Amateur vs Pro Mindset

Fighter mindset contemplating muay thai
photo by Courtney Henderson

“The mindset of a fighter is his greatest weapon. It’s also his greatest downfall.

Beliefs, thoughts and habits either empower or sabotage you.”


photo by Courtney Henderson
photo by Courtney Henderson

Fighting is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. When I first heard that it didn’t make sense. How could the physical only be 10% when all the training is physically based? I thought it was a cool saying, but very exaggerated.

Years later, it makes a whole lot more sense to me. You could have all the skill in the world, but if you don’t perform when it counts, all that skill is worthless. The mental activates the physical, the level of performance totally reliant on the mental state of the fighter.

The way I see it, the physical aspect is straightforward. You train hard, you get fit and conditioned, and you learn skills. The results are predictable. It’s linear. A plus B equals C. Sure we all vary genetically to a degree, and there are exceptions. But, to keep it simple we all have close enough potential of becoming physically great; hence the physical is 10%.

The 90% is what you don’t see; the mind, emotions, all that is invisible. Confidence, composure, beliefs, work ethic, inspiration, drive, will and determination are worth more weight on the performance scale than physical alone. The mental shape of a fighter determines his performance and how much of his ability recruited.

No point having all this amazing skill to end up intimidated or fold under pressure during a fight. We’ve all seen talented or physically superior fighters get beat by a determined underdog. Then there’s the fighters who are beasts at the gym, and go on to perform terribly in the ring. I have a friend who was a virtual alcoholic, smoked a pack a day, refused to hit pads, only jogged and occasionally sparred, who would then go into the ring and (to everyone’s shock) kick ass! Perfect example of the power of mind and beliefs.

It starts with us, as individual fighters to know why we do what we do. Establish the why. Is it for fun, fitness, experience or to go all the way? Be honest. Know the why and be realistic with expectations. We get out what we put in, and developing the mindset is the single most powerful tool in realize our fullest potential. If we want to be a pro we must have the mindset of a pro. That’s what sets apart the great fighters from the average, and the ones who are consistently “on fire”, performing to their best of their ability every fight. We could have the best training, team and circumstances around us but if our mindset is flimsy we are in for a reality shock come fight time.


“You don’t have to be a pro to have a pro mindset. An amateur can have a pro mindset and vice versa. I’m using the terms pro and amateur figuratively, it can be translated as an empowering/mediocre or a strong/fragile mindset. You fill in the blank.”


Developing our mental game is crucial; the amount of potential we unfold in ourselves is a direct result of our attitudes, our mindset. Over the years I’ve seen physically inept and awkward fighters rise to the top because their head space was right on. I’ve also seen the opposite, super talented fighters not realize their potential and sabotaging themselves, their mental game failing them regretfully.

I should know, as I’ve had these experiences; of being on fire and of under performing. My best performances were directly related to my mindset; whether I trained or not wasn’t the factor. I’ve taken fights overweight with zero training for the month prior, and performed amazing. When I visualized, my attitude was on point, and left no stone unturned with what I knew best mentally – I was on fire, physically peaking or not. I knew I was going to win, and I always did. Other times when I had let my diet slip, took a few short cuts, or let negativity get the better of me, I fought like crap, even when I was physically capable. When I wasn’t inspired, didn’t know my why, I fought below average. I didn’t have that focus; that fire, that drive. It was mental.

It’s not that the physical isn’t important, the point I’m making is you can overcome physical lack with your mindset being strong, not vice versa. So imagine being super-conditioned and peaking mentally! That’s the idea!

Below is what I believe to be the most common difference between a pro and amateur mindset, or a power/mediocre mindset. I’ll categorize according to different mental aspects I consider are most important. Have a read through and see which habits, thoughts and behaviors you identify with, and if they’re negative, CHANGE them! By simply being aware you’ll naturally gravitate to more positive behavior and thought patterns.



