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Mental Game

mental game kenny rogers the gambler

Three Mental Game Lessons From Kenny Rogers “The Gambler”

The Gambler is such a good tune and it has three lessons about how we can apply the mental game. It’s amazing to believe that the writer of this song, Don Schiltz shopped this song around for two years before it was picked up.

Patience & Persistence…

Johnny Cash put it on his own album, but it was Kenny Rogers who made this a mainstream, signature song! The chorus of this iconic song is the best ever when sung by ALL in the room. 

As a refresher, The Gambler is a tune about meeting a man on a train that is “bound for nowhere.”  

He speaks truth into the narrator’s life by asking for a drink of his whiskey and then providing “some advice.”


The first mental game lesson by Kenny Rogers “The Gambler.” He said, “If you’re gonna play the game, boy you gotta learn to play it right.” 

One of the best compliments I heard about a baseball team I worked with was “they play the game the right way.”  This opposing coach meant that they were a poised team that ran on and off the field, ran out ground balls to first base, backed-up one another, and held their own dugout in order. 

An amateur often does what a professional does but on purpose!

Playing the game the “right way” however, often just means playing  “my way”.  If you grew up playing baseball in the Dominican Republic, you flipped the bat after home-runs because it’s the culture of the sport. But, in the United States, bat flips are seen as showing up the pitcher. Playing street basketball at The Rucker Park in New York City is an entirely different game than inside a country-side gym. Advice from successful others is often about how they play the game. 

“Learning to play the game the right way” means being able to adapt and overcome and assimilate where needed into the culture. 


The second mental game lesson from Kenny Rogers “The Gambler” is “You never count your money When you’re sittin’ at the table.” 

The mental game can be boiled down to the essence of being able to focus on the process rather than the results. 

The process is even more important than the product. 

If we start counting our money, we are focused on the result rather than focusing on the next hand, which is the most important. Also, if we are counting our money while we are still playing, then it may seriously affect our play. We now do not want to LOSE the money in front of us, so we alter our style of play because we were focused on the money instead of the game. We will start to play it safe. 

Great players always play the game and NOT the context. 

When we allow results or the outcome to occupy our thoughts, it affects our current state of play. We get away from the process. Kenny Rogers The Gambler, admits in the next line, “there will be time enough for counting when the dealin’ s done.” 


The third mental game lesson “That the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away, And knowin’ what to keep.” 

We can’t play every hand in poker. We can’t play every hand in life either. There will be runs of good times and bad times and the mental game lesson here is Discipline. 

Discipline requires self-control and staying committed to your goals and process. Discipline means doing the things you don’t want to do. In poker, if you have a good hand, the difference is being able to know when to fold a good hand that could cost a lot of your bankroll. 

Discipline also means that the person or team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins! This requires doing the little things correctly and being able to stay within ourselves and simply Play our game.

Stay in our lane. 

Run our race. 

Ol’ Kenny Rogers offers up plenty of mental game lessons in this song, but there are the three strategies that we can use.

And that’s an ace you can keep!


dr rob bell

Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology Coach. His company DRB & Associates is based in Indianapolis.  Some clients have included: Indy Eleven, University of Notre Dame, Marriott, and Walgreens. Check out all the mental toughness books.   

Please check out the podcast 15 Minutes of Mental Toughness as we interview expert athletes and coaches about Mental Strength and their Hinge Moment.