Examples of Athletes who succeeded due to Sports Psychology

Examples of Successful Athletes who succeeded due to their Psychological Game

By Jim Hickey | Sports Psychology

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Jun 14
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Examples of Successful Athletes who succeeded due to their Psychological Game

By Jim Hickey

  • Case studies have shown that psychological preparation has a proven impact on athletes performance
  • Michael Jordan refers to the psychological preparation needed to be successful as being 80% of the game.

Physiological preparation in sporting events is key to success. This has been shown by the wide array of athletes that use these strategies to win. Whether it is the focus on success to win a game, or the mental toughness needed to win a half-Ironman triathlon with a broken foot.

In fact, mental control is key for many top athletes. As Olympic Beach Volleyball Player Kerri Walsh Jennings tells us in this interview, "There is something so simple about owning your thoughts and being aware of the fact that my mind is racing, let me bring it back to center—that is a big deal. It's helped me a lot on my focus and endurance."

As this video shows, a list of successful athletes use mental preparation to succeed, from controlling anxiety and setting smart goals. Or like Michael Jordan who uses "self-talk".

In fact, the success of mental trainers has now been highly established. As we see here, when Michael Jordan and then Kobe Bryant began working with the noted mental skills trainer George Mumford, their contemporaries noticed. In fact, comparisons have been drawn between the trajectory of mental skills training and that of the actual weight training. The list of psychological skills are both proven and the list of strategies is growing.

So let us look at some case studies on psychological preparation.


The website Play Present quotes the thoughts of Michael Jordan, who remarked that in his opinion 80% of the game is mental or psychological. In addition to physical ability, Michael Jordan explains that it was coaching that helped him develop the mental side of his game, which gave him a greater edge. Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset agrees that it is "the mindset that almost every successful athlete who has had long-term success has". Jordan showed the benefits of the psychological edge, at crucial moments in the most important games. The book Psychology of Champions: How to Win at Sports and Life, includes the example of Jordan vs Utah Jazz in 1998. Although suffering extreme fatigue was able to stay mentally focussed enough to sink the game winning shot.


This case study used "measuring the athlete’s psychological and mental state by using the test of performance strategies (K.T.O.P.S.) before and after the treatment." She underwent eight sessions before the Olympics with the positive results and effects of the training being deemed "satisfactory."


This case study used high jumper Laura Rautanen who was competing at the top level of the U23 age group in Finland. She underwent a psychological skills training (PST) which focused on concentration, goal setting, imagery, self-talk and relaxation. The result were satisfactory and due to a successful season, Rautanen was given the honor of representing Finland in two international competitions


This case study in 2014 used participants competing in varsity track and field events from Western University. The subjects underwent 16 weeks of mental toughness training intervention before competing. The mental toughness training intervention focused on improving performance outcomes by decreasing levels of competition anxiety and improving self-confidence by employing four different psychological skills: goal setting, positive self-talk, mental imagery and relaxation. Results from this study indicated that the mental toughness training intervention was beneficial and effective for each of the four participants.


Although I could not find case studies specifically linked to the world of showjumping, the case studies and testimonials above show that physiological preparation is key in any sporting event, with some even noting that physiological training as being on par with physical training.

For other successful athletes, the psychological training or mental side of the preparation was even more valuable than the physical. 

Do you feel your mental game is costing you in the ring? Get in touch with show jumping Sports Psychologist Jim Hickey today or check out his amazing online show jumping course.


About the Author

Jim Hickey is an author, business mentor and international peak performance for show jumpers.