Training Mental Toughness

You wouldn’t think of running in a 5K, 10K half marathon, or playing in a competitive football, soccer, basketball or volleyball game, without doing adequate physical training.  Yet often we (or our athletes) go into these endeavors with little or no mental training.  When I refer to mental training, I am not talking about the process of learning plays, techniques, or your opponent’s game plan information.  I am talking about training to be mentally tough… training to overcome any mental roadblocks that get thrown your way during a competition.

Do not give upIn sports, fatigue is highly subjective. Fatigue, more often than not, is perception.  The problem is, that a person’s perception IS their reality.  If they believe they are tired, they ARE tired.  Fatigue is simply a sign that you need to put your mind on something else.  You Can Do More… your brain is lying to you… don’t believe it!

You need to train your brain like you train your body.

This means practice.  Mental strength, just like physical strength develops over time, incrementally, and with consistent effort.

Most athletes and coaches are aware of how to physically prepare for competition… not as many understand some simple steps to help improve your mental toughness.

Here are a few thoughts… with help from a very good article in Runners World.

When you look at athletes that are considered mentally tough, typically they are positive thinkers and process oriented…. They know where they want to go and how to get there, both physically and mentally.

I discussed goal setting in a previous post, (Setting, Then Reaching Your Goals) which dealt with primarily performance goals… running a 4.5 40 yard dash…. benching 350 lbs….   playing collegiate athletics, etc.

The physical and mental steps that will lead to a performance goal are process goals.  Like all goals, they should be measurable and address your weakness.

So the steps would look like this…

  • Select a performance goal.  Decide what you want to achieve by the end of your training.
  • ID your weaknesses… mental and physical.
  • Set process goals… These are the specific, measurable actions you do to help you reach your performance goal.
  • Develop focus tools.  These are words and actions that help eliminate negativity, calm anxiety, build confidence and keep your mind on task.  These could be a mantra or positive self talk (finish strong, you can do more, you’ve got this) focusing on your body (perfect technique, fast arms), visualization (see previous post Mental Visualization) Use focus tools anytime you have negative thoughts, feel tired or anxious.
  • Practice.  Review and adjust your process goals if you need to.
  • Reinforce your process goals.  When you improve or master one of your weaknesses on a particular day, write down what helped you do that.

Your athletes will need help, particularly in setting process goals and developing focus tools.   They will probably have a good idea on setting their performance goals, but breaking down what they need to do for their process goals may be a little tougher.  What are the physical hurdles… what are the mental roadblocks… what focus tools can you equip them with to overcome these?

You can help your athletes get mentally tougher.  Like all things, the more you practice, the better you will get.  And like all growth, it will be incremental.

Jeff Floyd –

6 thoughts on “Training Mental Toughness

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