The Top 5 Mental Toughness Skills Every Athlete Should Develop
The term “mental toughness” gets thrown around a lot in sports, but what does this really mean? Unlike more specific terms like strength or cardiovascular training, mental toughness is difficult to describe, measure, or even find consistencies between what any two athletes think of when prompted to discuss their mental toughness. Ironically, while mental toughness might mean different things to different people, nearly everyone agrees that a big part of sport (and life) success relies on it. This week I would like to direct attention to 5 aspects of mental toughness that should help us find common ground when examining this construct.
The top 5 mental toughness skills
- Focus. A basic definition for focus is being able to identify and sustain attention toward a specific target. Practically speaking, this means being able to pay attention to the coach during a team meeting rather than think about hanging out with friends, or directing attention toward making the next play instead of still dwelling on the previous bad play. Proper focus is directly related to on-field success, but it is also a skill that only improves with dedicated training and practice.
- Arousal control. Arousal is human energy, and it can range from calm (when you are sleeping) to panic (during a state of emergency). Arousal can be controlled and moderated through a variety of means, including breathing, imagery, and self-talk. Athletes who learn how to control arousal benefit by being able to stay calm in pressure situations, and pump themselves up during times when they are tired, or bored.
- Resiliency. Bouncing back from adversity might be the single most important mental toughness variable when you think about it — if you can’t come back from stress and adversity, you probably won’t be a competitive athlete for long. Fortunately, athletes can improve their resiliency by learning how to deal with pressure, refraining from being a perfectionist, and developing healthy coping mechanisms to offset personal stress.
- Playing with confidence. If there is one variable most closely associated with success it’s confidence. When we feel good about our chances for success, we dramatically improve the chances to playing our best. Confidence can be improved upon by reaching personal goals, keeping a journal outlining accomplishments and success, and developing a solid pre-game routine designed to keep emotions positive.
- Managing emotions. Sports are an emotional life experience, and the best athletes learn how to keep from getting too high or low at any given moment. Conversely, athletes who regularly lose their cool, blame others, or throw temper tantrums quickly reduce their chances for success.
You certainly don’t have to have mental problems to improve mental toughness. Just like building strength or improving agility, mental toughness skills can be developed and improved with dedicated training. Become a complete athlete by learning all that you can about developing the mental skills needed to play with confidence and focus, while quickly bouncing back from stress, adversity, and failure.