8 Mental Rehearsal Lessons from Legendary Athletes that will make you a Better MMA Fighter

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In this article you will learn eight aspects of mental rehearsal as practiced by top athletes. Each of these aspects can be implemented into your game plan in the octagon to make you a more complete fighter. Read the article below if you are ready to take yourself to the next level!

Great athletes call it “the zone” and George Plimpton once wrote a book called The X-Factor: A Quest for Excellence about getting to that special headspace. The zone is something that all great athletes seem to enter at the most crucial time, but how do you get there? What is the mental process that leads to greatness?

A large part of getting into the zone is mental rehearsal and when many people hear mental rehearsal they think visualization. But mental rehearsal is much more than visualization.

There are many ways to better prepare for the next fight in addition to going to the dojo and the gym. Here are the most important aspects of the mental game as practiced by the best:

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1. Muhammed Ali: Self-Confirmation

Muhammed Ali: Self-Confirmation“I am the greatest!” Muhammed Ali is remembered as an epic trash-talker, constantly reminding the world of how wonderful he was. But what many people do not understand is that Ali was not simply tooting his own horn, he was mentally preparing himself for success. As Ali said, “It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

One of the most common misconceptions about mental rehearsal is that it is just about visualization. While reading through this article you will better understand that visualization, although important, is only one aspect of mental rehearsal.

Muhammed Ali was perhaps the greatest athlete at using self-confirmation gain an advantage. By repeating such phrases over and over again, by telling the world that no one was better, Ali was rehearsing his role as the “greatest,” convincing himself that he was the best. This strategy also had the important side-effect of convincing any possible opponent that they were in fact not the greatest because Ali already had persuaded the world that the title was his.

This constant convincing of the self is called self-confirmation. Our actions begin as ideas in our minds, if you can continuously tell yourself that you will win and you are the best, then on fight night you will be.

2. Michael Jordan: Sports Hypnosis

michael-jordanMany athletes spend most of their time training the left side of their brain and do not tap into the immense power of the right side of their brain. How does one unleash the power of the right side of the brain, which sports psychologist Dr. Jack Singer refers to as the “Ultimate ‘Secret Weapon’”? Through the practice of Sports Hypnosis one can achieve amazing results by tapping into the power of the right-brain.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Jordan’s legendary career, but few know about his use of hypnosis to gain an incredible advantage in the ultra-competitive NBA. He used sports hypnosis before nearly every game and eventually had everyone in the Bulls locker room doing it to gain an edge. How does it work?

Athletes that use hypnosis are ushered into a state of mental indifference through a variety of methods, with the most important being: listening to hypnotic recordings that relax the mind and having the state induced by professional hypnotherapists. In this state athletes are open to suggestion while being able to ignore other external stimuli. This state allows the athlete to gain deeper awareness, become deeply relaxed, and completely focused. The greatest athletes are always calm and relaxed when they are performing at their best. The heightened mental state that hypnosis contributes to allows the athlete to perform at the pinnacle of their abilities.

Hypnosis ensures that you are performing at full capacity every time you step into the octagon. For more on sport hypnosis, check out these helpful links:

Hypnosis network

Sport hypnosis

3. Ted Williams: Concentrated Patience

Ted Williams: Concentrated Patience Rogers Hornsby was a legendary hitter who shaped the career Ted Williams when he was playing for the Double-A Minneapolis Millers. The secret that Hornsby gave Williams became the central tool in a career in which earned the nickname, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.” The secret was patience. But not simply being patient, but rather training him to practice patience on a subconscious level.

Williams’s first rule for hitters was “get a good ball to hit.” This sounds simple enough, but how does one make a split-second decision about small orb flying toward them at 95 mph?

Williams would use mental preparation to train his subconscious to see the ball as it was approaching. Through hours of visualization Williams was able to slow the process down in his mind. This allowed him to be more selective at the plate because he could sense a good pitch coming from the moment it left the pitchers hand. He trained himself to the point that he would swear that he could see the stiches on the baseball approaching him. So the patience that became the key to success for Williams was twofold: he had the patience to visualize, tapping deep into his subconscious mind. Also, this type of mental rehearsal gave him the patience at the plate to select the right pitches to hit.

What can an MMA fighter learn from Williams? The lesson is to use mental preparation to develop a patient eye. In MMA the opportunities to land the knockout open and close in a fraction of a second. Through the proper mental preparation the fight will slow down and one can develop the proper timing to hit that opening at exactly the right moment, this involves a great deal of patience. When doing your mental rehearsal concentrate on the moments that your opponent is open and then develop the proper rhythm. With enough practice you can start hitting it out of the park like Ted Williams!

4. Diego Sanchez: Yoga to Quiet the Mind

It is no secret that MMA fighters like Murilo Bustamante, Rickson Gracie, and Vitor Belfort have used yoga to gain an edge on the competition. But none have attributed more of their success to yoga than Diego Sanchez, the UFC’s master of mental preparation.

He once said of yoga, “It’s not rocket science. If you’re tight, you’re not going to be able to do a move, you know? You can if you’re flexible,” (Link 2). But the physical aspects of yoga are only part of the upside. Yoga also provides the ability to tap deep into the connection between mind and body, allowing a greater capacity for mental rehearsal. Yoga helps to quiet the mind, which is constantly sorting through information with various complex thoughts running through it. How often have you been working to perfect a technique only to find that you can’t concentrate because you are distracted by an argument you had outside of the ring? Great yogis can quiet these thoughts so that the mind is blank. Once the mind is completely quiet, then that allows one who is practicing yoga to control his thoughts so he can be completely in the moment.