I’ve come to prefer to use the word inspiration over motivation because I think motivation implies force. What I mean by that is when we feel motivated, and if we peel the layers, we usually find that motivation is either driven by fear, anger or pride. It feels heavy. Think about it. Chose an outcome you are motivated to achieve, and work your way back. Doesn’t have to be Muay Thai related. Did you find any fear, anger or pride?

On the other hand, inspiration comes from courage, curiosity, and love. We feel light. Many fighters are successful on motivation alone (Mayweather pops to mind) or motivated by negative emotions, but that isn’t an appealing road and makes for a less than enjoyable experience for everyone around. It doesn’t have to be that way. Find reasons to be inspired doing what you’re doing. Re-frame what you need to re-frame.

Inspiration also means we are self-inspired. We don’t need to be told what to do. We take initiative and responsibility for our training. We do the roadwork; stay back after class, study videos, read inspirational books, whatever it takes. We have endless supply to direct to our efforts. We show up focused and consistently train intensely; we talk less and train more. We love our sport, team and everyone in it. We love the journey and everything it teaches us. We are grateful and rarely complain. We flow with circumstances and situations that come up, no matter how bad they seem. We have a desire, but not attached to outcomes. We are gentle on ourselves when we have a bad day and grateful when we have good ones.

A mediocre or amateur mind relies on the trainer for instructions, motivation and responsibility. He needs an atmosphere or environment to motivate him. He trains as much as he thinks is enough and can get away with. The Amateur wakes up and has to fight with himself to get out of bed to come to the gym. He finds short cuts. He doubts whether he wants it or not, whether he deserves it. He allows resistance to overwhelm him. The Amateur has a weak why, doesn’t know exactly what motivates him. It may stem from anger, resentment, low self-esteem, pride, or out to prove something. He doesn’t know because he’s never asked him self honestly. A mediocre mind is motivated to win, and someone has to lose. He doesn’t know what drives him; he’d rather ignore the real reasons and do what he does mindlessly.



The Pro maintains a healthy lifestyle all year round. Not drinking or over indulging isn’t seen as a sacrifice. He enjoys his lifestyle and take a holistic approach to managing stress, sleeping habits, nutrition and work-training balance for the long term.

Binging on food and drink between fights is a reward for the mediocre. He seeks examples of fighters who party, drink or smoke to justify his choices. Self-indulgence between fights is predictable.



As a pro we take responsibility for our training. We are our own coach 24-7. Mental dialogue is positive, and when it’s not, we check our thoughts. We practice being kind to ourselves because to do otherwise is a mental drain and doesn’t serve us.

We’re always on the look out to add to our mental and physical game; training and studying extra hours outside the gym. Before and after training we prep physically and mentally, making sure the body is well taken care of. We value quality over quantity. We don’t lose time chatting during training; we’re efficient and come in to work. The Pro is consistent all year round. We integrate training as a long-term lifestyle that we maintain.

The Amateur does what he’s told, and only what he’s told, no extra. The Amateur trains in short frantic bursts in the lead up to fights and could take long spells off for relaxation and reward.



The Pro mindset knows that bad days are inevitable, and doesn’t take them personal; it’s part of the game. We accept risk of injury and not defeated when and if it happens. Flowing with circumstances and situations is the norm.

On a bad day, the Amateur doubts himself. He gets frustrated. He complains. He spirals into negative emotions and self talk. He relies on others to lift him out of his slumber.



I’ve come to agree more with the idea of intention over goals. Goals imply attachment, and when you’re attached to outcomes you base your happiness on achieving that goal. If you don’t achieve it, you suffer, and that’s an energy drain. Goals feel rigid, inflexible and heavy, weighing over you until you “complete” it.

Intention on the other hand is open, light and directs you to the same outcome without the pressure, and is more energy filling. Patience and consistency are hallmarks of a pro. We’re patient and take each day and fight as it comes, chipping away and improving slowly but surely. We realize that good things come to those who wait and stay on the path while the rest drop off. It’s all about the hours, thousands of hours in the sport.

The amateur wants it now. He is impatient. He has too big or too small of goals, unrealistic and unmanageable as he hasn’t thought them through. He fails to meet his goals and consequently experiences negative emotions and doubts. This spills over and affects other aspects of his life. Eventually he might quit, realizing only a fraction of his potential.



