Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Book Review: The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow
In The Champion’s Mind, Dr. Jim Afremow brilliantly captures the mindset of athletic greatness. A leading sports psychologist, Dr. Afremow has worked closely with athletes at all levels, including pros from the MLB, NBA, WNBA, NFL, NHL, PGA, & LPGA. He draws parallels between the greatest of athletes from all disciplines in terms of how they think, train, and thrive. His book is well-organized and enjoyable to read. It offers very practical advice for any athlete hoping to be the best they can be in his or her sport. As a former high school athlete, I feel this book is a real game-changer (pun intended) especially for young, pre-collegiate athletes who may be struggling with confidence. If you are a junior/high school athlete, if you have a child who is a junior/high school athlete, if you are a coach, if you have a particular athletic goal, or if you simply enjoy the study of athletic greatness, this book is a must.
The book is organized into 10 chapters with a fantastic introduction titled “If You Can Spot Greatness, You’ve Got Greatness." Each chapter begins with a motivational quote pertaining to the chapter (“The most important attribute a player must have is mental toughness.” -Mia Hamm). Quotes are important for Afremow, and he scatters them throughout the chapters as well. They are both inspirational and motivational and can help us when times are tough or when the goal seems impossible. Afremow emphasizes the importance of finding quotes that speak to you as an athlete and adopting one or two as your mantra.
Dr. Afremow’s book is very powerful. I tried to classify this power into three categories: motivating an athlete to continue when times are tough, offering very practical steps for achieving one’s goal, and building confidence. Undoubtedly, the greatest of these and the focus for much of the book is building confidence.
Dr. Afremow suggests that confidence is intimately connected with positive thinking. In other words, if you’re playing outfield in a baseball game and the ball soars in the air towards you, are you thinking, “I hope I don’t mess up!” or are you thinking, “Yes, I’ve got this!”? Do you dwell on your mistakes, or do you quickly forget them and continue playing? Before a game, do you look at the other players and think, “They’re so much bigger than I” or do you think, “I am the player who is best prepared”? The best athletes never think the former – their thoughts always remain on the positive. The Champion’s Mind can help athletes attain exactly this: a positive mindset for building confidence and achieving their potential.
Of course, attitude is related to a positive mindset, too. Do you find yourself blaming others? Giving excuses for why you’re having a bad game? Do you lose energy or drag your feet when your team is losing? If you are confident in your abilities, you won’t blame others. If you are confident in yourself, you won’t feel the need to give excuses. And if you’re confident as a player, you’ll never, ever drag your feet during a game – instead, you’ll have hope and play 100% until the whistle blows every time. Afremow offers some great practical tips on how to maintain a positive attitude during any situation.
Finally, Afremow emphasizes the importance of developing a game plan to achieve one's athletic goals. It’s important that we as athletes set goals, but they need to be specific, realistic, and within our control. For example, the goal, “My soccer team is going to win state this year” is contingent upon a myriad of factors outside of one person’s control: teammates’ performances, injuries, the other team’s performance, etc. This kind of goal is not within one's control, but the goal, “I’m going to improve my ½ field sprint time” is a very realistic, achievable, and specific goal.
Relatedly, once the goal is set, it’s important to develop a game plan to get there. What are the steps to achieving one's goal? Are there smaller goals that will help the athlete reach the main goal? How many months away is the goal, and what will she do each month, each day, to get there? If you’re not sure how to set a goal or how to develop a game plan to get there, consider working with a coach or personal trainer to help you.
In Dr. Afremow’s words, a champion “seeks greater mastery not so much for external results, such as a monetary reward or societal approval, but rather for an inner sense of personal achievement and satisfaction. He or she competes mainly for the love of the sport and to discover what is possible” (240). I like this book because Afremow isn’t designing a game plan for becoming a professional athlete; instead, he’s developing a game plan to help any athlete, of any age or discipline or skill level, discover his or her potential. Greatness is not about being better than everyone else. Greatness is about being the best you can be.