to think about what you’re doing because you’re simply doing your best.

Here are some basic truths to help you bring your mind into play and sharpen your mental game:

Tension is the enemy

There is plenty of sport psychology research to back up this essential truth: Too much tension and anxiety will sabotage your game. Too relaxed isn’t good, either. The trick is to find the perfect balance - very relaxed, but at the same time, very focused. How you get there is an individual thing. Relaxation exercises? Deep breathing? Visualization? Yes, yes and yes.

Be in the moment

When you play sports, don’t let your mind wander back to some stupid mistake you just made. And don’t think ahead to how brilliantly you intend to perform in the future. The secret of success is to stay focused on the moment. To remind yourself, bounce a tennis ball. Or squeeze your earlobe. Or do what many pro athletes have been taught to do: Breathe! Inhale, exhale and let the sound of your breath bring you back to the here and now.

Stay positive

Negative thoughts - “Don’t be stupid! Why did I miss that? You jerk!” - are poisonous when it comes to playing in a relaxed and confident way. Keep your self-talk positive. Let go of your need to bully or criticize others. Frame the game as something you pursue for the love of the sport, because it brings you joy and satisfaction. Redefine what winning means, and you may win more.

Make your opponent your partner

In the past, athletes were taught to hate their opponent, to see him or her as the enemy, someone who must be crushed and defeated. I’m pretty sure pro football players still believe this, but most of the civilized world has moved on. Seeing your opponent as The Enemy actually adds tension to your game, and tension is counterproductive when it comes to peak performance. A better strategy is to see your opponent as your partner, someone who is there to challenge you to do your best. That helps reduce tension and adds strength and confidence to your play.

Find the rhythm

There is a joy and a rhythm to every sport. The sooner you tap into the natural flow - the fun of running, reaching, moving with grace and freedom - the less tension you will feel.

Don’t try too hard

To do well at a sport, you must develop your skills and train. But training is different than playing. When you play a sport, you must allow the innate intelligence of the body to take over and do what you have trained it to do, without thinking too much or trying too hard. Thinking gets in the way of doing.


Your mind and your body are one amazing thing, and you connect to the bodymind with your breath. When you bring these energy sources into play, you awaken your inner athlete. Prepare for greatness.

Eat up! A salad a day keeps the pounds away.

For a slimmer, sunnier you, enjoy a big summertime salad every day, for lunch or dinner. Start with lots of dark leafy greens, and add a yummy mix of your creative choosing. I love to add feta cheese, tuna, olives and garden-grown tomatoes. What do you like? Sliced turkey? Walnuts? Sliced apples? Dress lightly, eat mindfully and have your best time.

Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to