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The Mental Aspect of the Game

Posted by admin on June 29, 2011

brainblueprint_200.jpgThe old cliché of whether you’d rather be lucky or good in our sport really holds no merit. Anglers in the top ranks of professional bass fishing seldom leave anything to chance and tend to master their own destiny rather than relying on luck. How they do this, in my opinion is in preparation. I’d argue that along with the standard homework and time on the water, another key ingredient to success is mental attitude and here’s what I think on the subject.

I read with great interest a while back on Wired2fish, Don Barone’s article on coaching Russ Lane and Don’s take on winning. I guess there’s a reason Don is an award winning writer. Simply put, he’s that good. I’ve struggled myself this year as external factors have weighed heavily on my mind keeping me from focusing fully on the passion that I have for competitive angling. What I’ve noticed in my own lackluster performance so far this year is that I don’t appear to be “in tune” with the fish. I don’t seem to be making the right decisions and adjustments, and as odd as it may seem I don’t think that I’ve enjoyed my time on the water as much as I have in the past because of it.

Historically when I’ve prepared for tournaments I could easily spend a forty hour week devoted to preparation such as internet and map study, networking with other anglers, boat and tackle prep all before I hit the water on the first day of practice. A byproduct of that effort for me was a constant mental focus on the game. The lake conditions, weather, seasonal patterns. All of the typical things we focus on. My process of deductive reasoning to “tune in” to what the fish want once on the water seemed to be second nature at least the two previous years.

My youngest daughter was a senior in high school this year and her extracurricular activities had me on the road extensively early on. Kahlyn received the distinct honor of commanding one of the most storied Unarmed Exhibition Drill Teams in the eldest Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program in the nation this year and she led her girls to a national title taking first place at the U.S. Army Western Regional Nationals in Unarmed Exhibition. Kahlyn heads off to college this fall with scholarship in hand as a result of her perseverance and I’m filled with pride for her.

About the time competition kicked off this year, my stepdad took a fall and was hospitalized. Dad never returned home and has since passed away. At his memorial I recalled the coaching he gave me as a young man, pointing out penalties that the referees failed to catch during my football games; Al was a great coach and a better man. Don’s words reminded me of the things Al would tell me, what my brother-in-law referred to as an almost Zen like ability to mentor and reminds me that the answers to the questions that I seek are within me.

Where would I have rather been and what would I had rather been doing? There’s no other place that I would have rather been or anything that I would have rather been doing than supporting my daughter and sharing the moments of her many successes. When dad passed I needed to be there, not only in support of my mother, but for myself too. I needed time to mourn, grieve, and celebrate his life. We all face trials in our daily lives and my examples of a hectic schedule and the loss of a loved one may seem trivial to some. There are, without a doubt those among us that have suffered far more. Professional anglers facing debilitating injuries, disease, and financial hardships are certainly more trying than me without enough time on my hands.

I was reminded this week of some of my own teachings that a great many successes in the game of bass fishing are played out between our ears. The decisions we make on the water are critical to success and drive our confidence level; should I stay, should I go, do I leave fish to find fish, how long do I beat a dead horse pattern that worked in practice? I understand that sometimes, just making the decision to get out on the water is a victory; that daily stressors can degrade our will to fight. The measure of a champion is the ability to focus on the task at hand, to separate the external distracters and tune in to the fish; to be confident in one’s own ability.

Throughout our decision making, more than anything we need to maintain a positive mental attitude. Confidence is the key. Regardless of whether the decision is right or wrong we have to believe in our ability to get the job done and accept our victories as well as our defeats for what they are; lessons learned.

Every tournament that I’ve ever fished there was only one winner. That doesn’t mean that the fifty, one hundred, or two hundred other anglers didn’t win on some level, it may simply mean that they didn’t take the top prize. If your pattern is solid and you’re in tune, you make good decisions, execute, and you earn a check you can consider yourself victorious on those levels and gain confidence that you fished a good tournament.

Similar lessons can be gained from poor execution, poor decision making, not making the cut and not filling a limit. Kevin VanDam has said if he has a poor day, or poor tournament performance he simply puts it behind him and moves on to the next day or next event. A poor showing actually fuels his desire to win. There’s no doubt that Kevin exudes confidence and we all can learn a lot from Kevin’s mindset.

Equipment failure, changing weather conditions, anglers sitting on your best spot, co-anglers catching more bass than you are just a few examples that can wreak havoc on your attitude and confidence. My personal friend and Bass Pro Sites www.BassProSites.com  teammate Larry Stoafer www.LarryStoafer.com  has been a great influence for confidence this year. Larry has experienced all of the above and at times seemingly more and through it all Larry maintains the mental toughness to put the tournament or the day behind him and looks forward to the next. Larry is a good stick and with the amount of time he’s spending on the water and his confidence in his own ability he’s already a winner.  

Back to decision making and time on the water. For me, as probably with most anglers the more hours I log on the front deck of my Ranger Z21 the easier it is for me to understand the subtle changes in conditions and how the fish are relating, where they’re positioned and the adjustments I need to make in order to put fish in the boat. Confidence is a byproduct of tournament preparation and practice; do your homework, get out on the water to get in tune with the bass, and most importantly develop the mental toughness to block out the external distracters, focus on what the fish want, not what you want them to do and finally believe in yourself and your ability.