How To Build Mental Toughness

How To Build Mental Toughness


Definition: Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

  • Generally cope better than your opponents the many demands (e.g., competition, training, lifestyle) that are placed on you.
  • Specifically, to be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining  determined, focused, confident, resilient, and in control under pressure (Jones et al, 2002)

Key psychological characteristics associated with mentally tough elite athletes Jones et al (2002):

  • Self-Belief: Having an unshakable belief in your ability to achieve competition goals. Unique qualities that make you better than your opponents.
  • Motivation: Having an insatiable desire and internalized motivation to succeed (you really got to want it) Ability to bounce back from performance setbacks with increased determination to succeed.
  • Focus: Remain fully focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-specific distractions, able to switch focus on and off as required, not being adversely affected by others performance or your own internal distractions (worry, negative mind chatter)
  • Composure/Handling Pressure: Able to regain psychological control following unexpected events or distractions, Thriving on the pressure of competition (embracing pressure, stepping into the moment), accept that anxiety is inevitable in competition and know you can cope with it.

Developing Mental Toughness

1. Starts with the right attitude and state of mind (know what your core confidence is all about):

  • Confidence comes in knowing your are prepared and having an unshakable belief in your abilities to reach intended goals.
  • Also linked to mentality of being a “Competitive Warrior” “Confidence is about who puts it on the line, who has the courage to compete like a warrior without fear of failure”.
  • Courage to leave it all out in training or competition, with heart, determination, and full focus.

2. Program your mind for success ahead of time with positive affirmations and expectations:

  • Expect the best from yourself; affirm what it is you are going to do to be successful.
  • Confident goal oriented statements starting with “I will, I can, I am going to…”)
  • Focus on those things you want to occur, rather than things you’re afraid might go wrong.

Script Success: Visualize yourself performing the way you want (confident, energized, full focus)

3. Routinize Your Behaviours: Develop a systematic pre-performance routine that clicks on desired mental , emotional state of mind (practice, pre-game, competition):

  • Practice (once you get to the stat line you commit yourself to giving it everything you have the entire practice – this includes making a commitment to listening, learning, executing skills/drills with precision and full focus)
  •  Pre-race competition – develop a systematic routine for engineering the environment and getting yourself ready.
  • During Competition (once you walk b/w the lines, you are committing yourself to being mentally tough and a great competitor throughout the entire competition)

4. Poise and Composure: learn how to let go of mistakes quickly if things do not go the way you want:

  • Key part of mental training is about compensating, adjusting, and trusting.
  • If plan A does not work, go to plan B or C.
  • Use of “Focal Points” are effective to help focus attention back onto task at hand.
  • Be persistent and mentally tough, don’t allow frustration to undermine your confidence/focus.

5. Take control of Negative Self-Talk: Reframe “stinking thinking” into positive task oriented suggestions:

  • Starts with awareness of situations that cause you to get frustrated, rushed, intimidated, lose focus –then reframe the negativity into positive, mentally tough self-suggestions.

6. Look at failure as a stepping stone for future achievement: Champions approach to overcoming adversity: Play to win as opposed to fear making mistakes. He missed 9000 shots, missed 26 game winning shots, lost 300 games – Michael Jordan, NBA 6 time World Champion “I failed over and over, that is why I succeed”:

  • Focus on the process of training well and achievement will take care of itself.



David Yukelson, Ph.D” Coordinator of Sport Psychology Services Morgan Academic Support Centre for Student-Athletes, Penn State University

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