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What is Mental Toughness and Why is it Important for Athletes?

Sep 25, 2022

Working on developing mental toughness for young athletes, and all athletes in general, is a key piece to the puzzle of their success.

Not only their success on the field or court, but in life as well.

So many times growing up I heard people say how there are many valuable lessons you’ll learn in sports that will help you for the rest of your life. I have definitely found this to be true.

But what’s interesting is that the skills mainly have nothing to do with the sport itself, and everything to do with my own mind. The same is true for all the athletes I work with.

Mental toughness is one of those traits that sticks with you no matter if you remain an athlete or venture out into other areas of life. The reason stemming from what it actually means to be mentally tough.

In this article, we are going to explore what it means to be mentally tough, and why this is such a valued trait among athletes.

 

Mental Toughness Defined

It’s hard to think of mental toughness without simultaneously imagining someone who is pushing through a grueling situation, showing incredible strength of will.

While that’s a very visible definition of what it means to be mentally tough, it’s not the only sign of someone with a strong mind.

From a psychological perspective, I like to dig deeper into what are the actual mental characteristics that will work to build mental toughness for young athletes, and those of all ages.

Mental toughness as it’s described within athletics is meant to paint the picture of an overall state. Not necessarily one specific skill, but rather a mindset as a whole.

But what makes up such a mindset?

Through thinking and researching other people, I truly believe there are six key areas which make up a mentally tough athlete. These are the top six I’ve found encompass all the traits you need to have a strong mind.

 

6 Characteristics of Mental Toughness

1.  Self-Awareness: this involves how well you understand your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and how each impacts the other. Understanding yourself better is key to being more mentally tough.

2.  Self-Confidence: having trust in your skills is a key ingredient to a strong mind. You must believe you are capable of success in order to face the many adversities and setbacks that come your way.

3.  Self-Worth: going beyond self-confidence (which mainly involves task specific belief) we have self-worth. This is the general value you place on yourself.

4.  Resilience: every strong minded athlete needs to have the ability to experience failures and bounce back from them in a healthy way.

5.  Successful Self-Image: you cannot outperform your own self-image. And so, to build mental toughness in young athletes, you must have a strong image that you can succeed.

6.  Self-Management: think of this in terms of emotional reactivity. As an athlete, those who are mentally tough are seemingly unfazed by external stimuli. This is due to their ability to manage themselves at a high level.

 

Why Mental Toughness is Important for Athletes

To determine why mental toughness is important and altogether vital for athletes to develop, it’s best to examine the key benefits that result from having high levels of mental toughness.

 

Benefit #1: Increased Focus

Focus plays a large role in athletic success. There is a direct relation between having the ability to retain concentration and high levels of performance.

This is due to the many distractions (both internal and external) that work against you as an athlete.

When you are mentally tough, there is a great ability within you to regulate your focus due to the skill of self-management. In addition, having higher levels of confidence will lead to you being more focused on yourself and the present moment.

 

Benefit #2: Decreased Anxiety

Seemingly no athlete will go through their career free from nerves. And that’s okay, especially since nerves well managed can prove beneficial.

However, when nerves travel into the realm of anxiety, they do nothing but impede your ability to perform at your peak.

Through the development of mental toughness in young athletes and ones of all ages, anxiety is decreased.

This is due to the presence of higher levels of trust in oneself, along with increased self-worth.

In addition, self-management provides an athlete with the ability to control their thinking during games, which is a leading cause of performance anxiety.

 

Benefit #3: Resilience

Yes, I said resilience was a trait which made up mental toughness. But it’s so important that it must be included as an added benefit.

As an athlete, if you can develop a positive mindset towards failure, an entire new world of possibilities opens up to you.

So many athletes are afraid to make mistakes…even in practice. How does that make room for improvement? It doesn’t. Every day is now a performance where you feel as though you must be perfect.

Instead, you need to learn how to see mistakes as lessons; pushing you down a path towards your ultimate athletic potential.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and failures, instead of allowing them to tear you down. The more mentally tough you are, the more resilience you will have as a rule.

 

Benefit #4: Higher Levels of Performance

Imagine you honestly work on developing each of the six characteristics outlined above. How much better would your performances be as a result?

There’s no way around it…you will be a better player due to the strengthening of your mindset.

It’s not necessarily that saying you're mentally tough is what increased performance. What does, however, are the mental traits and skills you will develop along the way in order to be mentally tough.

This is why so many coaches push mental toughness on their players…because it works. So much about sports (just as with life) is mental. Having a strong mind gives you an edge over your competition.

 

Final Thoughts

There isn’t a sport you can play where I wouldn’t bet a coach or someone else hasn’t mentioned the importance of being mentally tough.

Yet…it’s not often discussed how such mental toughness can be built.

Through the six characteristics listed above, you can develop mental toughness in young athletes, along with athletes of any age. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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