The Underestimated Importance of Mental Toughness

By Maggie M.

When thinking about sports such as hockey, football or rugby, your brain automatically is directed to physical toughness, as these athletes are being tackled, and taking hits against the boards, all in the name of the game. These are the “grinders” the sports that are often used to define a “jock”, and the sports that are assumed to inflict sport injuries. Although many sports require physical toughness, an aspect that a successful athlete and team require in order to be victorious is mental toughness.

Mental toughness cannot exclusively be strengthened in the gym like physical toughness. Mental toughness is derived from getting kicked while you’re down however rising and overcoming any obstacle that once put you down. Mental toughness is what separates a mediocre “weekend warrior” athlete from an athlete who cannot be beat, because if you have mental toughness, no tackle, or hit into the boards, or loss or even being cut from a team can break you. Mental toughness is a measure of individual resilience and confidence that may predict success in not only sport but in life. It’s importance is not expressed enough, as mental toughness is the difference between a young athlete giving up sports all together upon their first experience of getting cut from a team, and the kid who gets cut and uses that as a lesson on how to get better, faster and stronger at those weaknesses that once caused them to be cut. Mental toughness is where winners are made and where giving up simply isn’t an option.

Where mental toughness is tested alongside physical toughness in tryouts. Tryouts- the often dreaded, nerve wracking time where athletes showcase their talents and hard work while all having the same goal in mind- to make the team. At the end of tryouts a team is made, however during tryouts, it can be explained as Darwin’s theory of evolution with the survival of the fittest. Only athletes who stand out to the coaching staff as mentally and physically tough will survive the rounds of tryouts resulting in making the team. Although being “cut” from the team is often viewed as “not worthy” or even as failure, it is those athletes who are resilient who will make the changes needed, turn weaknesses into strengths and who never give up who can be deemed as mentally tough.

Getting cut from a team can be a major emotional setback for most athletes, however knowing how to cope with getting cut is how athletes can go from not making the team one year to being a starting player the following year. The reason many young athletes today quit after being cut is because of their coping strategies or their lack of. Getting cut from a team can be frustrating and depressing however a mentally tough athlete can turn that negative emotion into motivation by taking the coach’s criticism as constructive rather than negative and to improve for their next opportunity. Making the team you’re trying out for is an “on top of the world feeling”, however working hard, pushing your limits and never giving up resulting in making a team you were previously cut from is a feeling that cannot be beat, and it is a feeling only an athlete who is resilient and mentally tough will experience.

Reference:

Goldberg. Allan (2017). Cutting in Sport, Retrieved from https://www.competitivedge.com

 

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3 Responses to The Underestimated Importance of Mental Toughness

  1. cailiemcguire says:

    Maggie, I think the mental aspect of sport is definitely receiving more attention that it ever has been before as athletes, coaches and the sporting industry have begun to realize that to be a successful athlete, it is not only one’s physical strength that matters but one’s mental capacity to push through hard times and over come obstacles to reach success. Lee Crust, the author of Mental Toughness: A Sport Review explains mental toughness in terms of, “Coping effectively with pressure and adversity so that performance remains little affected, recovering or rebounding from setbacks and failures as a result of increased determination to succeed, persisting or refusing to quit, being competitive with self and with others, being insensitive or resilient having
    unshakable self-belief in controlling one’s own destiny, thriving on pressure and possessing superior mental skills” (p 271, 2007). I think the standout statement for me is that athletes who are mentally tough do not let adversity set them back, but use the challenges they face to push them forward to reach greatness.

    Not only do I think mental toughness is important in team sports, but I also believe it is a major component in an individual sport such as running. Unlike team sports, in an individual sport, an athlete can only rely on his or her actions to achieve one’s goals. My actions directly impact my performance alone, and if I want to succeed I have no choice but to push through the hard times. One’s outlook on injurt is an excellent example of mental toughness. One who is able to accept the injury they are facing but not let it deter them from continuing to reach for one’s goals is an example of grit, resilience and determination. Runner’s world promotes mental toughness in runner’s through a positive mindset, taking control over one’s breathing, practicing mental imagery and setting achievable and realistic goals (Hadfield, 2015). I enjoyed your outlook on the importance of resiliency as discussed in class, and believe it is one of the biggest contributors to mental toughness and in turn, success. Since mental toughness is such an important contributor to athletic success, all athletes should be taught to have a sound body and mind. At UNB our athletes are extremely lucky to have a sport psychologist to address this area of concern and in turn, allow our athletes to perform at the best of our abilities.

    Cailie M

    References
    Crust, L. (2007). Mental toughness in sport: A review. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5(3), 270-290. doi:10.1080/1612197x.2007.9671836

    Hadfield, J. (2015, May 26). Four Ways to Build Mental Toughness. Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://www.runnersworld.com/ask-coach-jenny/four-ways-to-build-mental-toughness

  2. savannapotter says:

    Maggie, super important post and very well put! I really enjoy that you’ve pointed out that it’s not just the sports with a lot of physical contact like hockey and football that require mental toughness. In my experience, some individual sports have been just as challenging to me physically due to the mental toughness you are discussing.
    Having coached swimming and been a swimmer myself, I know the mental aspect behind preparing for a race is half the battle of the race itself. I don’t know that all coaches really brought forward the concept of being mentally ready to me before the actual meet, and often times at the beginning of my swimming career I would break down or panic before a race. It happened more than once where I stepped down from a race I was more than capable of swimming because I couldn’t get over my mental road block about the swim I had been practising for so long.
    This post brings forward something that definitely should be discussed more in planning programs for youth. In my mind it raises questions about the standard to which coaches understand mental toughness before they make their team, and I think it opens up discussion for methods to helping youth at an elite level who have been cut from a team and working towards their mental toughness to be able to overcome the let down of being cut, as you mentioned. Again, very well done!

    – Savanna Potter

  3. natgatien says:

    Great post Maggie! I really enjoyed how you linked mental toughness with getting cut from a team because, I certainly do not have mental toughness based on my experience as a volleyball player in high school. With my experience I have played volleyball as a setter since middle school right up until grade 10. Then, in grade 11 volleyball tryouts, I did not make the cut for the senior team based on a coaches opinion of me, nothing to do with me skills, but what he thought of me. Even though this is not right, it certainly had a huge impact on my mental toughness and resulted in me quitting volleyball overall. You mentioned how resilience and confidence is important in sports and life, but in terms of me, I did not have resilience off of the court. I had a hard time accepting the decision the coach made, and moving forward in life knowing I was cut from a sport that I always played around that time of the year. Therefore, I believe it is important to make sure youth experience situations where they can develop mental toughness for sports and in life to achieve competence and resilience like you mentioned. Good research!

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