Mental Endurance in sports and games

It is well known that for a world class sportsperson to reach the top of the elite they must have an abundance of physical endurance. However, one aspect that is often overlooked, and maybe even misunderstood, is the role of mental endurance. There is not a sport or a game where mental endurance does not play an important role in the outcome of a result. There are some sports where the results are likely to be influenced by mental endurance more than others but every competition situation is going to be influenced in some way by this factor. Mental endurance is the ability to keep making the right decisions when fatigue and tiredness sets in. It is slightly different from mental strength as an athlete can start off an event being mentally strong yet when fatigue sets in they becomes mentally weaker making poor decisions.

There is an interesting relationship between physical and mental endurance as a loss in one area can lead to loss in another. The most obvious is the physically tired sportsman will make poor decisions, but the counter-argument is that the athlete who enters an event poorly mentally prepared will tire quicker than the athlete who has mentally prepared well.

Jean van de Velde paddling in “Barry Burn”

Jean van de Velde

Jean van de Velde

There have been many examples where a lack of mental endurance has led to a breakdown of an athlete’s performance. At the 1999 Open at Carnoustie, French golfer Jean van de Velde headed to the final hole with a three shot lead over the rest of the field. Having hit his second shot into the deep rough he chose to try and hit the ball onto the green instead of simply chipping out and taking the option of losing one shot which would have been enough to still secure the title. Instead the ball ended up in one of the burns surrounding the green. His mental disintegration was highlighted as he took off his shoes and socks, and on entering the water contemplated playing from out of the water. Fortunately common sense prevailed and he took a penalty drop. His mental break down was complete when he then chipped the ball into a greenside bunker. He finally got the ball down the hole with a triple bogey to send him into a play-off with Paul Lawrie, which the Scotsman would go on to win.

Another example of a leading player showing signs of severe mental fatigue was Jana Novotna in the 1993 Wimbledon Ladies Final against Stefi Graf. Leading 4 games to 1 in the final set and serving at 40 /30 she inexplicably double faulted then followed this up with two basic errors to give Graf the game.

Jana Navotna being consoled by the Duchess of Kent

Jana Navotna being consoled by the Duchess of Kent

Graf won the next game and the next time Navotna served she double faulted 3 times as Graf drew level. Navotna only won one more point as Graf took the title. The exhaustion of a Grand-Slam fortnight had caught up with her and when it mattered she could not control her nerve. At the presentation she broke down in tears on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder, and this was a clear indication the effect that mental exhaustion can have even on the very top performers.

There are certain games where individuals concentrate on mentally wearing down their opponents until they find the opportunity to strike and win the encounter. The 2017 World Series of Poker ran from May 30th to July 18th . The main event was the “No limit Hold em” championship which ran for 10 days with the performers displaying amazing levels of mental endurance.

Phil Ivey his success is based around his mental endurance

Phil Ivey his success is based around his mental endurance

Phil Ivey his success is based around his mental endurance

Some of the top professionals such as the world’s best player Phil Ivey can play up to 24 hours at a time. In order to be able to compete at such a high level requires incredible levels of concentration waiting for his opponent to show mental frailty. This is where the games are won and lost and many of the top card players bet on the outcome of sport fixtures.

One thing these players love to do however is to make side bets to make the game a bit more fun and make time go a lot faster. This could be anything from who is going score the first touchdown in the Super Bowl, score the first goal in the World Cup, what color the next card will be or who could do the most push-ups in a minute. Not only does this help them relax but at the same time it keeps their mind sharp, so they don’t become sluggish or careless while playing.

Association football has many instances of teams and individuals who have shown great mental strength and also those who have struggled with it. Manchester United in the 1989 season secured the treble winning the European Cup, the Premiership title and the FA cup.

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