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Mental Toughness: What Is It and How Do You Get It? 

Posted by Trish18 on Oct 19, 2006 12:06:07 PM


[]Dr. Andrew Jacobs has been a sport psychologist for 25 years and has worked with all levels of competitive athletes from youth sports to the professional and Olympic level. He has graciously contributed an article he recently wrote about mental toughness. He also will be leading a teleseminar with Fred Engh about "How to avoid and overcome the issues that can ruin your child's youth sports experience." Information can be found at on 'Seminars' to sign up.




How do we get psyched up, motivated or aroused to compete? You have to be ready, focused and mentally hungry if you want to give yourself the best chance to come out on top of an athletic competition.




Two of the most common questions I am asked as a sport psychologist are: "What do I need to do to become mentally tougher? How can I get a better attitude than my opponent and mentally

beat them?"

These are not easy questions to answer. However, the answers have a lot to do with your "mental makeup" and the way you were taught as a youngster to handle winning and losing, success and failure.




As a sport psychologist, I have had clients bring in all kinds of issues to discuss. Whether it is something related to concentration, an issue with performance anxiety or excessive nervousness before competition, or how to deal with demanding coaches or teammates, there always is a commonality with the issue of being mentally strong enough to weather

the storm.




Mental toughness relates to your ability to handle adversity, to perform when the pressure is on and to be focused enough that you are able to block out all of the negativity and adversity you may face in the heat of competition. In today's constantly growing world of youth sports,

we all too often hear stories about kid's coaches who scream, yell and get out of control at practices and at games.




Often, the rationale these coaches use when describing their behavior is that their team needed discipline, guidance and sometimes, "the fear of God placed on them." I have heard many youth coaches explain their kids were weak and needed to understand what hard work was because it would make them stronger as they get older and that they needed to know who was in charge. Their explanations often end with the comment that their demands would make these kids mentally tougher as they grew up.




Mental toughness does not develop from fear. I believe it develops from one's ability to understand their own personal motivations to succeed. "Mentally tough" athletes usually are the ones who don't flinch when the pressure is on. They look forward to coming up with the bases loaded and their team down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth. They want to have the ball in their hands with five seconds left and their team down by two.




They are also the ones who will step up and volunteer to hit the 10-foot putt to win the tournament for the team. Some may argue that mentally tough athletes are born. Although, some are, I believe we can learn to develop mental strengths by experience and growth as young athletes. When a young athlete fails, a coach has two choices. The coach can degrade the athlete and tell him about how bad he was. Or he can use this as a "teachable moment" and help the athlete understand how this failure can be overcome.




By "teaching" the athlete in this situation, rather than scolding them, I believe you can help them build up their confidence and in turn, help the athlete become hungrier to go back out on the athletic field and compete again. The more you "teach" and "coach" the athlete that failures are inevitable in athletic competition, and that they are not situations to be afraid of, but rather situations that can make us stronger and in turn, more successful, I believe the athlete will learn and be hungrier to be placed in these situations as they get older.




Consequently, they will be developing the mental toughness to handle adversity and eventually, want to be up to bat when the game is on the line, because they will want to take the challenge and see if they can beat it, rather than have it beat them.




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