SANDCAST: Sports psychology author Abravanel on benefits of mental training

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Leon Abravanel-Tri Bourne-MBO-Manhattan Beach Open-AVP

It was Yogi Berra who best expounded upon the upside of mental performance in athletics: “Sports are 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.”

Questionable math aside, the former Yankee catcher, and indelible quote machine, had a point. Sports, and the majority of facets of life which require exceptional performance, are rooted vastly in mental strength and fortitude.

It made for an intriguing question for Leon Abravanel, a former professional soccer player for the Kitsap Pumas, Los Angeles Blues and Athletico Paranese. If sports are, indeed, 90 percent, “even 99 percent,” Abravanel suggested, mental, “then why is nobody focusing on this stuff?” he said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.

“If it’s 99 percent of the game, of the performance you’re about to go do, why is there no training around this? And if there is, where do we find it?”

His search led him, at first, to an alarmingly high price tag. Sports psychologists run about $250 an hour. And those are the low end. The top in the business can be as much as five figures. Abravanel was good at soccer, but he wasn’t five figures an hour for a sports psychologist good at soccer.

As it can often go with retired athletes — Abravanel retired from soccer when he was 25 — his mind needed a new project, a new something at which to be exceptional. To sports psychology he went, partnering with former football coach and current Mental Performance Coach Zack Etter. Together, the two sought to make sports psychology more available. Available to athletes of all ages and sizes, of all socioeconomic statuses. Available via a book, “My Mental Playbook: The optimal performance system for athletes” which they co-authored and published this past October.

“We tried to condense all the information that we would learn from 30 sports psychology sessions into one customizable mental performance playbook that you fill out,” Abravanel said. “It has tons of exercises to create your own routine, and that’s a huge piece of the sports psychology world. It can’t be cookie cutter. It has to be very specific to the particular athlete.”

This is not your normal book you’d pluck off the shelves at Barnes and Noble (if anybody still shops at Barnes and Noble). For one, it’s only 70 pages long. Abravanel knows what it’s like to be an athlete. Two practices a day. Lifting. Recovery. By the time all of that is finished, most don’t have the time or the mental bandwidth left to read a 400-page non-fiction dive into sports psychology. Two, it’s more workbook than traditional book, two parts journal, one part reading. It provides leading questions for the athletes to answer, literally, in writing.

“This kind of stuff can help you in so many other ways as well,” said Bourne, who has explored his fair share of mindfulness exercises throughout his recovery from an autoimmune disease. “You can easily translate everything you learn, from learning the mental aspects of sport to dealing with pressures and whatnot to any aspect of life, which is great. To actually put it on paper in a log or a journal is great, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do.”

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