Mental toughness is a sport psychology construct often difficult to define, even if millions of coaches, players, and even fans use the term regularly in conversation. Mental toughness actually includes both an emotional component (being able to stay calm and focused in stressful situations), as well as a cognitive component (knowing exactly what to do when competing – remembering plays, assignments, etc.).
The Saints – Seahawks game yesterday gave us a perfect example of the importance of mental toughness (or lack thereof) when Saints receiver Marques Colston inexplicably threw a game ending forward pass as the Saints got within a Hail Mary pass of tying the game. Rather than going out of bounds with 2 seconds left and giving Drew Brees a chance to hurl a bomb into the end zone (which, if completed, would have put the Saints in a position to tie the game with a successful two point conversion), Colston stopped short of the sideline and threw an incomplete forward pass that resulted in an automatic 10 second game clock penalty (which ended the game).
My goal in examining Colston’s ill-advised pass is not to “pile on” Colston, as we have all made mistakes and blunders in our lives. Instead, Colston’s mistake can be viewed as a teachable moment for coaches and athletes as it illustrates that mental toughness is not only being able to remain focused and confident in pressure situations, but it also means knowing exactly what to do when your number is called. Rather than quickly step out of bounds and give his team one last chance, Colston appeared to be mentally unprepared for the moment and not only didn’t step out of bounds, but even threw an illegal forward pass prompting the game ending penalty.
Mentally tough players are successful for many reasons, including how they control their anxiety, sharpen their focus, and galvanize their resiliency. These players are also successful — and mentally tough — because they have practiced game situations both on the field and in their minds hundreds of times in anticipation for the play to happen in a game. In other words, mentally tough players are conditioned to react and respond automatically with great confidence, not succumb to the anxieties and uncertainties that often accompany the final plays of a game.
The guess here is that the Saints likely practiced that final play many times before yesterday’s game, and the desired outcomes were either to step out of bounds or to make a legal lateral play. For whatever reason Colston appeared to panic and did neither, opting instead to throw an erratic forward pass that may not have cost the Saints the game – but certainly cost them a shot at tying (and possibly winning) the game. Had Colston’s mental toughness been a little better, who knows, it could be the Saints we are talking about today – not for the way they lost but instead for the miraculous finish.
The Mental Toughness Guide to Athletic Success – click here!
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