sport mindset

Sport Is 90% Mental: A Singapore Perspective

By Eryka Rojas  •  Nov 2019

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“…the athlete’s own mind
can be
a powerful opponent”

Many believe that sport is 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical.

Sport psychologists, coaches and professional athletes all agree that the athlete’s own mind can be a powerful opponent. An unexpected drop in concentration by the athlete in a competition could change the trajectory of the game.

The competitive sporting scene is indeed no walk in the park, and Singapore’s national athletes are no strangers to the challenges of competing in the top tiers of competitive sport.

HappyHappy spoke to three local national athletes who shared their personal experiences in building mental resilience.

Meet the Athletes

National Silat athlete, 23-year-old, Sheik Ferdous, is the reigning World Silat Champion and a three-time gold medallist in international Silat competitions in Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

Silat athlete

“In sports,
whether you want to go for
competition or training,
you have to have
the right mindset. ”

A firm believer in the importance of mental wellness in sport, Ferdous believes healthy mental habits are key to a focused, strong mind.

In a phone interview with HappyHappy, he said, “In sports, whether you want to go for competition or training, you have to have the right mindset. You have to be able to stay positive.”

Kayak Sprint

25-year-old, Brandon Ooi, from the National Kayak Sprint Team has been paddling since 2007. Like Ferdous, the full-time athlete is also a firm believer in developing a resilient mindset in competitive sport. He believes mental wellness and physical health should be accorded the same level of importance.

He shared that there exists a multitude of factors that could lead to an athlete’s mental struggle.

“Common ones are weight issues, performance issues, even struggling to upkeep your image as a role model can be a pressure in itself,” he explained. “It is possible that these may lead to a downward spiral of not being able to perform, leading to a further decline in mental state.”


National tennis player, 21-year-old, Muhammad Shaheed Alam, has been in the courts since the tender age of five. With such an early exposure, Shaheed is used to the lifestyle of an athlete and easily takes the many obstacles in competitive sport in his stride.

Yet Shaheed acknowledged the need for incorporating mental wellness into an athlete’s training routine.

“Being mentally aware and stable
guides us
into a better mental state…”

“I think, as athletes, we go through a lot of emotions throughout our careers,” said Shaheed.  “Pressure being one of it, because of the expectations that we want to meet. Being mentally aware and stable guides us into a better mental state that, in turn, helps us perform better for competitions.”

Mind Over Matter

When asked how they have managed to pull through the intense dynamics of their lifestyles, the three gave very similar answers. All of which put emphasis on focus, discipline, and realistic goal setting.

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Brandon shared that setting short-term achievable goals as a path towards conquering the ultimate goal has helped to hone his focus. His years of experience as a professional athlete have taught him the ways of differentiating various stress factors and knowing how to tackle them.

“I think a certain amount of trust needs to be given to yourself to know that, as long as you do the work and achieve what you set out to do, the results will come,” explained Brandon.

A Holistic Approach

The Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) was put together by Sports Singapore as a platform to provide support for Team Singapore athletes with a holistic approach to their physical and psychological development.

“As with our physical bodies,
our minds also
need to be trained.”

SSI’s Sports Psychology programme offers services from Emotional Regulation to Psychological Recovery and Wellbeing, all of which are designed to develop and enhance the athlete’s mental wellbeing.

“As with our physical bodies, our minds also need to be trained. This is so that we bring out the best in ourselves every day. So the sessions that we do with them help us achieve that optimal mental state,” said Brandon, when asked about the Sports Psychology programme offered by the Singapore Sport Institute (SSI).

Shaheed added that the programme has allowed his team to work alongside a professional sports psychologist as part of their training.

“He’s most involved during critical periods to ensure that everyone’s mental state is at optimal level,” said Shaheed. “He gives us tips on how to perform better while assures us with regular progress feedback on how well we are doing.”

Breathing Techniques

During the interview, Shaheed also demonstrated the various breathing techniques that he had learnt, saying that he sometimes incorporates them in his pre-match preparation routine.

“I’ve been taught how to regulate my breathing as a means to calm my nerves. I breathe for five seconds through my nose and exhale for five seconds through my mouth,” said Shaheed.

Brandon elaborated more on these breathing techniques. He explained how each technique has a special function and how they are designed to especially target problems like anxiety and even insomnia. He said that these techniques “help you sleep better and gain a little more confidence for the competition.”

“I’ve been taught
how to regulate my breathing
as a means to calm my nerves.”

Ferdous who had also taken courses under the Sport Psychology programme remembers clearly the various breathing techniques.

“There are a variety of different breathing patterns that are taught during the sessions. For example, when you’re stressed, you are told to inhale for a number of seconds through your mouth before exhaling the same amount of time but through your nose,” he explained.

“It helps us to refocus on what we need to do to get where we need to go, as well as what we need to let go of to stop ourselves from being hindered by our own mind,” said Brandon when asked about the benefits of undergoing such practices.

Similarly, for Ferdous, ensuring his mental wellness has helped his mind to stay clear of distractions and better visualize the situation at hand. He said, “It’s important that you keep your mind open so as to ensure that you do not underperform.”

Hand photo created by katemangostar -

Excellence Through Resilience

Whether the athletes are performing at the top of the game in silat, kayak sprint or tennis, or for that matter, any competitive sport, it is clear that mental resilience is the bedrock for excellence. It truly is 90% mental.

About the Writer
Eryka Rojas

Eryka is a third year Mass Communications student at Republic Polytechnic. She’s a budding journalist whose passion lies in creating stories that spark conversations and incite change.

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