In my previous tip I discussed what doesn’t development mental toughness – emotional abuse. This tip will discuss what does development mental toughness.
Mental toughness is a defining characteristic of all successful athletes. In general it refers to an athlete’s ability to persevere through difficult circumstances. The key attributes of mental toughness include confidence, determination, focus, and self-control. What this means is that mentally tough athletes keep their confidence, determination, focus, and self-control when things are not going their way.
Mental toughness can also be described as an athlete’s ability to succeed after failure. Preferably the failure will be short lived. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes mentally tough athletes will persevere through a bad shift or a bad game, and sometimes they will persevere through longer instances such as a month long slump. In the end, mentally tough athletes prevail and succeed again.
It is important to note that mentally tough athletes do not always succeed; one of the easiest ways to lose mental toughness is to believe that you will succeed every time. No one always succeeds. It is important to believe that you can succeed, but to believe that you should succeed every time creates unrealistic expectations that will cause frustrations and self-doubt, and decrease confidence and focus. The ability to embrace failure is essential to developing mental toughness. This was exemplified best by Michael Jordon when he said:
“I’ve missed over 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And this is why I succeed.”
This quote by Jordon also speaks to the importance that you cannot succeed without trying.
Furthermore, a key component to developing mental toughness is using appropriate challenge and support. Providing athletes with challenge and support directly impacts their confidence. Appropriate challenge pushes an athlete to work harder and improve; the challenge isn’t too hard so that the athlete is doomed to fail, nor too easy so that the athlete isn’t challenged. As a result of the appropriate challenge athletes will improve and they will gain confidence from their accomplishments.
Appropriate support gives an athlete encouragement and reinforces confidence within the athlete. It is important to have a proper balance between the two. Too much challenge and not enough support the athlete will become discouraged. Too much support and not enough challenge the athlete will become complacent and less motivated to improve.
Moreover, developing self-awareness and clarity is crucial for mental toughness. Self-awareness and clarity is correlated with an athlete’s levels of determination, focus, and self-control. Self-awareness is developed through relaxation techniques, self-evaluation of one’s performance and goals, and self-scans of one’s feelings and thoughts (positive or negative). As a result of improving an athlete’s self-awareness the athlete’s self-control and ability to maintain his/her focus will increase.
Similarly, clarity is developed through appropriate self-questioning.
The ability to ask oneself important questions and give honest answers can bring clarity and purpose to one’s motivation and focus, and increase levels of determination and the power of one’s focus.
In summary, the techniques briefly described will help athlete’s develop mental toughness.
For coaches and parents, help your athletes embrace failure (to avoid their confidence from being deflated and their focus from being distracted when they fail), give them appropriate challenge and support (to build their confidence), and help them develop self-awareness and clarity (to build their levels of determination, focus, and self-control).
Similarly, athletes can embrace failure, give themselves appropriate challenge and support, and develop their self-awareness and clarity on their own.
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