What Is Mental Toughness And Why Is It Important?
Over the years I have had the opportunity to coach many
players and one thing I can tell you without reservation is
the best players were all mentally tough. It's a hard concept
to explain until you see it, but it's obvious when you see
a player that has it.
To clarify my point, not all of the best athletes have it.
No every big league player is mentally tough and there are
plenty that never make it to the big leagues that have great
mental toughness. It's not about ability, I've coached many
great athletes that didn't have a clue about being mentally
tough and would fold under pressure. They could perform well
when there was nothing on the line, but when the game was
in balance, or the competition was tough, they usually failed.
On the other hand, I've witnessed many players with average
skills, but mentally tough, perform in ways no one thought
they could perform. A clutch hit, a key bunt, a great defensive
play that stopped a rally, mentally tough players get the
job done. In fact, the greater the pressure, the better they
One thing I've come to understand with experience is that
mental toughness is not an inborn DNA trait, but rather one
that is developed over time and exposure to adverse conditions.
Preparation in mental toughness begins with experiences at
a young age. Parents can play a key role to begin the process
of training mental toughness, but they need help along the
way. A disciplined educational system with high expectations
and good classroom rules, along with tough, but fair coaches
(or mentors in other activities) with a positive mind set,
is essential to developing a child mentally, whether they
are an athlete are not.
This is one of the many reasons why it's important for all
children to be involved in balanced organized extra curricular
activities at a young age: Karate, gymnastics, ballet, music,
scouts, children and youth activities at church, or youth
sports will play a part in beginning to instill the discipline
and structure that is needed to develop mentally. Notice I
said begin to play a part. It takes time and preparation.
Development of mental toughness (and leadership skills) is
also a reason that athletes need to be involved in a proper
training program by the time they are 14 or 15 years old.
A training program not only helps to build power, strength,
and agility, but is important in developing mentally. Players
should be accountable to a mentor (trainer, coach, etc.) as
well as the camaraderie and pressure of a small peer group,
even if it's only one or two others.
If a player is involved in a training program earlier than
14 or 15, it should be for the purpose of agility and speed
training, along with teaching the proper techniques in strength
conditioning without weights. Before any training program
is started, please consult your child's physician during their
annual physical, as the development of each child is unique.
Defining Mental Toughness
Mental toughness is having the psychological edge that allows
one to perform at peak maximum effort and efficiency during
the demands that are placed on them during training, practice,
or competition. Specifically, when the demands are greatest
or the conditions become adverse.
Whenever the demands are the greatest is when the characteristics
of mental toughness are the most evident.
Some of the many characteristics that are evident when a player
is mentally tough include:
- Positive Energy
Please note, this doesn't mean that the outcome is always
a win, in many cases these attributes can show up the most
during a loss, especially a close loss to a tough opponent
or during adverse conditions. But over time and with careful
training, the mental toughness of skilled players comes to
light in championships won.
Developing Mental Toughness
To become mentally tough one must practice attributes that
lead to mental toughness. I wish there were a formula to follow,
but there is not. It takes time and patience under the right
leadership to develop mental toughness. Parents, educators,
coaches, and other mentors must be systematically involved
in the training process.
Also, it takes failure and the ability to bounce back. Many
people develop mental toughness through the experience of
failure. Good parents do not want their children to fail and
I understand that. But today, too many blame others for the
failure. Parents are quick to blame the teacher for problems
in class or a coach when the child is not excelling in an
activity. Mental toughness can not be developed properly when
blaming others. In fact, the opposite is the case.
Here are a couple of examples:
"Every strikeout got me closer to my next homerun". Babe
Babe Ruth grew up in an orphanage. During his playing career
he struck out a record 1330 times on his way to hitting 714
"Failure makes me try harder the next time." Michael
Jordan was only 5' 7" when he entered high school. Because
of his speed and athleticism (and an older brother named Larry
that the coaches knew well) he was invited to try out for
the varsity, but didn't make it. He was placed on the JV team
where he routinely scored 25-30 points a game. By his junior
year, he was 6'4" and made the varsity team. By then, he not
only had the skill to play, but the drive and determination
to be successful, while demanding the same from his teammates.
His older brother Larry had a lot to do also with him developing
his toughness on the court.
Edmund Hillary failed three times before finally being the
first to climb Mt. Everest.
Bill Gates and Steve Allen (his Microsoft co-founder) failed
at their first business, Traf-O-Matic, which was developed
to analyze traffic patterns.
Walt Disney's first animation business in the 1920's failed
after only one month, forcing him to take a job from another
company at that time.
Coaches, you can train your players to become mentally tough
but it takes time, persistence, and hard work. But the results
are worth it.
Coach Mike Posey "CP"
Tips from a championship coach's perspective and experience,
offering creative insights into helping others learn the game
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