Does Mental Skills Training, specifically Game Plan & Mental Rehearsal, Increase Mental Focus in MMA?

Does Mental Skills Training, specifically Game Plan & Mental Rehearsal, Increase Mental Focus in MMA?

We all know that physical training is an extremely crucial part in the preparation of an MMA athlete for an important fight. However, rigorous physical training alone will not be enough for you to win the fight, another important preparation you must have is the right game plan, which can be improved through mental rehearsal.

Game Plan

The right game plan will give you a direction, purpose and vision during your fight. A proper game plan will be like a satellite guiding system for a missile to hit the right target. Without a proper guiding system, the missile might hit the wrong target, or worse, it could blow up in your face. So without a game plan you will be lost, reactive, and blind during the fight, just waiting to see what the storm brings, leaving your chances up to fate. Following a game plan doesn’t mean that you have to fight like a robot by strictly following everything laid out within the game plan for increased mental focus during your next fight. The truth is you can still improvise during the fight, in this case the game plan will provide a series of logical sequences in your mind which will turn the improvisation into a more controlled and planned action.

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal is one of the most important self-development skills that can help you increase mental focus in order to win a fight. There was an interesting study carried out by a researcher named Dr. Blaslotto at the University of Chicago involving three groups of basketball players with equal skills to compete in a free throw contest. The players were first tested on how many free throws they could make in a set number of attempts. The first group trained by shooting free throws for one hour every day. The second group did not train at all. While the third group only trained by shooting free throws mentally, so they just sat down and visualized themselves training for the same amount of time as the first players. In order for the results to be reliable, they extended the training period for a full month. In a glance, the results were not too surprising; the players who trained everyday won the contest for making the best score, improving by 24%, while the group that did nothing was the worst. But the interesting thing was that the players who only trained mentally almost did almost as well as the ones who trained every day. The group that used visualization for success improved by 23%, only one percentage point from their counterparts who were in the gym every day!

This may sound impossible but the greatest free throw shooters already incorporate mental skills training into their routines. Steve Nash, one of the best free throw shooters in NBA history, uses mind concentration every time he goes to the foul line. Nash uses visualization of the ball going through the basket in combination with kinesthetic component of going through his free throw shooting motion. This combo of mental focus through imaging (seeing the ball go through) with his shot motion (the kinesthetic aspect) has enabled him to shoot better than 90% from the free throw line in his career, results nobody can argue with when it comes to mental preparation in sports.

Steve Nash link:

Steve Nash and the imaginary free throw

Another astonishing study was conducted by an exercise psychologist from the Cleveland Clinic named Guang Yue. Yue had two groups of similarly healthy people participate in a study about muscle development. The first group hit the gym to do specific muscle building exercises. The other group stayed at home and did mental simulations of the exercises. The group who sweated it out in the gym increased their muscle increase by 30%. While the group that did the entire experiment using mental focus rather than physical feats increased their muscle by about 13.5%. These results are amazing considering that the second group did not lift a finger. What makes the study even more interesting is considering the possible gains that one could achieve if both approaches were taken. This is the key to unlocking your greatest potential using every advantage possible and mental preparation is sports can take your gam way beyond simply training physically.

To give you a final example of how powerful mind concentration can be is dreaming. Do you remember the last time you had a nightmare? You probably woke up sweating, or your heart was beating like crazy. Again this is a proof that your body reacts for something that’s not really happening, but it feels so real. How is this possible? Or to be more precise, how is it possible that simply by imagining things we can alter the performance of our game? The mind is much stronger than we think and it can exert great power over the body.

How Our Body Responds to Mental Rehearsal

Our mind, especially our unconscious mind, cannot tell the difference between what’s really happening and what’s simply being imagined, your unconscious mind will treat both as reality. So whether an event actually happens or you only imagine it, your brain will send messages to your body through your nervous system in respond. If you focus intensely and imagine your bicep is contracting for example, your brain will respond accordingly. People might laugh if they hear such explanation many years ago, but since it has been proven scientifically by many studies and experiments, this is no longer a laughing matter.
Using Mental Rehearsal to Help You Win.

Now the key for us is knowing how to consciously use mental rehearsal to win a fight. It’s actually very simple; all you need to do is to imagine the fight as you want to go according to your game plan. However there are several important elements you need to take into account:

1. Environment

The problem with environment according to some people mentally rehearsed when preparing for a fight is, they usually imagine everything to the finest details including the color of the cage, the mat, the referee, the crowd, everything. But in the fighting day when they came to the venue, everything was totally different. Sometimes it makes them panic and when this happens the brain will be in an emergency mode and the mental rehearsal will go to waste. A simple solution to this problem would be to imagine the background of the environment in neutral colors, which is black and white like an old movie. This could be considered your own private gym, a sanctuary where you go to train in your head. This theory was practiced by NBA greats and none more successful than Bill Russell.

2. Appearance

This refers to the appearance of your opponent, and just like the first point there’s a big chance that the reality will be much different than what you have imagined if you don’t know what your opponent looks like. If that’s the case, it’s better to imagine your opponent as a silhouette. This way there will be no surprises no matter what your opponent will look like. Otherwise, you can use video footage and other tools such as photographs to make the images more realistic, ultimately enabling you to increase mental focus. Great athletes like Jack Nicklaus employ the strategy of making themselves the stars of their own movie where everything they do in the field of play happens in this film. Focus on appearance is a special way to use mind concentration to perform at your peak when you enter the octagon.

3. Flexibility

Imagine seeing the fight from your own eyes, so instead of imagining yourself fighting in a cage in the third person point of view, you see it in the first person point of view as if you’re actually doing it. This will allow you to associate the feelings and perspective as necessary. Learning from the first and second points we know that things may not happen like the way we imagine it would be. When unexpected things happen in the course of the fight we might get panicked and experience a brain freeze, which will be a huge disadvantage. In order to avoid that, you need to imagine as many possibilities as you can in the fighting scenario you play in your head.

You need to be very clear about what do you want to happen in the fight, but you also need to have a mental flexibility to be able to get out off course and then come back in. There are three things you should remember to avoid this from happening and ruin your chance to win the fight:

· During the fight have your master game plan very clear in the mind. That way when you really have to go out and improvise, you know exactly how to come back and continue with your game plan.

· During the mental rehearsal process, also rehearse uncomfortable, unexpected situations. Whenever something catches you by surprise during the fight, take a deep breath or a step back then go back to the mind concentration that you created during the mental rehearsal.

· Focus on what you want to do and not to what the opponent might do. The reason is simple, because you don’t know what your opponent will do. So when you’re focusing on what the opponent might do, it means you’re focusing on guesses, and guesses can be wrong.

4. Frequency

In order for the mental rehearsal to be successful and useful in a fight, you don’t have to do it forever. The key is to do it with the proper intensity. Practice mental rehearsal 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening for 2 weeks. After that, do it 10 minutes a day either in the morning or in the evening for the rest of the time until the fight that would be perfect. Then maybe a week before the fight you can stop doing it for 3 or 4 days and do it again in the rest couple of days.

With the combination of these four elements you will be able to master mental rehearsal and increase your chances to success in a fight. There is actually no right or wrong way to do this, it’s just about doing it more and more often so that it becomes natural.

Mental Preparation for Your Next MMA Fight

Having a solid game plan which included plenty of mental rehearsal is a great way to increase mental focus. Mental preparation in sports is no longer a secret and nearly all of the great athletes engage in some sort of mental skills training in order to gain an edge. Mind concentration and mental focus are key self-development skills that can be sharpened through mental rehearsal. Don’t walk into your next fight without having these valuable skills as part of your game plan.