The Importance of Mental Toughness

When it comes to sports, there are several personalities known as the best in the business. David Beckham, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Eli Manning are all known as the greatest in their respective sports. So, what exactly makes them stand out among the rest?

Is there something different in their genetics? Were they destined to become such huge stars or they just needed a chance to explore and promote their talent? These are some of the most difficult questions to answer because of its complexity. It gets pretty difficult to differentiate between pure hard work and natural ability. However, one must focus the common aspect of these three athletes that is their dedication and commitment to improve their self.

For instance, Lance Armstrong used to ride for six hours straight daily just to get familiar with the Tour de France routes. He also took great care of his eating habits as well. If we talk about Tiger Woods, he was so keen to improve himself that even after winning the Masters Tournament in 1997 by the margin of 14 strokes over the runner-up; he trained harder to improve his swing.

Furthermore, he became the only man in the history of Golf to win 4 major PGA tournaments in a row. However, he again decided to keep improving his swing and put more effort into his game. Therefore, he revolutionized the game of Golf single handedly and changed the mindset of new and former golfers around the world.

The exclusion from the junior high school basketball team proved to be a blessing in disguise for Michael Jordan. The rejection made him more determined to prove the world that he has what it takes to be the star of the game. He is known among his fans and colleagues as a hard worker who kept practicing on his weaknesses even after the end of practice sessions.

So, if we study the pattern of the success of these three legends, it is easy to understand that it was their sheer hard work and dedication that earned them the success. But, can we conclude that hard work is the main reason for success?

It may be hard to answer, but according to a research, the answer is yes. The research also revealed that ten years of focus is the least time required to reach the level of greatness in any specific sports. This statement seems to agree with the three examples we have already discussed earlier.

As far as I am concerned, I am going to agree with this research under my experience of over 15 years as a coach. Generally speaking, athletes usually keep improving physiologically for around six or seven years. However, if the athlete is intelligent in choosing the correct direction for the training and lifestyle, he may improve for a further period of three years. This time period is roughly true for all the athletes no matter at what age they start training professionally.

According to my belief, the backbone of all the hard work is the mental fitness. If you are physically strong, but mentally weak, you will not be able to give your optimal performance in any sports. So, how can an athlete achieve mental toughness? To answer this question, there are basically four qualities that I like to see in an athlete who is mentally fit to perform at the highest level possible. These questions will clarify things further:

Motivation

Motivation is the most crucial point for mental toughness. So, do you always need assistance to go through a tough training session or you can do it alone on your own? Does an environmental condition or any other interruption play the role of a barrier in your training or do you train yourself regardless of the conditions like heat, snow or rain?

Discipline

Is your training and lifestyle aligned with the goals you have set for yourself? Do you give any importance to a healthy diet, optimal sleeping, scheduling your tasks, attitude and strength?

Confidence

Do you plan before you get into a competition or a race? Do you think you can be successful even in the conditions that would not favor you? What do you give more importance to, things that you can control or things that you cannot control? Do you tell yourself that you can win before entering a competition or do you ask yourself if you can win?

Patience

Do you have the patience to wait for the right moment to get your desired results or do you need to get the success immediately?

According to my experience, if an athlete lacks any of these pillars of mental toughness, he may not achieve his desired goals in the future. When I am interviewing an athlete, I put extra emphasize on these questions and try to evaluate if I can work with him.

Every athlete is different from one another. Therefore, the level of mental toughness is different as well. I hardly have met any athlete who has exceptional mental toughness.

Can an Athlete Improve his Mental Toughness?

To be precise, the answer is yes. Any athlete can improve his mental toughness, but it does not mean that he will eventually do it. This is where the nurturing from the parents comes into play.

There are many parents who try to influence and change the mental toughness qualities of their children. On the other hand, some parents do not try to impose anything at all. So, what do parents do right that develops these mental qualities in a child from his early age?

I think there is no definite answer to this question. But, I think the daily communication and interaction between the parents and a child is one of those factors that develops or destroy the mental qualities of a child.

Thus, consulting with a sports psychologist seems to be a good idea to improve your mental toughness skills.

Good luck!

Terry

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