Athletes who compete at the top echelon in their sport share distinctive characteristics, not just within a sport but also across sports. Professional baseball players, bowlers, golfers, and tennis players are among those who have remarkable hand-eye coordination. Football players, cross country runners, and mountain climbers have extraordinary endurance plus strength in their hands and limbs.

  In each of these sports, to be the best there is another characteristic – the will to win, the unwavering drive that takes one athlete a yard farther or a split second faster. Hard to define, impossible to describe, it is the passion to be First – not Second, not Third – only Number One will do.

  Beyond knowledge, preparation, and skill is the indescribable mindset that is confidence and the “will to win.” Confidence can breed success, and success absolutely breeds confidence.

  However, the fall from the top is hard, and plagued with self-doubt about one’s talent and ability. Enter the history of Tiger Woods, whose fall from the top must have been a horrendous blow to his confidence.

  To be the best in their sport, athletes must have their ‘head in the game’ from start to finish. Those who compete outdoors must cope with distractions caused by the weather, for instance, how rain, wind, and temperature can affect the flight of a golf ball or a football.

  Professional anglers are athletes too, their sport is mentally and physically demanding. They must deal with long hours on the road and water, the weather, their boats, motors, tackle, electronics, and oh yes, the mood of the fish. To be successful, they must be psychologically ‘up’, regardless of conditions.

  Yamaha/Skeeter tournament pros, Brandon Palaniuk and Dean Rojas, who compete in the BASSMASTER Elite Series, were at the lake recently and they had this to say about mental preparation and competing at the highest level.

  Palaniuk, a resident of Rathdrum, Idaho who just turned 26, has competed in 36 tournaments with two wins, two Second Place, five Top 10, eight Top 20 finishes and three Classic Appearances. His winnings total $434,632 during his short career.

  At eight or nine years old, Palaniuk knew he wanted to be a professional bass angler, in his mind nothing could be better than driving a fast boat and catching fish for a living.

  “The mental side of fishing is just as important as the mechanics so I use positive visualization to prepare myself. It’s a method my wrestling coach taught in high school, he actually held drills on positive visualization,” said Palaniuk. His best fishing tournament results came from pre-visualizing every cast, the weigh-in, and then holding the trophy.

  “It’s the mental side that separates the winners from the rest of the field,” said Palaniuk.

  Rojas is a resident of Lake Havasu, AZ who has competed in 171 B.A.S.S. tournaments, winning four, placing Second three times and Third three times, plus 34 Top 10 and 63 Top 20 finishes. Along the way, he appeared in 11 Classics and collected $1,612,468 in winnings.

  Growing up in California, his career followed the expected path by fishing club, local, and regional tournaments. After fishing Pro-Am tournaments as an amateur for a while, and beating his pro-partners, Rojas decided to turn pro. His career had a jump-start when B.A.S.S. started a Western circuit.

  “I’ve always been extremely competitive and motivated to win but at one point in my career I wasn’t doing well. I was 114th of 150 on the Top 150 Tour,” said Rojas. A discussion on how to find winning fish with Shaw Grigsby at one of the western tournaments helped him refocus and get back into the right frame of mind.

  “Self confidence is all about believing in myself and having a positive attitude. Fishing at this level is stressful and very taxing, it takes a lot of drive to reach the top,” said Rojas.

  Well said from someone who has achieved some astonishing tournament weights like 2001 Kissimmee – 108 pounds, 2006 Santee Cooper – 102 pounds, Sam Rayburn – 75 pounds, Amistad – 82 pounds, 2007 Oneida – 69 pounds, Amistad – 67 pounds, 2009 Amistad – 73 pounds, 2012 – Douglas 73 pounds, Green Bay 66 pounds, and 2013 Falcon – 65 pounds.  

  An angler’s attitude just may be the best tackle in the boat.