The market is flooded with books, podcasts, documentaries, and articles about how to gain optimum fitness, speed, and agility. There is an abundance of information on how to keep our physical health in check, but significantly less content about our mental health.
Our mental health can be much harder to keep track of because it is less visible. It is much easier to see when a person is physically suffering than when their mental health is not good, or simply not in the right place to perform or train at their best.
If you’re determined to become the best athlete you can be, you cannot underestimate the power of getting your mental game right. You need to be able to not only know how to manage your thoughts when things are going well, but how to do so when things are going wrong, and when you’re distracted by “real life” issues that are happening away from your sport.
Here are six must-read books about mental fitness, determination in the face of adversity and the connection between the mind and the body.
6 Books About Mental Fitness Every Athlete Should Read
1. Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Galloway
This book is perfect for tennis players and athletes, but has merits for people in all walks of life. It encourages us to enter a state of relaxed concentration, in other words, a state in which subconscious muscle memory takes over, and we are letting what we already know take over. This book is extremely well-received and is written to guide the reader to overcome self-doubt, and is a great introductory source if mental fitness is a new concept to you.
2. The Mental ABC's of Pitching: A Handbook for Performance Enhancement by H.A. Dorfman
Harvey H.A Dorfman was a mental skills and sports psychologist, teacher, counselor, coach, and consultant. He wrote this book to illuminate the mental blocks that many athletes, particularly pitchers, experience. This book is a powerful tool for pitchers who wish to improve their sports performance and refresh their outlook on the adversity life throws at them.
3. Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance by Alex Hutchinson
One of the main themes in Endure is that our brains are controlled by a "central governor." This highly-evolved system is related to the fight-or-flight response, and it kicks in when we experience stress, anxiety, or depression.
Hutchinson suggests that our brains give us something of a safety margin in that instinctive response. It begins to send fatigue signals even if we still have some energy left in us. Our brains are designed to keep us away from this edge because that lowers our chances of survival, but it’s in that last margin of energy that athletes break barriers and truly find success. This book is a fantastic guide for runners or anyone who regularly pushes themselves physically and mentally to the edge of performance. A must-read for any athlete trying to reach peak potential.
4. Brain Fitness: The Easy Way of Keeping Your Mind Sharp Through Qigong by Dr. Aihan Kuhn
We’ve often looked to the east for guidance on alternative therapies and a better sense of chi, and in this book Dr. Kuhn shares her knowledge on Tai Chi, Qigong, and even medicine to show you how to promote your mental fitness. This book doesn’t simply talk about why it’s so important to keep your brain fit, it also contains detailed exercises you can do to improve your mental fortitude. This is a great book for growing your mental strength in all aspects to help you become a better athlete.
5. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson
This is one of the most highly recommended books for performance, whether that be in sport or business. In this book, Ericsson explores the idea of the “Peak,” in which expertise is built. He discusses mental representations, for example, the way an audio technician might view a digital audio workspace in comparison to the way a novice might view the same. As people start to increase their skill levels in whatever it is they’re working on, they start to view things differently in their minds, breaking representations of physical objects into different "chunks." They begin to recognize patterns, and these mental representations become more sophisticated and complicated. In Peak, Ericsson discusses how to develop these uniquely sophisticated representations for yourself.
6. Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed
Two-time Olympian Matthew Syed wrote this book in 2010, and it is a truly fascinating read. Bounce reveals how competition in all its primal, dramatic glory gives us vital insight into controversial issues such as economics, psychology, culture, gender, and sports.
This book is not solely based on research; Syed played ping pong in the Olympics and succumbed to what many athletes, no matter the level of competition, experience - choking. This experience has given him an insight into what is necessary to push through that discomfort and enter a zone of self-development.
It addresses the questions many people want to ask, such as why certain people are considered superior runners, why baseball players are so superstitious and whether or not placebo is a truly effective way of pushing ourselves. This book is a valuable read for anyone interested in the psychology of resilience and a genuine belief that we can achieve our goals, regardless of our previous struggles. It’s also one of the best sources of literature out there for learning not only how to get the mental fortitude for success, but also for failure, which is an unavoidable part of being an athlete.
Each of these sources offer a unique perspective on what it takes and what it means to be mentally strong. These books are all about facing our self-limiting beliefs head-on, challenging them and pushing ourselves to the limit. The mind is more malleable than we think, and our behaviors and habits can be changed with the right mindset and actions. If you want to become the best athlete you can, put these books on your to-be-read list.