Hangin’ Tough: Mental Toughness and Sports Performance

December 01, 2014

It is perhaps one of the biggest debates in the history of sports, has been written about, interviewed on, and televised over and over again.  What roles do genetics, environments, and learned skills have to do with sports performance? Collectively, these attributes can turn a body into one heck of a performer…in any arena.  Psychologists, for years, have been debating one more attribute: the mental side.  But does it really matter?

I am sure that every coach, every trainer (mental or sports), every sports psychologist, every sports doctor will tell you this one fact: high levels of mental toughness are associated with athletic prowess and success.  Mental toughness is the ability to perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive and extraneous circumstances. In other words, if you’re hiking through Kilimanjaro (which I think may be Africa’s highest mountain), in the worst weather conditions, a broken femur and less than a liter of water, and yet somehow, you come to the end, mentally unscathed and beaten out all the competition: that is mental toughness.  In fact, I am certain, that your mental side is the defining factor between finishing at the end or finishing at the time of said broken femur.

Mental toughness, or mental training is vital to successful performance.  What happens to your biceps if you don’t use them?  You lose them, right?  The muscles get weak and distorted.  Well, neurological atrophy can happen too!  Studies have proven time and time again that mental training is tantamount to your overall health, well-being, and sports achievements. What you are physically capable of is more determined by your mental strength than by your physical abilities.   But just in case you don’t want to take my word for it, I’ll explore what some athletes think about their mental games.

-For a mountain bike racer (Andy Scott), mental toughness means “when you, your body, the competition, nature, or the environment has the best of you so that you’re physically tapped out and need to figure out how to pull something out of yourself… not in a robotic way—in a way that’s mentally aware and engaged. It’s not just the ability to keep moving but to keep doing it in a way that’s engaged and competitive in the environment you’re in, whether that’s competing against the clock or other human beings. It’s easy when you feel good physically. It’s when that physicality leaves you.”

-For a distance runner (Samantha Gash): “I THINK that I can do anything.  If I really want to do it…that’s the caveat.  If I really want to do something, I believe in my capacity to achieve it.  It is mentally overcoming the brain, especially when pain is involved.”

-For a triathlete (Jesse Thomas), mental toughness is “your ability to deal with pain and process it.  It’s all in your mind’s ability.  What can yourb get out of your body today?” “I find that using repeated mantras overpower the physicality.”

These athletes have one thing in common.  A mental edge.  They believe that their minds can overpower their physical strengths, their learned skills, even their environments.  What is interesting to point out is that these athletes conceptualize, cultivate, and strategize their mental games.  They train, mentally, more than any other way.  That speaks volumes. Mental training is all in your head, but it is this realization and practice that take you from a neighborhood name to a professional jersey.  You want to win? Practice mental training.  Period. I know it is overlooked by almost every coach, trainer, and athlete, but it is linked to over 90% of your success.

We have entered into the Winter months.  A lot of training slows down this time of year, but there is no better time than NOW to get your brain in shape.  Mental training has proven results. Mental toughness leads to success.  What are you waiting for?

Contact me today to start your mental training.  I offer webinars, private sessions, and custom audios. Thanks for reading.  InJoy your day!

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