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The Brave Athlete by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson

The Brave Athlete by Simon Marshall and Lesley Paterson is a great sports psychology book. What I liked most about this book is that it balanced being scientific and coherent with being practical and fun to read. In this book, Marshall and Paterson go over twelve of the most common issues that athletes face, which are:

  1. Creating a healthy athletic identity.
  2.  Building confidence.
  3.  Improving work ethic by forming good habits.
  4.  Dealing with social comparisons.
  5.  Dealing with body image issues and eating disorders.
  6.  Coping with injuries.
  7.  Dealing with exercise dependence.
  8.  Leaving your comfort zone and overcoming fears.
  9.  Persevering through challenges and fighting the temptation to quit.
  10.  Embracing the suck and building mental toughness.
  11.  Improving concentration skills.
  12.  Performing under pressure.

To begin the book, the authors teach us about a simple metaphor used as a mental model to help represent and understand the brain and human psychology. In this mental model, the brain consists of mainly two parts, the “professor” and the “chimp.” The professor represents the logical component of your brain that is associated with thinking, rationality, and problem solving, while the chimp represents the emotional component of your brain that is associated with primal drives and urges. These two parts of the brain are almost always fighting for control of your mind and behavior. Much of the issues athletes face come from an aggressive chimp taking control of your brain to defend its need for safety and ego-gratification. Throughout this book, the authors teach you ways to calm down your chimp brain and empower your professor brain so you can solve your problems, improve as an athlete, and reach your goals. This very simple mental model of the brain helps give you the “meta-cognition” skills needed to think about your thinking and improve your mental strength.

The authors organize the twelve chapters into three components, which are “heart,” “wings,” and “sword.” They say that to become a brave or mentally tough athlete, you need these three things. The heart represents the first three issues: having a healthy athletic identity, confidence, and motivation supported by positive habits. The wings represent healthy attitudes to help you deal with the next four issues: social comparison, body image, injuries, and exercise dependence. Lastly, the sword represents the mental toughness skills needed to overcome the last five issues: overcoming fear, persevering through challenges, embracing the suck, concentrating during games, and performing under pressure. Together, these three things help athletes overcome almost any type of issue. Having a big heart, wings, and sword help fuel athletes for the long term, overcome setbacks, and reach peak performance in games.

Here are some of my other favorite lessons and tips learned from this book:

In the chapter about building confidence, the authors talk about how you can improve your confidence in both a top-to-bottom and a bottom-to-top approach. This means that you can improve your confidence and self-belief by improving your skills and also by digging deeper into yourself and improving your self-esteem and self-worth.

In the chapter about forming habits, the authors emphasize the importance of forming positive habits, which help you improve your work ethic while saving motivation and willpower at the same time. A habit is best formed by sandwiching a routine between a trigger and a reward.

In the chapter about injuries, I learned how athletes can continue to use their competitive drive to improve other aspects of their game while rehabbing. For instance, an injured athlete can use their extra free time to study more film or practice mental exercises such as visualization and meditation.

Lastly, in the chapter about performing under pressure, I learned about problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. Problem-focused coping is about being better prepared to enter a pressure situation. It involves reducing uncertainty and increasing confidence by developing your skills and getting used to performing under pressure. Emotion-focused coping, on the other hand, is about coping with pressure situations while you’re in them. It involves calming your mind and body through strategies such as positive self-talk, deep breathing, and mindfulness. To truly improve your ability to perform under pressure, you need to use both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies.

Although this book is tailored to endurance athletes, I still recommend this book to all athletes and coaches. The great thing about this book is that it can be easy to reread certain chapters when needed. If you’re serious about being a great athlete or coach, then you need to read good sports psychology books like The Brave Athlete!

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