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Sports Performance Psychology: Why Goku Is Better Than Vegeta?

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I grew up worshiping Vegeta. His unmatched work ethic. The masculine Saiyan pride. That I die before I quit spirit. My high school wrestling pre-tournament rituals included hypnotizing myself with Youtube clips of Vegeta transformations, fights, and monologues. Every ounce of my identity needed to embody the Prince of all Saiyans. This mentality boded well for the quote on quote toughest sport in world…at least on the surface.

This went on until college, where I burned myself out of athletics, earned myself countless injuries, alienated myself by being a bad training partner, and fell into chronic depression as a result of being too hard on myself.

Then I started researching sports performance and success psychology and found out exactly why it made perfect sense that the jolly Goku was ahead of spartanesque Vegeta the whole time. Don’t get wrong, I’ll always be rooting for Vegeta, but that doesn’t change facts. Let this article be a guide for those who have big goals -people who want to achieve their goals more than anything else in this world- but end up sabotaging themselves.

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1.) Goku has a Growth Mindset

The best athletes have a growth mindset. Championship caliber performers such as Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Michael Phelps, and Conor McGregor are all athletes that enjoy the process of training and growing as individuals as much as they are motivated by victory.

According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Goku is someone that embodies the growth mindset. In every saga from Dragon Ball to Dragon Ball Super, he was the man who led the charge in terms of preparation. While every other character was shaking with anxiety (or in Vegeta’s case, brooding with jealousy) from the imminent next level threat, Goku is getting excited at the chance to push himself to even greater lengths.

Goku’s training style is very similar to Conor McGregor’s regimen –always working on something and always thinking outside the box. Goku continuously picks up new techniques while creatively thinking of new ways to implement them. He was the first to discover Super Saiyan, Super Saiyan 3, Instant Transmission, and fusion dance. Perhaps his greatest display of growth mindset is when Goku asked Whis to hire the assassin Hit to target his own life simply for training and fun.

sport psychology conor mcgregor

By contrast, the fixed mindset athletes are the talented ones who quit at their first loss. Most of these you never heard of because they do not make it far. Serafim Todorov is the only man to have beaten Floyd Mayweather to this date. He edged out 19 year old Floyd in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics semifinals. When Serafim lost in the gold medal match, he rage quit boxing. He is now living on government welfare in Bulgaria.

Does this sound familiar to Vegeta after he lost to Cell and declaring that he would never fight again? How often do we hear Vegeta beat himself up and engage in negative self-talk for losing? How often do we hear Vegeta’s entitled talk about his birthright? He deserves to be the best because he is a prince. It is divine right to be the strongest Saiyan alive.

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According to Carol Dweck, “In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.”

Granted, Vegeta does work harder than everybody else so he is not completely fixed but his entitled mentality does limit him. Compared to Goku, Vegeta is always depicted as the most proud and satisfied when showing off a new transformation. He shows content after reaching the next level. When Goku or an adversary transforms into something greater a few episodes later, he throws a jealous fit.

sport psychology

2.) Goku knows how to stay relaxed

Championship-caliber athletes are known for their ability to relax. According to the book “Talent is Overrated” by Geoffrey Colvin, studies done on world class tennis players discovered that what separates the best from the elite, was the best players were completely relaxed during breaks in action. This offers them better concentration, stamina, control, and focus. The other elites could keep up in the beginning but over the course of the match, they begin to make mistakes and tire out.

Vegeta over-trains. Over-training leads to burn out. This is displayed when Vegeta made a remark to quit fighting after Gohan beat Cell and crushed his expectations for not being the warrior to take the glory. By over-exerting himself, Vegeta also fails to see the many details and secrets Goku is able to notice during his training. This is shown in Goku’s efficient training in the hyperbolic time chamber for Cell where he was able to become significantly stronger than Vegeta in less than half the time. Vegeta’s hotheadedness causes him to overthink, as Whis stated in Return of F!, which is why he is always one step behind the relaxed Goku.

sport psychology sport psychology

3.) Playfulness beats Ambition, Curiosity Beats Pride

Goku is a better fighter because he is truly passionate about fighting for the sake of fighting. He literally thinks about nothing else besides maybe food. Vegeta is more concerned about his pride and his warrior race identity. Vegeta trains partially to maintain an image while Goku just does it for fun. For Vegeta, it is all work. For Goku, it is all play. When you love what you do, you get damn good at it.

In real life, some of the greatest athletes are the ones who genuinely love the game more than everybody else. Marcelo Garcia, one of the greatest Brazilian Jiujitsu competitors the world has seen, is someone who shares Goku’s mentality and jolly nature. When he first started, he was the worst amongst his friends but he surpassed them all. When asked why, he replied simply, “Why do I beat a lot of people? Because I love it so much, that’s why. Everything about Jiu Jitsu, I love it – the school, the mat, the ring. I always believe that. Maybe I am not better than my opponent, but I know for sure I love my training more.”

sport psychology

Personally, I also found that when I took the Vegeta approach to training, teammates with the Goku personality would beat me in the long run. I had a friend named Antonio that would show up 15 minutes late to Jiujitsu class, dodge punishment pushups, skip out on conditioning, never go on runs, but he would kick my Spartan-wanna-be ass. His secret? He loved Jiujitsu more. He was always thinking about Jiujitsu. He is always studying the game, watching videos, and testing new techniques. He took the Goku approach. I took the Vegeta approach.

sport psychology

sport psychology

4.) Goku Asks for Help

There is no such thing as self-made. No amount of talent could amount to anything without the right guidance, mentors, and growth environments. While it is impressive that Vegeta was able to accomplish so much alone, he robbed himself of many learning opportunities throughout his career. It wasn’t under he met Whis where he finally sucked up his pride and asked for help. He became a God shortly after.

Goku’s personality attracted people to help him throughout his journey: Master Roshi, King Kai, Supreme Kai, Whis, Omni-King, etc. As a result, he unlocked crucial abilities that came in clutch at the right time: Instant Transmission, Fusion, Spirit Bomb, Kaio-Ken, etc. Vegeta, working alone, simply never developed such a wide arsenal.

sport psychology teamwork motivation

5.) Vegeta compares himself to others. Goku compares himself to yesterday.

This one is crucial. When you compare your journey to another’s, at best, you’ll be one step behind. You have to stay in your lane and focus on being the best version of yourself. Marcelo Garcia, who posts his training videos online and was asked about whether he worried about his opponents studying it, said it best, “”If you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game, and I’ll be better at it than you.”

Vegeta’s choice of rhetoric has always revolved around “his destiny of surpassing Kakarot”. Goku simply works to be better than he was yesterday. Goku leads, Vegeta follows.

Granted, there are periods of times when Vegeta surpasses Goku but these are relatively short-lived, as it does not take long for Goku to come up with some ingenious tactic to solidify himself on top again.

sport psychology

sport psychology

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