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  • There really is only one place to start when looking at the Mental Game - our brains!

    It is the 1.4Kg of grey matter that sits inside our heads that determines how we think and what we do. There are lots of theories about the exact nature of the inner workings of the human brain - much of our understanding is still evolving.

    It would be very easy to get lost in the science or the physiology of the brain without actually helping us move forward in developing our Mental Game. So what I am going to look at here are the core features of the brain that are relevant to us when looking at the Mental Game.


  • Being human

    How long is it before a human baby starts to walk? From about 9 months

    How long is it before a human baby starts to talk? From about 12 months

    How long does it take the human brain to fully develop? About 20 years! There is evidence that the human brain is still developing well into our early 20's.

    This means that the survival of the human infant is dependent on it's parents for years, if not decades. Now you might think that in terms of evolution, this is a fundamental weakness. But if it is such a weakness, why have we as a species come to dominate the planet on which we live? Well, what turns out to be a potential weakness actually turns out to be a major benefit.

    Let's look at from another perspective. It is the fact that humans are born only partially developed that gives us such great opportunities to learn and adapt to our environment - whatever that environment might be. And we live on a planet that has a massively diverse set of environments for us to master - from the great plains of Africa to the frozen outback of Alaska, from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to outer space. Humans have learnt to how to adapt, survive and thrive in each of these environments.

    This capability inevitably relies on our brains. Well, that probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, but here's the kicker - our brains have evolved to be more of a "general computing device" rather than containing specific built-in routines or programmes. This is the key to our adaptability, but also helps to explain the relatively long developmental period of the human infant. It is a powerful capability and is fundamental to developing our Mental Game as we shall see later.

  • Being a zebra

    How long does it take to become a zebra?

    About 10 minutes.

    A baby zebra can walk, and even run, within 10 minutes of being born. Great news for the zebra, but there is a downside! It is likely that a zebra is all that it is going to become within 10 minutes of being born! It's capacity to learn is pretty limited (as it is born nearly fully developed) which probably explains why you've never seen a zebra playing the piano!

  • The Human Brain

    So I think a useful starting point is to consider the human brain as a "general computing device". We know it has the capability to learn and adapt to it's environment. It achieves this through an amazing capacity to analyse and learn patterns. The human brain has no direct contact with the real world - it sits deep inside our skulls, in the dark, being fed a series of electrical impulses from a set of input devices (i.e. our eyes, ears, nose, etc). The brain makes sense of these patterns of electrical impulses and turns them into a reality that we use to perceive our everyday world. When we "see" something, our brains have learnt how to interpret a series of electrical impulses produced by the eyes and turn this into an "image" inside our heads.

    It has been estimated that the human brain consists of around 86 billion neurons. Each neuron can be connected to up to 10,000 other neurons giving a total number of connections in excess of 1,000 trillion. It is an enormous capability - no wonder we are still trying to work out how it works!

    Although there is some rudimentary specialisation in some of the parts of the brain, a large proportion of our brains is composed of a generic capability. This means that some of the neurons and connectors that are activated when playing the piano might just as likely be activated when kicking a football.

  • The Sub conscious

    Our sub conscious is the part of the brain that does it's thing without us having to think about it! OK, so that sounds like a dumb thing to say, but when you think about it, it has some serious implications. The fact that this sort of thinking occurs without us being aware of it, means that it is very easily overlooked and often underestimated. This may indeed go some way to explain why the Mental Game is so often overlooked.

    For most of us, our sub conscious is the part of our brain that controls walking, talking, breathing, reading, writing, catching a ball and driving a car etc. In fact, in our daily lives, our sub conscious probably accounts for 80-90% of everything we do. This might seem like a large proportion, but don't forget it happens without us thinking about it. It is little wonder that we underestimate how much we use it - it happens without us having to think about it!

    It can sound a bit strange when we consider our sub conscious being able to perform without us thinking. But look at it another way, it is simply a method of the brain "automating" repetitive tasks. Think of it as the brain's way of saving energy - it simple automates repetitive tasks so the rest of our brain can be freed up for conscious thought.

  • The Conscious brain

    This is the "thinking" bit of our brain. This is where our worrying, analysing, expectations, ambitions, and dreaming all happen. When we talking about "thinking" we are generally refering to the conscious brain. This is the bit of the brain that we are all aware of - sometimes too much so!

    And it is often the first thing that people focus on when considering the Mental Game. Frequently, the starting point for considering our mental game is about reducing anxiety, controlling our nerves or maintaining focus under pressure. If you only consider this element of our thinking you will miss the opportunity to really make a difference to our performance.

    When we learn to play sport, the two parts of our brain are involved. You need to be able to master both if you are going to succeed.

  • Updated: 5/9/20

Further information


There are a number of websites online that can provide more detailed information. I have included a list for you to use as a starting point.


You'll find an extensive list of books included on the Further Info pages. They are all readily available on Amazon.


There are some great TED talks available that cover many of the areas discussed on this website. I have included links to many of them on the Further Info pages.