An uncluttered mind, which only yoga can provide, allows for deeper concentration. Greater concentration makes for clearer visualization, by blocking out the distractions the mental rehearsal is more effective for so you can envision an entire fight more clearly and vividly. This mental clarity will eventually improve all aspects of your MMA career and your life.

This is the underlying secret that caused MMA yoga master Diego Sanchez say before a fight, “I’ve gotten back to my yoga, and it’s completely taken me to another level.” Yoga can take your mental game to the next level.

Yoga helps you perform at full capacity every time you compete. For more on yoga and MMA, check out these helpful links:


Fight mag

Business 2 community

 5. Jack Nicklaus: The Movie Method

Jack Nicklaus: The Movie MethodGolf is arguably the most mentally involved sport. Golf is known for extreme concentration and it is not the strongest, or the even the smartest that become legends; it is the mentally toughest. Those who can keep razor-sharp concentration, no matter what the circumstances, are the most successful. “The Golden Bear” was perhaps the greatest golfer of all time. One of the keys to his success was a seeing himself as the lead character in his own movie.

This is a powerful technique that can improve mental rehearsal. Think of yourself as the lead character in a movie, the movie plot is your victorious fight. Each scene from the movie, from the locker room to the ref raising your hand in victory is played out in your head in high definition.

This is how Nicklaus explained his movie method in a 1979 interview: “I go to the movies in my head …. First I ‘see’ the ball where I want it to finish … next I see the ball going there … finally I see myself making the kind of swing that will turn the first two images into reality.” (Human kinetics link) Imagine yourself as the star of you own movie. See: every turn, every punch, and every round-house. Like a dream, this movie chronicles you entire preparation until your ultimate goal: victory.

To read more about how the “Golden Bear” got it done, check out these helpful links:

Quote From:

Human kinetics


6. Bill Russell: Practice often in your private gym

Bill-russell dribbling basketballNo man who ever picked up a basketball ever won more NBA Championships than Bill Russell. What was the key to his success? He was one of the first great athletes to make mental rehearsal a central part of his training regimen. He constructed his own court, in his mind, where he would practice moves and run plays over and over until he could do them effortlessly in games. He practiced so much that the gym he built became a second home and whenever he would close his eyes the mental rehearsal would take place without having to work at it.

This is what was happening in Russell’s words: “It was effortless; the movies I saw in my head seemed to have their own projector, and whenever I closed my eyes it would run…” (The Dandy Dons p. 11)

The lesson to take from Russell is that you should construct your own training space in your mind. Go to this space often and get comfortable there. Practice in this space as much as possible until all of the moves you want to do in reality feel natural. The more you use mental rehearsal, the more natural it will feel.

Johnson, James W. Dandy Dons: Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Phil Woolpert, and One of College Basketball’s Greatest and Most Innovative Teams (University of Nebraska Press, 2009)

 7. Russell Wilson: Peak Performance Imagery

Despite his size Russell Wilson has become a Super Bowl champion and is considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL after just a few years in the pros. Why has he been so successful? “Peak Performance Imagery” is something that his coach, Pete Carroll, uses with his player to take their game to the next level. Wilson, an extremely hard working player and a natural leader, has bought into this system and works hard to get the results he wants.

“We do imagery work and talk about having that innovative mindset of being special,” says Wilson of the techniques that Carroll has the team practice. What Wilson is describing is a technique that focuses on “being in the moment,” where he is running through every scenario possible at game speed, seeing linebackers coming at him and making the right read in a fraction of a second. But it is not just visualization that the Peak Performance Imagery experts use; they engage all the senses. It is not enough to simply see yourself perform. How does it smell, taste, and feel?

When doing your mental rehearsal make the experience as real as possible, by engaging all of the senses and staying completely in the moment. The more comfortable you get in a variety of situations and the more real it seems, the more relaxed you will be during the fight. As Wilson explains, he experiences all of this chaos through the imagery and while he practices “so when I go into the game, everything is relaxed.” (Note: All of Wilson’s quotes come from the ESPN article)

Hypnosis ensures that you are performing at full capacity every time you step into the octagon. For more on sport hypnosis, check out these helpful links:


Three pound

8. Michael Phelps: Coping Imagery

michael-phelpsWhat can you learn from the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time? Using “Coping Imagery,” a technique invented by Phelps, will teach you how to prepare for the unexpected.

In 2008, when Phelps was in Beijing and was one win away from breaking the Olympic record for most golds in single Olympics something went horribly wrong. His goggles were leaking and shortly into the race he was swimming completely blind. Instead of going into panic-mode, Phelps knew exactly how to handle this unforeseen problem. He closed his eyes and counted his strokes because he knew exactly how many it would take to reach the finish line. He overcame the distraction to claim his record eighth gold medal in China. How did he do it?

Phelps is known for his mastery of mental rehearsal, having the unique ability to completely immerse his mind into the perfect race. But he began a new technique in his mental training that won him the record-breaking gold medal in Beijing. The technique is called “Coping Imagery.” He would imagine possible variables or mistakes in his mental rehearsal and then correct those mistakes in his mind. By correcting the mistakes during his mental rehearsal he was ready for these mistakes when they cropped up during his competitions.

Who hasn’t been in a fight and had something unexpected happens? Perhaps your game-plan was to keep the fight standing but all of a sudden you find yourself in a Kimora with a superior grappler. If you have mentally prepared for this possibility then you are not surprised by this unforeseen event. You have also practiced getting out of this situation so you mind knows how to react. In MMA there are hundreds of possibilities of where you could find yourself at a disadvantage in a match. If you prepare for all of these scenarios, you will never be caught off-guard.

Using these eight tips on mental rehearsal will make you a better fighter, today. The best part is that you don’t have to wait to go to the gym; you can begin improving immediately!

© by sensicorner (2015)

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