Mental toughness is something sport psychologists talk about all the time, but it can mean different things to different athletes. Generally speaking, mental toughness is simply developing the mindset needed to play with confidence, focus, and resiliency while simultaneously controlling for anxiety and other mental disruptions (i.e. uncontrolled anger) that take away from playing at a top level. So how do athletes develop and improve their mental toughness? Below are 5 tips to help:
1. Love what you do. Athletes who play for their own reasons (intrinsic motivation) stand a much greater chance for getting in the “zone,” also known as Flow. When athletes get in the zone, their minds and bodies begin to work in synchrony, allowing for better muscle memory movements (automatic play without having to think about every detail).
2. Re-frame “mental toughness” to be a skill set, not a form of mental illness. Too often the immediate, knee-jerk reaction by athletes when talking about mental toughness is that it is something only losers, or people with “mental disorders,” need to develop. Sadly, this is the ego getting in the way of important athletic development training! Similar to physical training and technical instruction, mental toughness is an invaluable piece to peak athletic performances and should be viewed as a skill set, not a fix only for athletes with problems.
3. Learn basic sport psychology skills. Athletes can easily learn some of the basics when it comes to sport psychology mental toughness skills, including arousal control, focus, and imagery. By understanding these skills confidence will increase while anxiety decreases — important dynamics when it comes to playing your best.
4. Keep thoughts rational. Too often it is our irrational thinking that causes us to deal with anxiety — like when we worry about how we will look in front of a crowd when we fail. When athletes think rationally and minimize irrational thinking (things that are beyond the athletes control and/or do not have any bearing on performance), only then can maximum performance be achieved.
5. Use mental toughness skills outside of sports. Mental toughness skills are really athletic transferable skills, meaning they can be used in all areas of life. Feel nerves when speaking in front of a work group? Try deep breathing. Have trouble staying on task? Try using imagery to map out your morning. By broadening the use of mental toughness skills you will more quickly make them “normal” in your life, leading to more automatic thoughts and movements.
For more help with developing mental toughness skills check out The Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness, and easy how-to book you can keep with you on your phone, tablet, or computer. Also, be sure to pick up the Sport Performance Assessment app, the world’s first mental toughness app for the iphone.
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