How important is Mental Toughness For Athletes?

In my opinion it is actually as important as your physical skills. You can have an insane physical ability but if you have self-doubts or blocks that don’t allow you to perform at 100%, you aren’t making it into a pro. You might even develop these blocks down the road while being a pro. Multiple injuries can affect your mental toughness in athletes, so do multiple losses in games or competitions. Also, you stressing about peoples’ ( coach, teammate, parents, spouses) expectations can get into your head. Even personal problems like divorce, a poor relationship with your other half, or the loss of a friend or family member can get into your head and your performance can go a few levels down. 

How can you get your mental state tougher for sports environments?

Mental toughness is amazing. It works when you know how to unlock it and how to get out of some of the problems that you can face along the way.

Here are some mental toughness obstacles you can face during your athletic career:

  1. The way you perform is your current belief sate of performance. You believe that this is how good you are and can’t be better.  “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t. You are right.” – Henry Ford.  Therefore, the first thing you must do is to believe that you are good enough and getting better every day to perform at the best level you can.
  2. You get into a negative state a lot. Remember that your emotional instability will affect your performance and it can even cost you your career. The clubs will want an assured and controlled athlete. So, if you struggle with anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, worrying, or self-pity, you should definitely reach out to a mental coach. 
  3.  Focusing on others, not on yourself can get you in trouble. Sure, it is good to be on a team with outstanding players or compete with high level athletes,  and it does motivate you to get better and get to another level of performance. But if you put too much thought on someone else and not you, then things can get out of hand and then it’s the envy that drives you. Therefore, you put yourself into a negative state. Focus on you and be better today than you were yesterday. 

So how do you build your mental toughness?

  • Always be open minded. Have a growth mindset and not a fixed mindset. 
  • Make a choice on WHO you are going to be and how you are going to do it! Write down on a sticky note every morning the words and stick it on the mirror of your bathroom. Say it out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror. Believe in it!
  • Learn from failure. The thing is that we always get really upset at our failures and get into the state of always thinking about it repeatedly. Instead, I suggest you thank your failures and celebrate them. See what you did wrong and correct it. Learn to fail, learn to except the failure and you will find yourself winning more. Thomas  Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Did you know that Karreem Abdul- Jabbar is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history? And he also holds a record for the most shots missed in the NBA? The moral of the story is to learn from your failures. The more you fail, the more you will succeed.
  • Meditate. Meditate for about 5-15 minutes a day to calm your mind down. There are so many apps out there that have guided meditations. Or you can simply use this one. – Sit comfortably on a bed or chair with your feet flat on the floor. Let your hand lie loosely on your lap. If you prefer to sit in a cross-legged position, you can. Hold your head well balanced. Concentrate on the first part of your body, then another, to consciously relax it. Start with the crown of your head and move down to your feet.
    • Meditate
  • Visualize. It is a great exercise to visualize your victories, your movements, your goals, and your achievements right after the meditation. Some elite athletes visualize right before their games, their runs, their competitions. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between the real event or visualization. Several studies show that the brain activity and the muscle activity of  the electrical signals during visualization are similar to the signals that are released during a physical practice.

There was a study that had 3 groups and they practiced free throws. Test group 1 consisted of people who practiced. Test group 2 consisted of people who were told only to visualize their practice, and the last group was told not to practice or visualize at all. 

The first group improved by 24%. The third group that didn’t do anything at all didn’t improve. And the group 2 practice improved by 23%. 

Your performance will improve to about 45% if you exercise and visualize together. As was studied by Christian Collet, Kevin Moschberger and Aymeric Guillot, visualization is an exercise, so you do have to practice it over and over again every day.

  • Write down your goals on paper. There is a great exercise I give to my clients. Every day write down 5 goals you want achieve that day in practice or a game. Be specific with your goals. Don’t base your goals on outcomes. After you write them down, visualize the road of reaching the goal. Visualize the steps from point A to B. Feel it through your body. Make sure you write your goals in present tense.
  • Celebrate your goals. You should celebrate your wins but hold yourself accountable for your losses. 
  • Train in rough environments. I was born in the USSR. The training facilities for athletes weren’t great where I come from. In my opinion, that is one of the reasons the NHL, NBA and other sports have a lot of Russian, Ukrainian, Chech and eastern European country’s athletes. It stimulates the brain to get better and to reach better conditions. Even some of the best athletes like Muhammed Ali, after he made it to big sport would go to a crappy gym or into the woods to train his mind and body. 

When your brain senses comfort, it slows down and tries to relax, so to get better you should mix it up. If you have great facility to train in- awesome, but mix it up with some tough stuff as well.

  • Engraving exercise. This is where you watch the tape of other great athletes and see what they are doing right. That way you engrave the correct techniques of the sport. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the use of YouTube and how these athletes are improving by watching the videos.

So those are some exercises to build your mental toughness. Let me know if you liked the article and don’t hesitate to reach out. Leave your comments below and if you want to work with me, let’s schedule your first complementary session here.