Why Poker Needs Sports Psychology
Aug. 6, 2011, Posted by Pokerfarm
The mental game is often the last frontier where athletes go to create an edge. The technical skills and conditioning, of say a basketball player is more important than their psyche...until the majority of the competition has relatively equal skill. It's at that point in the evolution of other sports where coaches and athletes have woken up to the importance of sports psychology.
Poker has evolved, and the games gotten tougher so fast, that players are now beginning to notice the importance of working on your mind-set alongside the technical aspects of the game. I'm living proof of this, three years ago when I started working in poker I was the first to produce videos on a poker training site; now they all have one. Even though I've coached over 180 clients all over the world and helped thousands more with articles and training videos, there is still some understandable skepticism towards the mental game. Not only is poker ready for sports psychology, I think it needs it more than any sport in the world.
No game in the world quite has the emotional ups and downs that poker does because of variance. Although there is variance in every sport, none take it to the extremes that poker does. Poker is the only game in the world where you can play perfectly and lose consistently for long periods of time. It is the only game in the world where a complete amateur can sit with the best players in the world and beat them comprehensively. It's a game that can make you feel like a god one minute and a loser the next.
In sports, you get accurate feedback on how you performed in the short run. Usually if you have played well you have won and if you played badly, you lost and have a clear idea of what needs to improve. Poker isn't like that; you cannot rely on results in the short term. A stroke of good variance can hide major leaks in your game and a period of bad luck might affect your motivation to play, even though you might be doing everything right.
In sports, confidence usually correlates with your relative skill in the game. If you suck you know there's not a chance in the world, you can beat a professional, and if you are highly skilled pro you'll have no fear going against the best. In poker variance can swing your confidence like a pendulum. One of the big traps new players fall into is thinking they have mastered the game when they in fact have just ran well, and on the other end of the spectrum, I have actually had clients who are proven winners in some the biggest cash games in the world questioning if they ever were a winning player during a downswing.
Another way that poker differs fundamentally from sports is the money. Although there is money in most sports these days, rarely is it the participants who are putting up the prize money. Usually, it's the fans, sponsors, or a promoter who puts up the cash. Basketball players don't bring ten grand to center court before they play; their paid by team owner who make millions selling tickets, TV rights, and advertisements. If basketball was like poker, they'd feel ten times the pressure from having put their own money in jeopardy. Because you're playing for your own money there's a lot more constant pressure than in most sports.
Finally, it's hard to think of a sport or game where the standard has become so much better in such a short space of time. In 2005 making money in poker was like shooting fish in a barrel, but now in 2011 it's tough to find a soft spot in a $0.50/$1 game. With the edges smaller, mental game issues such as tilt, anger, anxiety, trouble staying focused, losing motivation, acting too quickly, and many others, have become bigger problems. There's a lot to gain if you're the play who doesn't spew off a few stacks because you're on monkey tilt, or if you can play your absolute best for longer. Also, one of the unknown advantages of working on your mental game is, being able to learn faster. With these heady problems out of the way, your mind becomes a finely tune machine capable of staying ahead of the competition, because you are no longer fighting yourself too.
Improving your mental game doesn't have to be something esoteric or mystical sounding, nor are there any secrets or sagely advice that's going to transform you into a mental master. My brand is based on sound logic and simple straightforward steps that are fundamentally no different than how you improve at poker. The only difference is the mental game or sport psychology is harder because you know much less about it, than you do about poker.
Competition in all sports evolves, just as it does in poker. No longer is it enough to just have a winning strategy at the tables, you need a strategy that allows you to 'win' the mental game too.
Jared Tendler is poker's leading expert in the mental game. He coaches some of the top players in poker and over a 180 pros from around the world. Jared's ground breaking new book "The Mental Game of Poker," is now available at www.mentalgameofpoker.com and at amazon.com.
You can Watch Jared Tendler talking to some of The Pokerfarm team out in vegas in this video.