Optimizing the Mind for Kettlebell Success

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By Sayaka Torra

Sport psychology is essentially the study of how the mind affects physical activity and athletic performance. It is a complex topic that has been studied by researchers since the late 19th century.


Illustration courtesy of Vivek

Admittedly, I am not an expert in the field of psychology. However, I did train and compete at a very high level of sport for almost a decade. During that time I learned that mental focus, determination, and attitude play a crucial role in peak performance. I learned that physical technique and experience will only get you to a certain level, and that successful athletes train their minds just like they train their bodies.

Here are some concrete steps that I have adopted to get me to the Olympics. I hope that you too can use these concepts to create a winner mentality when preparing for Kettlebell Sport.

Goal Setting

“A goal without a plan is just a wish” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Goals are a great way to give you something to focus on, build confidence, and to hold yourself accountable. Have daily, monthly, and long-term goals that are quantifiable and measurable. Saying you simply “want to improve” is not enough. Work with your coach to set long and short term goals that you’ve never achieved before then come up with a solid plan on how to achieve them. Don’t move onto the next goal until you’ve achieved the first one on the list.

Focus and Intention

“Our intention creates our reality” ~Wayne Dyer

When you enter the gym for your workout, your focus should be on accomplishing the daily goal you’ve set for yourself. It should not be on how much you don’t want to be there, how stressed out you are, or how you have a million things to do that day. If you find yourself in this headspace, take some time to re-group. Hop on a bike or treadmill to get a good warm up. Put your headphones on to decompress and do some deep breathing. Perhaps turn off your phone; don’t answer any calls or emails. Focus your attention solely on the task at hand for that day. Don’t start your workout or set until you’re 100% mentally ready.



“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~Nelson Mandela

Everyone has a fear of failure and athletes are no different. Exceptional athletes have found a way to face their failures head on and refuse to let them win. This takes incredible courage and resolve, but is a skill that I believe can be taught. When you feel like quitting or giving up in the middle of your set or workout, switch your negative self talk to positive affirmations. Detach yourself from emotion and go back to your daily quantifiable goal. Sprint to the finish line, you’re nearly there!

Honest Assessment

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” ~Richard Feynman

As a responsible athlete, you should constantly be assessing and re-assessing your workouts, and goals. Ask yourself what worked? What didn’t? What could have been done differently? Did you achieve the goal you set for yourself? Why or why not? Be critical, but not judgmental. If you don’t feel satisfied with your performance, don’t dwell on it. Come up with concrete steps you can take to change your behavior for the next time.

champ trophy


“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed” ~Michael Jordan

The most important piece of advice someone ever gave me was to not re-evaluate after every practice or competition. Everyone has good days and bad days. No one is perfect, including the best athletes in the world. Maintain a positive and optimistic attitude about your training. Approach each workout with a “yes I can” attitude.


Training a champion mindset is something that should be done every day. Over my years competing at the highest levels in Judo, I have come to realize that training the mind is equally, if not more important than training your physical body.  Kettlebell Sport is not only a physical contest, but a grueling mental game.  If you care about your performance on the platform and want to reach your full potential as an athlete, you must not neglect this critical aspect!

Optimising the Performance of the Human Mind: