In sports and life, each of us face pressure moments; at some point we all struggle with adversity. Mental toughness is the trait that will help us play consistently under pressure and cope with hardship.1
You must prepare and train in ways that actually plan for future pressure moments and adversity. Mental toughness is not just a "game day" concept, nor is it a "have it or not" mentality. The mind is a muscle; you can enhance your mental toughness the more you work on it.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to assess your own level of mental toughness:
1. How strong is my passion for the game?
If you are mentally tough, you are totally passionate about the game. It is difficult at times to really enjoy the tough practices and workouts, but passion for the sport always drives your commitment toward improving and strengthening your resolve.
2. Do I believe in myself?
When you believe in your coaches, your teammates and yourself, you develop a level of trust. At some point, when you encounter adversity, doubt may enter your mind, but having confidence in yourself will help you overcome it. Also, during pressure moments, you will be confident enough to want the game on the line.
3. Can I let go of mistakes easily?
Mental toughness means not letting mistakes bother you. Sure, you will get upset when you mess up, but re-focusing and re-grouping before the next play is an essential element of mental toughness.
4. Do I make my teammates better?
If you are mentally tough, you will make your teammates better. This requires you to be a good teammate, even when you are not playing your best. Your attitude and behavior rub off on your teammates. You need to assess how to make others better.
5. Do I make good decisions off the field?
Mental toughness means staying disciplined in your off-the-field decisions. John Wooden, legendary basketball coach at UCLA, said that mental toughness is about our "character as a person," not just our ability to make plays.
Mental toughness can be developed in all areas of our lives. However, it means rigorously addressing the above questions and committing to improve. This article offers a way to assess your current level of mental toughness. Check back soon for a five-part series that will teach you how to improve your mental toughness.
1. Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). "What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers." Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3), 205-218.
Dr. Rob Bell is the owner of Dr. Rob Bell, LLC in Indianapolis, helping athletes, coaches, teams and parents build mental toughness. He is a certified sport psychology consultant with The Association of Applied Sport Psychology. He also works as a caddy on professional golf tours. His first book, Mental Toughness Training for Golf, was published in 2010. A prolific writer, Dr. Bell has been published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Journal of Athletic Insight, Journal of Sport Behavior and Encyclopedia of Sports. He writes extensively on the mental game—for, among others, Runner's World, The New York Times and STACK magazine—and he has been a presenter for numerous teams, schools and organizations. Dr. Bell earned his B.A. in psychology from Shepherd University; his M.Ed. in kinesiology, with a specialty in sport psychology, from Temple University; and his Ph.D. in sport psychology from the University of Tennessee.
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