Book Review: “The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game” by Sam Sheridan

The Fighter’s Mind is for readers who want to understand how and why any of us challenge ourselves to improve. It is a book for and about fighters. In other words, it is a book for and about us.

Realistically, the vast majority of us will never enter a cage to face off against someone with a menacing nickname, a six-pack, and an unsettling game face, attempting to inflict bodily harm before it is inflicted upon us. We will never throw a punch or a kick, nor will we ever take one. That is to say, we will never fight in the strictest sense, the sense demonstrated by many of the interviewees who populate author Sam Sheridan’s 2010 book The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game.

Legendary grappler Renzo Gracie gives a simple and convincing explanation for why even those who never fight professionally might be interested in reading Sam’s book: “Everybody is fighting something.” Sam elaborates that everyone, fighter or not, is dealing with issues of adversity and risk. We all have to deal with failure. And “when we do have to deal with a devastating loss, how do we come back from that?”

Sam addresses this question by getting inside the minds of the likes of world class grappler Marcelo Garcia, mixed martial artist Randy Couture, chess expert and martial artist Josh Waitzkin, and wrestling legend Dan Gable, among others. He questions how and why his interviewees do what they do, especially when fatigue, self-doubt, and failure conspire to convince them to quit.

What makes the stories so compelling is the way they touch on issues everyone must face. We are all tested in life, repeatedly. We must face doubts and adversity, and we must rebound after failing. We all fight, in some form or fashion. And in order to do this, we must honestly assess our own measure, which is potentially painful if we find ourselves lacking. The lessons in The Fighter’s Mind transcend the cage, the boxing ring, the wrestling mat, the chessboard. And the athletes profiled could be speaking directly to anyone when they talk about their own experiences.

Some insights are simple. For instance, Couture notes that using positively worded statements in coaching like “Impose your game” is more effective than using negatively worded ones like, “Don’t give up.” “Don’t give up” plants the concept of “giving up” in an athlete’s mind, and then that becomes the focus. Other insights are perhaps equally simple but far more difficult to acknowledge, and harder still to embody. As Sam notes in the book, “It goes back to what fighting is all about: honesty and identity. You have to know who you are…The truth will out.”

Described by Sam as a “gift back to the fighters” who helped him with his first book, A Fighter’s Heart: One Man’s Journey through the World of Fighting, The Fighter’s Mind is also a tool for readers who want to understand how and why any of us challenge ourselves to improve, and how we can do it better. It is a book for and about fighters. In other words, it is a book for and about us.

Sam is the author of A Fighter’s Heart and The Fighter’s Mind. His forthcoming book, The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse, is due out in January 2013. It explores the “disaster imagery” that bombards modern society and describes his attempts to determine how prepared he might be to handle a catastrophic event. Sam lives in Los Angeles.

A Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game is available on for $16.70.