A pro understands and accepts his flaws and weaknesses, and is excited about improving them.

An amateur expects the stars to align for things to happen. Circumstances have to be ideal in order to succeed, and if they’re not, finds a scapegoat to blame. He takes his flaws personally and allows it to affect his mindset. He hesitates about the journey ahead not fully trusting in the process, which causes him to secretly doubt himself.



As a Pro we are in constant positive self-talk and re-framing situations to best serve us. We know the fight game is tough, but that also anyone can do it with the right attitude.

Constantly developing, we’re willing to work and continue moving forward solving problems as they arise. We’re aware of our thoughts and words, making sure they’re empowering and not self-defeating. We are kind to ourselves when things don’t go our way. In general we are the type that sees the cup as half full.

An amateur is very critical of himself. He believes this will motivate him. He looks for and highlights and gives energy to his flaws, his circumstances, and his grievances. He erodes self-esteem by his self-induced guilt to punish himself for not training or performing.

The amateur judges and criticizes others, therefore judging and criticizing himself. He isn’t aware of his self-talk, and falls victim to negative self-dialogue and beliefs. His thoughts and words reflect his fragile attitude. In general, he is the type that drains energy from others, and sees the cup as half empty.



As a Pro we treat every opponent with full respect. We understand the fact that every opponent has two arms and two legs just like ourselves and never underestimate anyone.

We constantly check our thoughts, making sure we aren’t feeding ego and inflating perception of self. Challenging fights are exciting, as we thrive on testing ourselves.

The Amateur works as much or as little as he thinks he can get away with, depending on who his next opponent is. He secretly hopes he gets easy fights and prefers quick knockouts and easy wins.



Fighters respect each other
Fighters respect each other

A power mindset goes into the ring with the job in mind. We are there to do a job and do it well. We are there to fight and put on a good performance to the best of our abilities and don’t identify our self worth with outcomes, as in not attached to results.  I’m not saying we don’t want it bad enough, or have weak will; our focus is somewhere else – on the job.

We perform to our full potential, fighting hard and tenacious, whatever it takes to get the job done. If we have more in the tank we use it. It’s about performing to the peak of our ability, squeezing every last drop, going into fifth gear. The outcome is the outcome and we cannot control that. We focus on what we can control – ourselves. We are humble in wins and gracious in defeat. It’s only outcomes. Lessons are the most valuable, and we mine for them in both cases. We take each fight one-at-a-time, enjoying the process, and keeping in mind the long-term intention at the same time.

An amateur judges himself according to a win or loss. After a win his ego blows up, and after a loss he is shattered emotionally. He equates his ability and self worth with results and is dependent on outcomes to measure his self-esteem and progress. He doesn’t see the big picture. This comes down to doing it for the wrong reasons as I said earlier, coming from fear, anger, and pride or needing to prove something.


CONCLUSION: Ask and uncover the why. Why we are doing what we are doing. Be aware of the mindset and what needs improvement, and upgrade it; tweak what needs to be tweaked. If its negative self-talk or being harsh on our selves, peel the layers and keep asking why- why am I saying this, why do I think that, where does this come from etc. If we ask ourselves honestly with no distraction, eventually we always get an answer. Deep down we know why, we just don’t ask.

If we want to be a Professional and achieve new heights, then we need to commit and go all the way. Half way is painful and that much harder! If going all the way doesn’t sound appealing, then be clear and content as an amateur, and do it for experience and fun. We need to know the difference so we don’t have unrealistic expectations and end up disappointed and bitter. I’ve seen it happen all too often.

Make a decision; to be a pro, transform your thoughts, words, mindset, attitude and how you view every aspect of your life and training.

The old saying that fighting is 90% mental has a lot of truth to it… anyone has the physical. The physical is straightforward and linear; you train hard, you get fit. It’s simple but hard work. The body follows the mind and it’s the driving force behind the physical. The mind is what manifests the greater results we all dream about, hence the 90%.



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