Golf phenom Bubba Watson was on 60 Minutes Sunday, discussing, among other things, his life as a world-caliber golfer who also battles “mental issues.” Watson seems to have endless amounts of natural talent to play golf, but he, like many elite-level athletes, has to battle to minimize negative anxiety while at the same time developing the confidence needed to succeed on a world level. In fact, Watson spoke candidly about never having taken a single golf lesson, but regularly battling the anxieties and insecurities (mental challenges) that often accompany playing professional golf.
The field of sport psychology has made many great advances over the last 3-4 decades, yet “mental toughness” is still viewed as an abstract concept that holds a negative stigma to most athletes. For some athletes “mental toughness” hits too close to home where they assume others will see them as mentally ill if they work on their mental game; while others are interested in developing better mental toughness but still not sure where to find credible sources and professionals to work with in order to improve.
When world-class athletes like Bubba Watson speak openly about the importance of the mental game, it helps other athletes realize that they are not alone — and it also emphasizes just how important mental toughness really is when it comes to athletic success. In fact, even recreational athletes know that playing a sport in a practice situation (without any pressure) is often a very different experience compared to competing in real games, even though nothing about the game has changed other than the pressure the athlete attaches to it. More simply, it’s much easier to hit golf balls at a driving range than it is to play The Masters.
Mental toughness can mean a lot of different things, but a few of the basic concepts include:
- Having a game plan that includes specific, measurable, controllable goals
- Understanding how human arousal impacts performance, as well as specific sport psychology skills to help modify arousal
- Developing a pre-game strategy that helps with focus, motivation, and resiliency
- Using proven techniques to help galvanize resiliency, including how to deal with stress, adversity, frustration, and failure
Of course, there is more to sport psychology than just the concepts listed above, but even if athletes just improved in those areas alone they would see a dramatic spike in their overall game. Athletes who compete while dealing with negative and distorted thinking, physical nerves and anxiety, temper problems, scrambled focus, and the inability to properly prepare for practices and games are prime candidates for introducing mental toughness training to their game. In simpler terms, if you are an athlete who battles yourself more than your opponents, this is the training for you.
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