This article provides an overview of mental toughness, and how it can be broken down into 9 components, allowing these components to then be developed, much like any physical quality underpinning performance. There are perhaps other components that could be added in, or different definitions for these 9 components. However, this provides a framework on which to base your thinking around mental toughness, and how you can start developing it to Improve Your Performance.
When people hear the words 'mental toughness' they associate it with words such as tenacity, resolve, resilience, relentlessness, durability, aggression, persistence, focus, relentless in pursuit (of excellence).
What's the easiest way to think about mental toughness, and how to develop it?
Mental toughness is the sum of a lot of not quitting along the way.
Mental toughness is a perfectly acceptable phrase for encapsulating the words mentioned at the beginning of this article. Whilst a better phrase/word may exist, or we could make an acronym (which people often want to do), mental toughness is now a widely used phrase that encapsulates most of what we are referring to. It just needs redefined slightly.
Key things to address here:
1. Can you make someone mentally tough, or are you born with it?
I believe that everyone is on a scale. You are not born with it but you may be exposed to situations from the day that you are born that result in you sliding rapidly along the scale towards absolute mental toughness.
2. Mental toughness needs (re)defined.
This is to assist with its development. If the point above is accepted, and you agree that mental toughness can be developed, then it needs to be broken down to its component parts so that it can be developed.
We must be able to define the components of mental toughness, such as aggressiveness, and know them inside out, as well as how to develop them, what they look like, and how they link in to the other factors, as well as which ones are required for different sports, and different situations within each of these sports. Then we can truly look to develop each of these qualities, where required, just as we would develop a physical quality.
This development is through the gradual increasing of the demands placed upon an athlete with the precise target of increasing each quality. For example, to take focus. If an athlete is to develop focus, and has little to begin with, we would start with designing/engineering situations where they have one thing to focus on/one task to focus on with no distractions. Then a small distraction/irrelevance would be put into this situation, then another, and another or a larger one, or ones of different types. For example, having to ignore an object lying beside you as you perform a task is much easier than ignoring someone shouting in your ear as you perform that task. Therefore, these distraction should be gradually progressive.
To develop mental toughness you must link each component to a physical action.
For example, aggression. This is linked to an overcoming act. Therefore, you need to give the athlete the opportunity to overcome something, but it must be tough enough that at first they fail, so have to become aggressive to overcome it (this also teaches persistence).
So what are the components of mental toughness, and how do we define them?
3. The components of mental toughness:
Tenacity, resolve, resilience, relentlessness, durability, aggression, persistence, focus, relentless in pursuit (of excellence).
(i) Tenacity: extreme determination and strength of will.
In relation to sport: the determination to get something done, to win, and to be determined to do so no matter the setbacks and the time it takes.
(ii) Resolve: decide firmly on a course of action/to do something, and be determined to do it. In relation to sport: setting a goal that you then pour your heart and soul into, and putting everything you have into it.
(iii) Resilience: the ability to keep on going in pursuit of your goal, no matter how many setbacks or failures you have to overcome.
In relation to sport: coming back from one long-term injury after another.
(iv) Relentlessness: unbending, unyielding.
In relation to sport: the unyielding, unwavering desire, and therefore efforts to do what it takes to go where you want to go.
(v) Durability: the ability to withstand, be robust and keep going, even after many setbacks.
In relation to sport: the ability to keep going despite many setbacks and hardships.
(vi) Aggression: forcefulness.
In relation to sport: the sheer aggression and forcefulness of playing, and attitude towards training and development, to overcome something, whether it be something in practice, an area of physical/mental development, or winning a game/tournament.
(vii) Persistence: continuing down a path despite repeated setbacks/difficulties.
In relation to sport: not giving up despite repeated setbacks/failures.
(viii) Focus: a clear target/aim that is being progressed to.
In relation to sport: the goal that everything is going towards to, whether it is the bigger picture of winning a World Cup, or a small task in a training session on the way to getting there.
(ix) Relentless pursuit of excellence: doing everything possible, and nothing else, to achieve excellence.
In relation to sport: Everything that you do is going towards the end goal. Not just, as Eddie Jones of England Rugby says, during the 9-5 of training, but the 5-9 outside training. Every choice you make is either taking you towards your goal, or away from it. The relentless pursuit of excellence is ensuring that every single choice, no matter how small/trivial it may seem at the time, takes you towards your goal.
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