What does it mean to be mentally tough? A mentally tough athlete is able to access their talent at the highest level they are capable on a consistent basis regardless of the situation. Let’s break that down.
“Able to access their talent…” An athlete who has all the talent and strength they need through weight training and conditioning, learning the technical aspects of their sport or position, and years of experience against great competition must be able to use all of that when the time comes.
“…at the highest level…” Whitey Bimstein, a long time boxer and trainer once said, “Show me an undefeated fighter and I’ll show a guy who’s never fought anybody.” His point was to show that an athlete should seek out the best competition even if that means losing once in a while. As a society we place too much emphasis on having no losses on our record. Many times a defeat is the seed of discontent we need to motivate us to improve our game.
“…they are capable…” Your effort has nothing to do with the competition. There is an old adage, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” You can only control three things as an athlete – your effort, your attitude, and your preparation. Get in the habit of always playing at the height of your ability and you will see that ability continue to grow.
“…on a consistent basis…” Anyone can be great in a random chance moment. History is rife with championships being won on the last ditch effort of some one-hit wonder that only has that one situation to their name, then fades shortly after. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish wrappings, so to be great you need to be consistent.
“…regardless of the situation.” A mentally tough athlete treats practice and pre-season competitions with the same intensity as league and post-season games. In most sports the next play or the next move is the same no matter if it’s at practice or in the last few minutes of the championship game. The only difference is the audience.
One could write volumes and volumes of how to become mentally tough. Though the field of sport psychology is relatively new in comparison to traditional psychology, there are a few mental game strategies that have stood the test of time and brought much success to athletes before you. These are the strategies I teach. In a sea of athletes who may be bigger, faster, and stronger than you, always seek out ways to be able to access your talent on a moments notice. Not every strategy may help you, so take the Bruce Lee philosophy of learning on your search. It’s called “Jeet Kune Do” and it states:
“Adapt what is useful, reject what is not, and add what is specifically your own.”
-Bruce Lee, Author of Tao of Jeet Kun Do
James Leath is a youth sports psychology consultant with over 15 years experience coaching young athletes. He writes a weekly note to athletes, coaches and parents on subjects that pertain to sports psychology, youth sports, and personal development. He is currently finishing his masters in Performance Psychology and lives in San Luis Obispo, CA. You can sign-up for his weekly note here, find him on twitter at @jamesleath, or visit his website jamesleath.com.