Mental toughness is the ability of an individual to deal with the stressors, pressures and challenges they face. All athletes face stressors, pressures and challenge in their sport. The more mentally tough an athlete, the better they are at being able to respond usefully to the negative consequences of these. They are able to either:
- Overcome these consequences quicker OR
- Experience them in relatively minor ways compared to others.
In sport, stressors, pressures and challenges are many, no matter what sport is played. For example:
- The stress of a final sprint in cycling
- The challenge of saving a match point against you
- The pressure of a penalty kick in a shoot-out
- Having to bowl the last ball of a cricket match with 2 needed to win
- An Olympic final (in any sport)
- Media criticism
There are so many different challenges that an athlete can face ranging from minor to career defining. No two athletes will experience these in the same way, resulting in a wide variety of outcomes.
Where people with high levels of mental toughness have an advantage is how they respond to these situations. When considering the 4C’s of mental toughness, you can see why:
They tend to be people with higher levels of self-worth who rely less on the validation of others to feel OK. They live at ‘cause’ and know that only they are really in control of their performance and outcomes. They spend little or no time, blaming officials, conditions, the weather or bad luck. They know that passing off responsibility for their performance will only deflect the real reasons for their result onto something or someone else. They need to focus on what they did or don’t do and how they went about it rather than mitigating for their own shortcomings with excuses.
They will have already spent time imagining what success will be. They know what their outcomes will look like, sound like and feel like. They are driven by the need to have a clear image of what they want. They love the challenge of a goal and are driven by the need to achieve something tangible. This can be a small process goal, a bigger performance goal or a longer term outcome goal. They are able to manage their thought processes towards achieving their outcomes. Add to this their tenacity to stick at the task, no matter what and you have someone with deep levels of focus and concentration. They keep their eye firmly on the prize and any distractions that do not help them are pushed to one side. One could almost call this drive an ‘obsession’.
Their experiences are not black and white. They view challenge not as a digital ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but as an area of possibility, full of ‘what if’s’, ‘might’s’ and ‘could be’s’. They see the many challenges that sport presents as opportunities to prove themselves. If the challenge is aligned with their goals, they will inevitably think that the risk of failing is worth the reward at the end. They are great managers of risk. They know that achieving their goals is not always an upward curve, they are prepared for setbacks and when and if they occur, they are able to overcome them when others would quit. This open-minded approach to the ups and downs of sport means that they are much more likely to step back and review what they are experiencing. This helps them compare current experience v expected experience and then make important changes to continue to work towards their goals.
The holy grail in sport. To be confident in yourself as often as possible. The mentally tough have belief in their knowledge, abilities and skills. They are good at using their inventory of past performances, achievements, little wins and feedback to keep reminding themselves of what they are capable of. This use of their inventory creates pictures and sounds in their head of success and helps them access useful emotional states that influence the most appropriate physiological state for the task at hand. Remember that they have an unerring drive towards achieving that clear mental image of their goal. They are good at selecting useful experiences from their inventory that align with their overall goals.
Imagine a mentally tough tennis player v a mentally sensitive tennis player. What will you see as they play?
- Being able to respond more usefully to the stressors of the match, the mentally tough player will be freer to perform the technical side of the game more instinctively. Shots will come easily, they will look relaxed and in control of their emotions.
- The mentally sensitive player can lapse into catastrophic thinking and will reveal their emotional state to all watching. The tension in their body will restrict the natural ease of their movements. They will be gripping the racket more tightly, their movement will be stiffer and technically they will be slightly out of sync. These differences will often be hardly discernible, but they will be there and will impact adversely on performance.
You can see that there are significant advantages to being mentally tough and the research and case studies all prove that the more mentally tough you are, the better you will perform consistently over time.
The MTQPlus Assessment
The good news is that mental toughness can be measured and I can help you do just that. By using the highly reliable and valid MTQPlus assessment, you will measure your current levels of mental toughness in 8 key areas and receive a development report that will show your scores and give you a summary of each area. The subsequent feedback session with me will focus on developing your understanding of the report and help you to identify practical ways to develop in the areas that will help you the most.
Mental toughness is the difference that makes the difference in sport. Higher levels of this vital personality trait are proven to improve and sustain performance.
Get in touch for more information and to find out how to start developing your mental toughness.
Steve Dent is a Mental Toughness Coach & Trainer, Licenced to administer the MTQ suite of assessments. INLPTA Master Practitioner of NLP and founder of Pro Mind Coaching & Training