Many spectators believe that MMA and other fighting sports are a measure of physical skill and talent. Although true to some extent, athletes understand that the mental aspect of their game is also critical. A strong mind helps a fighter to achieve their fullest potential during training, fights and challenging situations. MMA fighters should focus on mental toughness if they want to gain an edge.
Mental toughness is defined as a measure of individual resilience and confidence and manifests as a gritty focus and determination to see anything through to the bitter end, no matter how difficult the task. It can be the key to winning at high levels or where competition is well-balanced — the mental edge can make or break a close fight or even give the underdog an advantage.
Mental Toughness Training
One of the best ways to gain an edge is to undergo mental toughness training. This is common for athletes across many different types of sports as well as in the military. Sports psychologist Brian Cain, who has coached MMA fighters like Georges St-Pierre and Rich Franklin, says that training is 90 percent physical and 10 percent mental, but that the fight is mostly mental.
To control ourselves mentally means that we can fight naturally and to the best of our ability. It involves cultivating self-confidence while remaining humble and dealing with self-sabotaging feelings of self-doubt and fear that exist within the mind. Mental interferences can ruin a fighter’s chances of coming out on top, and it is only by dealing with these thoughts and feelings that a fighter can find their flow and persevere.
Mental toughness training can be undertaken with the help of coaches and trainers or among teammates of martial arts clubs and classes, and solid fighters will nearly always benefit from professional help. It’s also possible to start training to build mental strength.
Techniques for Mental Toughness
Understand that everyone, even the most experienced and fearless fighters, will experience doubts; doubts about whether they are capable of winning, their ability and fitness as well as a fear of being beaten or hurt. If two fighters were evenly matched in a fight, the person who can overcome these doubts will likely win the fight.
Mental preparation such as building self-confidence should begin as part of the training. Confidence is knowing that you are prepared, both physically and mentally, for what is ahead. To increase mental toughness well ahead of a fight, you can use the same techniques as Olympic athletes and Navy SEALs, such as:
• Use positive thinking and affirmations to overcome negative thoughts and doubts. Know that any negative thoughts will pass, so remain focused on being your best possible self. Every fight is the chance for victory, and every failure a chance to learn and grow.
• Practice visualizations. Imagine the fight, the arena, your opponent. Visualize moves and martial art techniques that you have been working on to reinforce your knowledge of them. Play the big fight night over in your head until the environment becomes vivid in your imagination. Reinforce these visualizations with plenty of real practice and simulation runs ahead of time.
• Balance your lifestyle and take time out between fights. Stress-reducing activities are highly recommended as stress can pollute the mind and contribute to a lack of self-confidence. Games like slots are an excellent choice because they require minimum skill and there is no need to deal with other people or with complex decision-making.
• Meditation is one of the most powerful tools available for mental fitness and strength. It is the practice of inner silence, which allows you to understand your thoughts and feelings, listen to them without judgment and let them go. With a lot of practice, meditation can be used to quickly remove doubt and fear from the mind of a fighter and is an integral part of many martial arts, including Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, Zen and Qigong.
Having control over your mental state and developing your mental toughness will give you a significant edge over opponents who choose not to focus on their mind. Also, there’s another way to gain a mental edge — not everyone likes it, but it can work. You can use your mental strength to rattle the cage of other fighters.
Many of the greats in boxing and MMA have used their mental strength and intimidation techniques to instill fear and doubt into opponents before the fight even occurs. Muhammad Ali insulted George Foreman before their fight, and during the match, taunting him while taking his punches. Mike Tyson would incite fear into the hearts of his opponents with his daunting stare downs while Conor McGregor uses trash talk and mind games to get inside opponent’s heads.
Everyone has their style of cage rattling. But it should be authentic and reflect your persona. There’s no point faking it or overacting for any reason. Just be aware that your opponent will likely try to intimidate and make you doubt yourself before the fight. Your job is to stay positive and focused, collected and confident. Trust us, this can rattle the cage of most!