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Invaluable Tips From the NBA's Leading Mental Skills Coach Part-1

November 5, 2017

There's no room for fragile egos in the NBA.


One night, you're riding high after a strong performance in a big victory. The very next, you're getting roasted on Twitter for finding yourself on the wrong end of a highlight reel play.

That's just the nature of the beast, and the best players are the ones who can stay even-keeled and always give great effort. Obviously, that's easier said than done. Lottery picks are younger than ever, as the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft featured the most one-and-done players in history. Yet the expectations of teams and fans haven't adjusted accordingly—if anything, the social media age has made the need for instant gratification greater than ever. How is an 18- or 19-year-old kid supposed to deal with suddenly having the weight of an NBA franchise on his shoulders? That's where Graham Betchart comes in.


Betchart, who has a Master's degree in sports pyschology, is a mental skills coach. He's helped many young stars transition to the bright lights and big pressures of the modern NBA. His client list includes Ben Simmons, Karl-Anthony Towns, Aaron Gordon and Jaylen Brown—all of whom were either 18 or 19 years old at the time they were drafted. Betchart's unique brand of mental skills training is a reason these youngsters have been able to enjoy quick success in the NBA. "I think 80 percent of the game is mental and the other 20 is physical," Gordon once told CNET.


Betchart emphasizes simplicity in his training, often boiling down important concepts into easily-rememberable phrases. "When you're done reading a good self help book, you always feel good right after. Then about two weeks later, it all kinda fades away. That's a problem. I don't want to just get people fired up for a week and then they forget it. We need to make something they can get repetitive with," Betchart told STACK. "If we can just simplify things, I think it gives people a chance to practice them and not get overwhelmed."


With that in mind, here are three key concepts Betchart works on with his clients.


1. Think 'What's Important Now?'


"What's important now?" or simply "WIN," is the foundation of Betchart's teachings. The concept is about staying in the present and being able to decipher what really matters amidst the incredible amount of noise that can surround an athlete.


"(WIN) gets you into what's in your control. You can't control results and outcomes. So the first thing we try to do is let go of this obsession of focusing on results and outcomes. Take that incredible drive you have and focus on the things you can control. Focus on attitude, focus on effort, focus on your focus. Train yourself to be in the moment and focus on the task at hand," Betchart tells STACK. "That eliminates about 95 percent of what people are thinking about. So much of what gets people out of focus or derails their confidence is they're thinking about things they can't control—like other people's opinions, like winning and losing. That stuff is paralyzing to your confidence."


Betchart firmly believes many athletes get too obsessed with winning. It may sound counterintuitive, but the difference between victory and defeat often amounts to a handful of decisions made throughout the game. If you're thinking about winning before the clock hits zero, that's adding unneeded pressure to a situation and taking your focus away from the next play. It's also a team game, which further takes "winning" beyond your control. "If you're always thinking about winning, that's somewhere in the future. So you're not really present," Betchart says. "It makes people feel nervous when they're thinking about winning, it makes them feel anxious. Have a great attitude with whatever's going on and have your effort be through the roof and if you can do that all the time, that gives you the best chance to win."



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