Developing Mental Toughness

Every athlete encounters setbacks and times when things don't go exactly according to plan. How an athlete responds to these setbacks—whether she sees the setback as a reason for even greater effort or whether she lets it lower her motivation and spiral her into self-doubt—says a lot about that athlete's mental toughness.

What exactly is mental toughness? A mentally tough athlete can be described by his behavior. Mentally tough athletes generally:

• perform consistently regardless of situation
• remain focused when faced with distractions
• do not 'choke' under pressure
• remain confident and positive even when things don't go as planned
• are persistent when they need to turn things around
• tolerate pain and discomfort
• are resilient, especially after suffering a disappointment
• believe in themselves
• have an insatiable desire to succeed
• are not adversely affected by others' performance or by their own internal distractions
• love competition
• are able to cope with anxiety

Most top athletes and coaches believe that mental toughness plays just as important a role as athletic ability and skill. In fact, given two athletes of equal ability and skill, the athlete who is tougher mentally will most likely prevail. Can mental toughness be taught? While some people are naturally more tough-minded than others, people can toughen up mentally with the right training.

What does a mental toughness training regimen look like? Try these six exercises.

  1. Begin with the right attitude and state of mind. Be confident. Consider all of the hard work that you have put into your sport, and know that you are well prepared. Believe that you can reach the goals you have set for yourself. Let go of the fear of failure. Play with determination and for the joy of it. Be in the moment.
  2. Before you head into the game, visualize its positive outcome. Think about what you are going to do in order to be successful, then expect the best from yourself. Don't focus on the many things that can go wrong; instead, focus on how things are going to go right. Use statements like "I can" and "I will."
  3. Develop a routine. Do this not only when you compete, but when you practice. Develop a set of pre-game behaviors that put you in a good and positive state of mind. If you are a tennis player, for example, make up a ritual that reminds you every time you walk out onto the court that you are focused and ready to play your best.
  4. Let go. Learn how to keep your composure when things don't go the way you want them to. Adjust, and have several different game plans. If the first plan of action isn't working, you can be confident knowing that you have others to choose from.
  5. Watch the negative chatter. Be aware of situations that cause you to become frustrated or lose your focus, and make a commitment to stay positive. Reframe negative thoughts into positive suggestions. If you are an exhausted marathoner, instead of thinking "There's no way I'm going to finish," think instead, "I've trained for this. I am ready and I trust I can do it."
  6. Look at losing as a learning experience. Focus on the process of competing well and the winning will take care of itself. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Realizing that you will learn from your mistakes will free you up and you'll allow yourself to take some risk.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.