While watching poker on TV, I often hear the commentators refer to it as a sport. I disagree with that assertion and do not believe that playing poker rises from a game to a sport simply because there is not enough physicality involved. What separates it from a sport like basketball or baseball is there are no physical skills required that limit participation and the ability to compete and that you can play at a top level without training physically.
With that said, to play poker professionally at a high level it helps to treat it like a sport. In the same way most professional athletes are mentally tough in order to deal with losing, failure, and pressure, a professional poker player must be similarly tough. In poker you have losing hands every day, and often lose entire sessions, much like a baseball player who strikes out or goes 0 for 4, yet must still come out the next day focused and ready to play his best. Training your mind the way athletes do is a good way to ensure that you have the confidence and mental fortitude to deal with the highs and lows that happen when playing poker. There several good books that I have been reading about mental training that I will review in my Book Review soon.
Studying is another overlooked tool that poker players and athletes have in common. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes on away from table and off the field that contributes greatly to success. Studying tape so that you know what the defense is likely to do when lining up in their nickel package is akin to looking over an opponents hand histories so that you know what they are likely to do in a 3bet pot. Your opponents may say that you are fortunate for having been in the right spot when the pass was thrown or that you were right when calling down with bottom pair in a 3bet pot, when the reality is that the studying and watching film contributed to your success. Training your mind to be able to do things automatically, at the unconscious competence level, is something that is strongly undervalued in both making the correct decisions, and freeing your mind to be able to learn more.
Diet and exercise also play an important role in playing poker optimally. First, eating well helps you to function at your best, to not crash from eating too much sugar and helps your mood while playing(back to keeping control of your emotions). Secondly, exercise is not only good for your heart and body, but also helps in stress relief and relaxation, both of which are critical when playing poker for long periods of time. Obviously diet and exercise do not play as important a role as in most major sports, but sports like golf and baseball as well as games/sports like darts and curling have placed a greater emphasis on these things in the last few years.
While poker may not be a sport, treating it like a sport and leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of success, much like the best professional athletes do, can only help to increase your rate of success and bottom line. Poker players who want to achieve success can benefit from looking at what professional athletes do and applying the relevant to their poker games.