What is Mental Toughness?

7 04 2009

Shaun GoodsellI pose the question of what mental toughness is because I hear it all the time from coaches but I am not sure there is much clarity that surrounds it. Certainly, the media plays this out by attaching some beaten, bloody, intense athlete that has just gone through a war to come out with a win. However, this hardly helps the young athlete grow in their understanding of the components of mental toughness.

With this in mind, let me attempt to bring some clarity to this vague concept for the purpose of helping athletes evaluate themselves. First, flexibility is a key element of mental toughness. What I mean by this is the ability to be creative and “go with the flow”. It has to do with having many response options during the heat of competition as opposed to having only one that when it is not yielding the result desired is simply executed with more vigor believing this is the “magic formula” for success. Secondly, mental toughness is defined by the ability to withstand disappointment and stay emotionally engaged in the task at hand. When athletes experience disappointment some not only physically give up but emotionally disengage as well. This happens because their emotional platform (self concept) is not stable enough to handle the feedback of “failure”.  In order to gain mental toughness the individual needs to learn to reframe the events of the moment so they can stay away from the trap of interpreting moments of disappointment as personal failure. These are a couple of the components of a mentally tough athlete and, when not present, significantly impair how an athlete competes not only in sport, but life.

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