clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Basketball is about feelings: If you want to win, emulate Luka’s superior mental game

The mental game is where consistent success is hidden. 

Orlando Magic v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

I’ve always felt inspired by Luka Dončić’s mental game. The way he would seek out clutch shots already as a very young player, making many and missing some, but never letting the misses and losses get to his head.

The mental game is in my opinion one of, if not the, most important factor in reaching the highest level as an athlete. A superior mental game, the belief that even if this one didn’t fall, the next one will, even if this game didn’t end as we wanted it to, the next one will, is crucial to consistent success on the court.

For most players, it’s hard not to start doubting yourself on bad days, or to let a subpar performance or a shooting slump get to you. But the truth is that it’s the biggest obstacle standing in the way of many players’ success. They get stuck in their own head.

Everybody has bad days. Luka has bad games, Michael Jordan didn’t always play up to his best, Kareem missed shots on occasion too. Sometimes the basket feels like it has a lid on it, sometimes the defender has you figured out and you can’t crack the code on offense, sometimes the whole team shows up to a game with the wrong attitude. But you have to put that behind you and start over - next quarter, next half, next day, next game.

The master

Besides all of Luka’s obvious talents - the basketball IQ, the playmaking and passing, the fadeaway and the vision, this is what makes Luka special. His ability to shake off a loss, shake off a bad shot, shake off the enormous amounts of criticism and doubt people throw his way.

Luka Dončić is a master of the mental game. And he has multiple approaches. He knows he’s the best player on almost any court and he will tell you, in case you’re unsure. He will tell you he can make that half court shot and will bet anyone who doubts him. That’s one of the ways he finds motivation. If you ask him what his goal on free throws is, he’ll answer: Make them all.

Because why not? If he doesn’t believe, who will? It starts with yourself.

Another motivator many of the greats of the game has had, is finding an enemy. Someone who they will convince themselves has a problem with them, think they’re trash and don’t deserve to be there, someone who thinks you’re a phony. Michael Jordan was famous for doing this, Giannis has been known to do it and Luka Dončić plays much better when he does it. There was even a story out that Steph Curry used to check Twitter at half time to get him going on all that hate and mocking going around.

In the series against Phoenix, Luka was clearly motivated by the Suns players’ mocking and trash talking on the court, and he went off. He had something to prove and he did.

These superior players clearly need more than just the usual competition to motivate themselves to go above and beyond. Luka can play a 20 point game with decent playmaking in his sleep, but to continuously dominate on offense, set his team up for success, carry the burden of being a leader in terms of energy and winning attitude, he needs something special. He needs a feud, he needs a little mocking or trash talk.

Luka clearly loves playing in Dallas, but he also gets a kick out of trash talking with opposing team’s fans while he plays. The outcome of this is the same, it motivates him to prove them wrong when they boo or scream that he sucks. He does that little smile after a 3 and that ugly face after a dunk. Nothing can touch him when he’s in that zone and it’s where his mental game shows its strengths.

In order to be successful in many paths of life and especially in basketball, you have to not just believe in yourself, you also have to trust. That the hours of training will pay off, that the studying and memorizing and weight training was worth it - that the next shot will fall, that the next drive will get you that foul.

Luka often says that he doesn’t pay attention to what people say about him, and I believe him. Because the way that he uses criticism to fuel him rather than doubt himself, is something that has to be carefully managed.

As with any path of life, if you start out thinking you can’t do it, it will never happen. If you think you’re mediocre, you probably won’t even be that.

The mind is powerful. What you feed it affects you and sets limitations to your life and development. Luka Dončić knows that. Every time he talks about believing, that’s what he’s talking about. I am continually inspired by this 23 year old, who since he was a teenager has had a firm belief that things end better when he takes the clutch shot. Can you even imagine what you could do in your life, if you had that attitude?

Find last week’s Mavericks Feelings here.