Mental Toughness for Sports: Why Grinding it Out is so Important,
When a client asks us: What exactly is mental toughness or Mental Strength in sports?
My response is: Mental toughness is being the best competitor you can be in all situations, under any conditions or circumstanece. It is essentially the ability for an athlete to take their minds somewhere else and focusing on what needs to be done when the stress, pressure and difficulty of the moment tell us otherwise.
· When the crowd is against you
· When it is 5 degrees and wet or 40 degrees and you are melting.
· When you’re on the bottom of the ladder and there are 3 games to go with no chance of making finals
· When you play the first point of a tennis match the same way as you play the very last point
· Whether it’s playing with such intensity when you come off the bench with only a few minutes to go with zero chance of winning the game, or
· Or sill focusing on executing and nailing your routine when the winner has already been decided
· Or continuing to show fight and heart in the last few games of the season when your team has already been eliminated from the playoffs…
· Or even pushing yourself to your breaking point during the last five minutes of practice on a 35-degree day.
· Or when you are sore, but you get out of bed to go train in the gym.
Mental toughness is having your back against the wall. When you do not tank or let up, give in or give up despite what some would deem a zero or minimal chance of success.
Know your reality. Your reality is that every time you compete, you succeed by you giving your best.
Think of it like this: You may not succeed in winning the contest or a tournament or even a practice match, but you will succeed in building your mental toughness and developing what we call RESILIENCE.
Know that every time you go out and compete, invest in your mental toughness and personal growth. There is an opportunity to grow and learn.
Developing Mental toughness is a process. Its cumulative; it develops through training and through action and being exposed to tough situations and conditions.
For either a coach or an athlete – A sound mindset should be that you are always in an opportunity to build your game and skill set through tough situations, mental toughness is about getting through that, whether you are playing a pre-season game or championship game. There is an opportunity to grow and learn.
E.g. If you chose not to compete or not even giving your best when your chances of winning are minimal, you are wasting an opportunity. Or it could be when you are on top of the ladder and it’s a dead rubber. There is always an opportunity to get better somewhere, somehow. You can practice a particular strategy or tactic, try new things, the opportunities are endless.
Developing Mental toughness is also about the tomorrow - you will have a significant edge in future competitions whether it be 3 months, 6 months or in 10 years’ time.
You have the choice to decide at any moment – who you are going to be.
You have the choice in any competition and you want to make the right choice.
Do you chose to give 80%? Or if you choose to back off because you believe the game is meaningless or unworthy of your best or the situation does not to matter to you, you develop a habit of giving in subconsciously.
You have to choose to compete. If you choose to compete, to give it your all in all situations, you develop the habit of mental toughness. It’s that mental toughness that strength, and more importantly, it’s the overall energy that you can call on when you face pressure in future situations.
The better players always play better when they need to. It’s a culmination of all this work. When the game is on the line, mental toughness will give you an edge over your opponents…because of trust. Because of the work. Because of consistency.
It can even be as something as simple as what reaction you chose. Like when you make a mistake early in a competition or you miss a goal or miss a lay-up, mental toughness will help you bounce back quickly and stay focused on the task at hand.
Perfection does not exist. But when you are trying to achieve a personal best and constantly want to improve, mental toughness will strengthen your chances of achieving your objective, goals through your focus and perspective.
Life just like sports is a myriad of choices. What choice will you make?
Learning to Instil Mental Toughness:
Your Brain is a Muscle – Work it
1. Look to improve your physical, emotional and mental skills day in day out.
2. Learn to see opportunity or learn something in every situation.
3. Think of different situations you found yourself in past competitions and reflect on what worked and what didn't.
4. Don’t worry about anyone else
5. Get yourself the right team and support base
6. Identify and embrace hard opportunities/challenges and look forward to the challenge of coming out of those moments being proud of what you did
At the end of each training or competition: Ask yourself three high quality questions:
1. Did I compete to the best of my abilities? At every moment?
2. What did I learn here - what can make me a better athlete in that situation and improve my mental toughness next time?
3. Is there anything I can do differently next time in practice and or competition to better my mental toughness?
You must review and assess your mental game all the time. In order to learn what you need to work, be it strengths or weakness for the next competition or high-pressure situation. Write it down, talk about it, practice it.