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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: The Sparring Mind How to Achieve Peak Performance Through a Sharper Mental Game

The Sparring Mind:How to Achieve Peak Performance Through a Sharper Mental Game
by Rodney King, M.A. and Christian de Quincey, PhD

I started paying a lot more attention to Rodney King a couple of years ago, after reading his book The Martial Arts Game. It wasn't his physical skills and tactics that intrigued me (though I intend to explore those further) so much as it was his philosophical approach to teaching and training martial arts. A lot of his ideas and theories seemed to fit well with my own thoughts about where my training and coaching is going, and it was interesting to get some perspective from someone with a lot more experience in the field than my own.

So I was pretty intrigued when I heard that he was putting out a book on the mental game for sparring, something which I'd always found challenging, and which I can always use more resources for as a coach.

The Thing Itself

Sparring Mind is a fifty-two page e-book, available as a PDF. The PDF is well and clearly laid out, easy to read, with a few pretty pictures throughout. It's easy on the eyes both on my Kindle DX and my MacBook Air. Nothing particularly remarkable or complaint worthy here, except possibly the lack of a table of contents, which isn't a terrible burden to deal with.

What's Inside?

Sparring Mind is broken up into ten chapters (listed below) each covering a different concept or idea critical to developing a mental game for sparring. As a whole the chapters present a not-quite systematic approach to developing a psychological toolbox for sparring. I say "not-quite" systematic because while some of the chapters are very tightly linked, others stand more independently. You can, for example, understand the chapter on breathing without really understanding the Four Drivers, but it helps if you already do.

  1. The Power of the Mental Game
  2. Creating Refocus Goals 
  3. Re-­‐Focus Goals: The Four Drivers 
  4. Creating An In-­‐Between-­‐Rounds Routine 
  5. Mind-­‐Body Interface 
  6. Mindbody Interface in Action: Brain Science On The Mat
  7. Learning To Manage Your Emotions 
  8. Mindfulness in Action 
  9. Breath Enlivens the Mental Game 
  10. Final Words
Rodney and Christian draw on a variety of sources and ideas throughout the process, from modern sports psychology and physiology to Buddhist philosophy to old-fashioned, in-the-trenches coaching. Despite drawing on some highly intellectual ideas, the material is presented in a simple, straightforward fashion. Unlike some gurus who seem to feel the need to make up new words and demonstrate their thesaurus-sized vocabularies, Rodney and Christian present their material in a manner that should be accessible to anyone.

Although attached to Rodney's Crazy Monkey Defense program, the book doesn't require much knowledge of CMD. There are a couple of references to specific stances or tactics, but you could easily adapt those ideas to the stances and tactics taught in your own style, if you prefer.
    What's Good?

    You have to approach your mental game training as you approach your physical game training. If you working out ‘physically’ 6-hours a week, then you should spend equal or more time on your mental game. -- the Sparring Game

    At its heart, Sparring Mind is a program for developing a psychological toolbox. That's something unbelievably valuable, but something often overlooked by combat athletes and coaches alike. While many will talk about the importance of psychology in a fight, very few people actually offer any kind of system for developing that game. Sparring Mind offers a course of instruction that, if not precisely step-by-step, is clear and coherent enough for anyone to follow, if they are willing to put a little thought into it (and if you're not, why did you buy this book?). There is room to explore many of the ideas further, but out-of-the-box, the book has enough information to let a coach or athlete notably affect performance.

    What's Bad?

    This book desperately needed a copyeditor. That may sound pedantic, but it's still true. While the content is fantastic, it's marred by run-on sentences, sentence fragments, inconsistencies in spelling, and other errors that make portions of the book irritating or difficult to read. I don't mind re-reading a sentence or passage when the content is forcing me to think. I do mind re-reading a passage when I'm trying to sort out what the sentence was actually supposed to mean.

    Who Should Get This?

    This book offers a lot of great information for martial artists or coaches who use sparring as part of their training. If you spar, or coach people who spar, this book is worth picking up.

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